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Super Lucky’s Tale doesn’t get lost in its nostalgia

This charming platformer isn’t stuck in the ’90s

2017 is shaping up to be big for mascots whose franchises thrived in the 1990s, from a Crash Bandicoot remaster to new Sonic games and even a new Bubsy game. But it’s a relative newcomer to the platforming genre — Lucky the fox, star of November’s Super Lucky’s Tale — whose return I’m most interested in.

I played a breezy demo of the upcoming Windows 10 and Xbox One exclusive during E3 2017, shortly after Microsoft announced it during its press conference. Super Lucky’s Tale is Lucky’s console debut, after his first adventure was touted as one of the must-have Oculus Rift games. This virtual reality-free, family-friendly adventure was one of the more brightly colored surprises of Microsoft’s E3 showing, even if its cutesy platforming hijinks looked at first like more of the same.

If you’re between the ages of 18 and 34 and grew up owning any console at all, you know how to play Super Lucky’s Tale. Lucky jumps and swings his tail around as he races around a world, breaks open boxes and dodges flamethrowers. There are coins and collectibles too, of course. It’s the kind of game that takes seconds to get into.

That’s the thing about Super Lucky’s Tale and games like it, though: They’re nostalgia pieces, paeans to the stuff we grew up on. A lot of those work out for the best; think Super Mario 3D Land’s successful reinvention of the plumber’s sidescrolling adventures. A lot of them don’t go so well. Unlike its compatriot Yooka-Laylee, which we found a little too in love with its history, Super Lucky’s Tale feels fresh and fun.

What I played didn’t get bogged down with the “gotta collect ‘em all” approach of Banjo-Kazooie, an obvious influence. Super Lucky’s Tale keeps things brief, keeping the main challenge a linear puzzle with a handful of optional collectibles. I didn’t grab all five letters (the main hidden items) scattered across the level, but I wasn’t knocked for it. I made it to the area boss and defeated it, and that was how I got my reward.

Super Lucky’s Tale feels more like Super Mario 3D Land and other games like it in this respect. It borrows the color palette of the games I loved playing on my Nintendo 64, because that’s what you did as a third grader with nothing but that beat-up console in 2001. What it leaves behind are the inconveniences that we’ve eliminated in our modern era.

Nostalgic games don’t have to completely emulate the things they’re meant to remind us of. Super Lucky’s Tale seems to understand that, and that’s what makes it so charming. Check out the full level from the E3 gameplay demo above to see what I mean; the game’s out on Nov. 7.