Yesterday morning I had the chance to play Lucky’s Tale by Playful Corp., one of the only family-friendly games launching with the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset next year. When I first watched the trailer for Lucky’s Tale, to be honest, I didn’t think it was anything special. You play as a fox in a bright, cartoonish world. The gameplay has a lot in common with Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie—you leap over platforms, collect coins, and jump on the heads of cheerfully rendered enemies.
When I put on the virtual-reality headset and entered Lucky’s world, however, I realized immediately that I had underestimated this game.
Leaping around in Lucky’s world felt incredibly intuitive. I was able to learn the moves in seconds, and I never felt myself fumbling around to press the right thing. This is especially important in a VR game, since you can’t see your hands on the controller. I also didn’t have to worry about controlling a second joystick dedicated to camera movements. At first I missed the camera control, but within minutes I got used to turning my head to move the camera. And as Dan Hurd (director of Lucky’s Tale) pointed out, that second joystick can be a pretty big barrier for new players.
“I think [virtual reality] just brings in people who were left behind when games went 3D,” Hurd explained. “People who cannot handle that abstraction just felt left out, and they just stuck to the 2D stuff, or maybe they even stopped playing games. So we’re pretty happy because we’ve run a lot of people through this game who maybe don’t even identify as gamers. And they can actually beat our levels, and play it, and make jumps. Because you’re actually using natural depth perception.”
That natural depth perception Hurd’s talking about really made my game experience special. It very much felt as if I was in Lucky’s world, floating along behind him. Looking around at my environment was delightful. The second half of the demo took place in a lava tunnel, and I could peek up through a crack in the ceiling to see a giant volcano overhead, spewing smoke and chunks of molten rock. It was fantastic. Any time Lucky went over a bridge or onto a high platform, I could really feel the height underneath him. Even just looking left and right at the space around me was fun.
Another awesome perk? I didn’t feel nauseated at all, either during or after the game. This is a major concern for any game that uses VR technology. If the design isn’t totally smooth and instantaneous, it can make you feel really sick.
“When we first announced that Lucky’s Tale was going to be in third person and not first person, we got a lot of raised eyebrows,” Hurd said. But there are problems with first-person design, like when you’re running really fast and “your ears don’t agree with your eyes.” It can make you queasy.
“Basically everything we’ve done with Lucky’s Tale is to emphasize comfort,” Hurd went on, “Third-person perspective, in this case, has really helped us to achieve a very comfortable experience.”
I definitely enjoyed the third-person perspective. Occasionally, an enemy would fly right by my face, or fire would seem to be shooting at me. But mostly I was focused on my little fox friend. Guiding him through this amazing space made me wonder why I hadn’t demanded a Mario-style platformer for VR months ago.
If you’re planning on getting an Oculus Rift for your Xbox One or Windows 10 PC, seriously consider adding Lucky’s Tale to your list. It launches in early 2016. And be sure to check out my full interview (including my gameplay!) with Dan Hurd above.