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DreamWorks Spirit Lucky's Big Adventure

DreamWorks Spirit Lucky's Big Adventure

Written by Eric Hauter on 6/1/2021 for SWI  
More On: DreamWorks Spirit Lucky's Big Adventure

Update: The publisher of Dreamworks Spirit Lucky's Big Adventure reached out to inform Gaming Nexus that a day one patch resolved the game-breaking pathfinding issues. We logged into the game and confirmed that the pathfinding is indeed functioning. In the spirit of fairness, Gaming Nexus will revisit DreamWorks Spirit Lucky's Big Adventure over the next several days and adjust the review accordingly.

I strongly subscribe to the Roger Ebert school of criticism. Roger always stated in his reviews that he didn't think it was fair to rate films against films in different genres. It would be tough, for example, to score a horror film against a drama. Doing so would always leave the horror film with a lower score, no matter how strong its merits. To be fair to genre films, Ebert would rate a horror film as it would score against other horror films, giving each film a shot of greatness within its own category. 

I'm saying this because I want to make it clear that I understand that DreamWorks Spirit Lucky's Big Adventure (and don't blame me for the lack of punctuation in that title) is a kid's game. As such, it should be scored against other kids games, or at least on a scale that is appropriate for its content and intended audience. Going into Spirit, one shouldn't expect Red Dead Redemption. To compare this game to something created for adults would be unfair—just as comparing a picture book to Hemingway wouldn't feel right. It is absolutely okay to create something simple for kids, so long as it is competent and enjoyable. That last point is key. While I am willing to forgive a simple story, child-level writing, and simple quests, I believe that games made for children need to adhere to a basic level of quality.

That brings us to the new Spirit game, from developer aheartfulofgames and publisher Outright Games. Spirit Lucky's Big Adventure is based on a pretty decent Netflix series for little kids, which in turn was based on the (also pretty decent) 2002 Dreamworks animated film. We aren't exactly talking classic cinema here, but my kids seem to enjoy the show well enough to be somewhat excited for the game. So I was hoping that the game would live up to their fairly low expectations. However, I'm sad to report that my children's low expectations were not even close to met. Lucky's Big Adventure is broken and unplayable.

My family drove to Kentucky for Memorial Day weekend. Before the four-hour drive, I loaded up Lucky's Big Adventure on my Switch, and played through a bit of it with my daughter so she could familiarize herself with the game's mechanics well enough to play in the car. At first glance, the warning signs were already there, with Lucky's Big Adventure hitching and bucking like the horse it is based on. To call the framerate unstable would be a kindness. Instead of having a slow framerate, Spirit actually freezes for a second or two, then skips all of the frames it should have rendered, lurching the action forward to where it should be. This causes the onscreen action to skip like an old record. And I'm not saying that this happens occasionally. This issue is constant, even when Lucky is riding Spirit across a low-poly field that a PS2 could easily render. There is nothing here that the Switch shouldn't be able to handle—this is the same system that is pushing Monster Hunter Rise—but Lucky's Big Adventure lurches forward like the undead, hiccupping and flailing around like a bird with an arrow in its wing. It ain't pretty, friends.

At one point, I had Lucky ride Spirit along a railroad track, and I could literally watch the game frantically fill in the railroad ties about five yards in front of where Spirit is running, drawing the world just before Lucky rides into it, perhaps so she doesn't fall through the geometry and get stuck. Which totally happens anyhow. Textures and entire objects pop onto the screen as Spirit rides past them, and I'm fairly certain that some of the textures never loaded at all. Either that, or Lucky's Big Adventure contains some of the saddest rock hills in video game history.

My daughter had questions.

"Dad, why is she so jittery?"

"Oh, that's just the framerate honey. It seems like it might be a little broken. Maybe they'll fix it up and patch it on release day."

"When is that, Dad?"

"Three days, bunny."

"Wow. That doesn't seem like enough time to fix it." Not kidding, she actually said that.

Regardless of the framerate and rendering issues, we played long enough for my daughter to understand the game's flow of quests, and how to follow the game's somewhat unstable waypoints from one area to the next. Then it was time to pack the car and hit the road.

Ten minutes into the drive, just as we were getting on the highway, I heard her voice from the back seat. "Dad, Spirit is stuck on a bush. How do I get him off the bush?"

"Did you try turning and going another way?"

"Yes, he won't turn."

