Games

‘Super Lucky’s Tale’ Deserves Better Than Dying Under Mario’s Shadow

Microsoft’s platformer isn’t as splashy as 'Odyssey,' but it’s well-made and charming.

by Patrick Klepek
Nov 8 2017, 7:05pm

Image courtesy of Microsoft

Most of my gaming time the last few weeks has been dominated by Super Mario Odyssey, the latest from a supremely talented team, whose pedigree— Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario 3D Land, Super Mario 3D World—is unparalleled when it comes to jumping from one platform to another. Odyssey is a terrific game, so it seemed like an especially cruel decision on Microsoft’s part to release Super Lucky’s Tale only a few days later. Maybe, a cynic could argue, it was Microsoft’s way of letting a game quietly die, knowing few would notice. As it turns out, Super Lucky’s Tale deserved a better fate.

The looming threat of Mario was only part of the deck stacked against Super Lucky’s Tale. Did you know it’s a sequel? Lucky’s Tale was a premiere exclusive for the Oculus Rift, a way of demonstrating how traditional genres could benefit from the addition of virtual reality. The ability to look around the environment was neat, but hardly a revolution. It was a fine, I guess, though little more than a perfectly acceptable launch game. When Microsoft announced a sequel, Super Lucky’s Tale, was coming to Xbox, it wasn’t surprising to see many people scratching their head and wondering “Wait, that game?”

Heck, I was one of them.

(The developers claim the “Lucky” part of the title is not a reference to controversial Oculus Rift co-creator Palmer Luckey, who was found secretly funding anti-Clinton memes in 2016.)

My attempts to give Super Lucky’s Tale a shot at E3 were thwarted by lines, but I’d been keeping the game on my radar. A good platforming game is a good platforming game, even after you’ve played a new Mario. Plus, Super Lucky’s Tale looked like it wanted to capture a different era, focused more heavily on the aspect of, well, platforming. Odyssey is a very enjoyable game, but it doesn’t spend much time challenging your fingers, content with trapping players in dense spaces reminiscent of Russian nesting dolls.

After spending a few hours clearing the first world—grabbing every collectible along the way, naturally—and poking around the second, I’m here to report Super Lucky’s Tale is not going to change the way we think about platformers, but especially if you’re an Xbox owner who’s side-eyeing Switch owners, you'll have a good time with Super Lucky’s Tale.

Directly comparing is often needlessly reductive, but in this case, it feels useful. In writing about Odyssey, I suggested it felt like a direct sequel to Super Mario 64. Super Lucky’s Tale, on the other hand, feels like a spiritual successor to Crash Bandicoot, a game with small but tight levels intensely focused on players using a series of basic but versatile moves—jump, double jump, spin attack, dive—to survive an escalating series of platforming challenges, all while poking and prodding the environment for flashy collectibles hidden among the chaos.

The Crash Bandicoot comparisons feels especially apt because Super Lucky’s Tale riffs on the same four approaches to level design: exploratory stages, where players can explore at their leisure; side-scrolling stages meant to test finger dexterity; “chase” sequences where you’re constantly propelled forward; and boss battles where you’re confined to tight arenas, having to dodge tons of deadly obstacles. Given Crash Bandicoot’s successful remastering earlier this year, seeing Super Lucky’s Tale pick up the baton and give its own spin is a hoot.

Navigating the world feels good, though after the ultra-precise Odyssey, anything feels loose by comparison. But Super Lucky’s Tale is meant to feel floaty and the jumps forgiving, so it generally works. If controlling your character doesn’t become second nature—more or less an afterthought—a platformer doesn’t work. By that measure, Super Lucky’s Tale does fine.

The core goal of each level is the same—get to the end—but along the way, you have other, optional objectives to accomplish, which net you additional “clovers.” One for nabbing 300 coins, another for collecting L-U-C-K-Y letters tucked away in secret spaces, and a final clover earned by finding a secret pipe that hides a tougher platforming or combat section. If you purely focus on getting to the end, there’s not much to Super Lucky’s Tale, but if you, like me, relish tango’ing with level designers to find everything they’ve hidden, you’ll be rewarded with creators who’ve placed their collectible goodies in some surprising places.

This one, for example, had me howling. Typically, the L-U-C-K-Y letters are in obvious places, the trick being how you get to them. Here, I went through a level several times in search of the letter C, failing to unearth it each time. I checked several YouTube walkthroughs to see what I was missing, or if the game needed a patch. Nope, nope, nope:

Delightful.

It’s a super charming game, too. 2017 saw two different developers attempt to revive Rare’s brand of 3D platformers in Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time. The latter was more successful, but neither game did much for me. While Super Lucky’s Tale isn’t built in that mold—crucially, you’re not dropped into enormous 3D spaces—it totally nails the goofy charm of those games. I wanted to throw a controller when characters incomprehensibly babbled in Yooka-Laylee, but I chuckled when Super Lucky’s Tale tried the same thing.

It’s pleasant and happy and wants you to have fun, which, as I noted with Odyssey, we could use more of in 2017.

Even with a Switch only a few feet away, I’ve found myself drawn to playing more Super Lucky’s Tale, precisely because it scratches a few different itches than Mario. While I’m guessing most people will be content with Odyssey for the next few months, don’t forget about Super Lucky’s Tale. It’ll still be waiting for you, and it’ll be worth your time.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com.

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