Welcome to Best of Xbox Game Pass where each week I’m going to pick out a game available on Game Pass and explain why I think it is worth playing. While I’ll certainly include some of the bigger titles available on the service, I’ll focus more on other games that you might have overlooked in the hope of leading you to a hidden gem
There’s nothing quite like the classic mascot platformers, and of course the king of these is Mario, a legendary icon that is locked off unless you own a Nintendo console (or play the naff Mario runner mobile game.) But that doesn’t mean you can’t find some games that come close to capturing the Mario magic, which is exactly what I’m looking at today. New Super Lucky’s Tale is a platformer and love letter to games like Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, so if you’re looking for something breezy look no further.
The star of the game is Lucky himself, a young fox with a cheerful outlook who has been separated from his family and the only way back to them is to gather up the pages of a magic book. Oh, and there is a crazy cat and his cat disciples standing in the way, including one cat who insists on saying “I vanish!” before disappearing in a puff of ninja smoke. That’s life goals, right there. Lucky’s happy-go-lucky attitude and enthusiasm for the world are contagious. Like Mario, Spyro and Crash he doesn’t speak much so it’s down to his animations and his interactions with the varied and amusing cast to show us who he is. The developers do a good job of conveying his charming outlook on life at almost every moment, from the excitable laugh when he finds a page or the enthusiastic gesture and yelled “c’mon!” at the start of a stage.
Levels bounce between classic side-scrolling action, 3D adventuring and even stages where you’re forced to run like a fox thrown into a treadmill, a passenger that’s only in charge of jumping, tail-swiping and figuring out the best route. As Lucky, you’ve got all the things you’d expect: a double jump and a tail-swipe, but you can also slide and even burrow underground. It’s a simple move set for a simple game that arguably isn’t even as challenging as its Mario inspirations. This is a game that just wants you have to have easy, relaxing fun and I adore it for that very reason. You can fire up New Super Lucky’s Tale and let the cheerfulness and the colour and the pure simplicity of it all wash over you like the ocean giving you a wet hug. It’s the same feeling I get when playing a Mario game, and I can easily lose hours to it.
There’s a lot of good variety in the levels you tackle, each one usually introducing some twist or tweak on the basic mechanics that help keep the action fun. One area will have you helping worms set up a hoedown by finding the lost band members, another will stick you in a marble on a giant tilting table. The characters you meet along the way usually only get a few lines of dialogue but almost always include a smile, from the rambling rabbit who just won’t shut up to the Golem who really, really wants to be your best friend and will be right here waiting for you. Just waiting. Waiting. Waiting for as long as it takes.
It’s not a long game, either, which ends up being a good thing because it never outstays its welcome. The levels breeze past in a pleasant haze and just when you think the developers are probably going to run out of ways to keep everything feeling fun the game wraps up. There’s something satisfying about a game that knows when to tip its hat, pick up its coat and sidle out the door, and New Super Lucky’s Tale knows when that moment is.
Between levels you get to return to a hub where you amble about, discover some secrets and choose where to head next. Every stage has multiple pages to find and unlock by doing stuff like collecting enough coins or rooting them out, and once you get enough you can take on a boss fight to advance to the next little hub. It’s a simple structure but one that has proven effective time and time again and New Super Lucky’s Tale isn’t interested in innovating, it’s just interested in letting you have a good time.
If you yearn for Mario or any old-school mascot-platformer then New Super Lucky’s Tale is going to hit all the right spots. It’s a homage to the classics and arguably does sometimes get too caught up in trying to emulate said classics, but nobody can say that it lacks passion, heart and charm.