"Hmmm....okay, maybe try getting off of him, walking away, and then calling him to you."

"Okay, that worked."

Five minutes after that. "Dad, Spirit is stuck on a tree now."

"Did you try to get off him and call him?"

"Yes, but he won't come. He's just standing there."

Sigh. "Okay. Shut down the game and restart it from your last save point."

"Okay, that worked."

Twenty minutes after that. "Dad, Lucky is stuck. She fell through some rocks, and she can't move."

"Can you send Spirit to get help?"

"No, it's not like that. The rocks didn't fall with her on them. She slipped through the rocks like a ghost. Now she's just kind of in-between some rocks."

"Okay. Shut the game down and restart it from your last save point."

Some quiet. Some clicking. Then my daughter sings a warbling song with only one lyric. "Loading, loading, loading. Loading, loading, loading. Looooadiiiiiiing."

This goes on for several minutes. Then, mercifully, the song ends.

"Dad, my last save point won't load. It's been loading for five minutes, and the game won't start."

"Okay, restart the Switch and try again."

"Okay, that worked."

Ten minutes later. "Dad, the path to the treasure is leading me in circles. I just go back and forth between the light columns, but they never lead me anywhere."

"Honey, I think you have to give up and play with your tablet for a while."

Sure enough, when we got to our Airbnb, I fired up Lucky's Big Adventure and loaded my daughter's save. I'll be damned if the silo of light that is supposed to lead the kid to the next waypoint on her mission didn't lead her 60 yards away from the barn, and then right back to the barn again, which is most assuredly not where she was supposed to go. She was right, the game was literally leading her in circles, setting up a way point that was 1,400 yards away, and then making it disappear after she had gone a short distance, and putting another one up near the stables. The main quest line was utterly broken, three quests in. 

That evening, after the kids were in bed, I spent a few hours restarting Lucky's Big Adventure from the beginning. I ran around and did a few of the game's simple fetch quests, getting some sheets of music for Pru, picking up some tools for dad from the windmill, and taking a picture of the town from a nearby cliff. The other characters stand silently on the frontier, unblinking statues in the middle of the desert, waiting for Lucky to turn in her quests. And what does she get as a reward for doing so? Absolutely nothing! Snickering to myself that any kid that pursued these side quests was a sucker, I went back to trying to push the story forward so my daughter could play the next day. But I could not progress the main storyline further than the third or fourth mission. I kept running into the same waypoint loop. Exasperated, I gave up and went to sleep. 

Even if Dreamworks' Spirit Lucky's Big Adventure were running well, it would still be a fairly simple game. But that's okay. My kids would be entertained by a simple game. They are little, happy, and forgiving, and don't demand a great deal of sophistication from their entertainment. And that's the rub with kids' games. I won't judge them by the same standards that I judge adult games, but they have to at least have a baseline of functionality. If I'm going to hand something to my kid, I have to know that it's going to work. Kids have a certain naive faith in products developed by adults, and when a game malfunctions, the kid thinks they are doing something wrong. Watching a kid good-naturedly try to understand a game mechanic that is just flat-out broken is disheartening and sad. It is a betrayal of a child's trust, in some small way. 

Even so, it feels a bit unfair to give this game a score having seen so little of it. I would have happily played the entirety of Lucky's Big Adventure for review if I were able to. It gives me no pleasure to bash on a game that people put a lot of work into. I'm just reporting my own experiences. It is entirely possible that the game runs well on other platforms, and the Switch version isn't optimized as well as the others. If you have the option to play on another platform, you may have a better experience. But the Switch is likely the platform on which a lot of kids will try to play this game, and the version of Lucky's Big Adventure that my daughter and I played was untenable. And let's be real, the Switch should totally be able to handle Spirit's low-poly world—it runs things a lot more complex than this, for goodness' sake. I'm not going to go so far as to say this horse should be shot, but it certainly shouldn't have been let out of the barn in this condition. Lucky's Big Adventure may not be the worst game I've ever played, but it is certainly the most broken. 

Dreamworks Spirit Lucky's Big Adventure might be a lot of fun, if it would function long enough for a kid to play it. This game is broken in nearly every way possible: the graphics stutter and shake, the save files won't load, and the quest lines lead players in circles. There is no way a responsible adult should hand a child a game in this condition—it is simply unplayable.

Rating: 3.5 Heavily Flawed

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Stadia, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, and a janky PC.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.

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