One of many Xbox One console exclusives announced at E3 2017, Playful's Super Lucky's Tale was one of the few titles at the show we can confirm running on Xbox One X hardware. It's targeting native 4K resolution at 60 frames per second, it's running on the Unity engine and it's a complete, standalone sequel to an Oculus Rift exclusive. Consider us intrigued.
We rather liked the original Lucky's Tale - it was an attempt to modernise the classic N64-era platform game, transplanting the classic gameplay formula into virtual reality. Maintaining the traditional third person viewpoint, the player viewed the world from a lofty, almost god-like perspective. Actual utilisation of the perspective in gameplay terms was limited, but 'presence' in this landscape was a compelling experience - especially in terms of the occasionally epic view distances you could achieve by looking around the in-game world. And this is an interesting challenge for Super Lucky's Tale - how does a virtual reality game cope, ripped away from its VR underpinnings?
Playful's approach with the sequel is simple - it concentrates on improved visuals, vastly improved level design and richer gameplay. To illustrate - in the original game, disappearing down a stump (Lucky's equivalent to a Mario tube) would warp you to a bare-looking underground environment with some coins to pick up. Based on the 15-minute sampler we played, Super Lucky's equivalent populates these levels with more interesting level design and more stimulating challenges - like taking on mini-bosses, for example.
Main levels also task Lucky with more stimulating tasks, while boss encounters are quite the spectacle - in the end-of-demo battle we played, the screen filled with fireballs, like the 3D platformer equivalent of a bullet hell shooter. All of which brings us on to the question of performance. It's fair to say that Super Lucky's Tale isn't triple-A fare and it isn't setting out to compete with Xbox One X juggernauts like Forza Motorsport 7. However, this does mean that the title targets a native 4K resolution at 60 frames per second (and by implication at least, 1080p60 on base Xbox One hardware).
For the vast majority of the experience, that is precisely what is delivered, albeit with one or two mostly unnoticeable single frame drops. However, further into the demo, the more taxing level work starts to tax the current work-in-progress code rather more than expected. More intensive effects work sees noticeable stutter intrude, but most obviously, whenever new fireballs are spawned, frame-rate lurches badly, with 50ms frame-time spikes that clearly impact the fluidity of the experience.
The chances are that this is simply the result of early work-in-progress code from freshly arrived development hardware, as opposed to an issue with maintaining 60fps on Unity - a problem that has impacted a number of current-gen console titles. The good news is that Playful certainly has plenty of time to optimise: Super Lucky's Tale is due for release alongside the Xbox One X itself on November 7th. We look forward to checking it out: for those of us who enjoyed those classic N64 platformers the first time around, the original Lucky's Tale was a VR treat. Returning to a conventional display may limit the immersion, but Playful's decision to double down on richer visuals and more complex gameplay will hopefully pay off handsomely.