The latest in a glut of horse-riding games for younger players, DreamWorks Spirit Lucky’s Big Adventure has a better claim for being released now. It’s a game of the popular TV series, DreamWorks Spirit, which is celebrating the re-opening of cinemas with the release of a movie, DreamWorks Spirit Untamed.
There’s something very ten-years-ago about a licensed game arriving with the release of a movie. It used to be a weekly thing, particularly in the summer months, and we kind of miss playing games like Iron Man, Disney’s Brave and The Simpsons Movie. There’s the various questions you get to ask, including ‘are they going to tie it to the plot?’, ‘will it look or feel like the movie?’, and ‘how did they manage to cram the game into the inevitable single year they had to make it?’.
For the clumsily named Dreamworks Spirit Lucky’s Big Adventure (not to be confused with New Super Lucky’s Adventure), the answer to ‘are they going to tie to the plot?’ is actually yes, kind of. The stories, when you zoom out, are near identical: Lucky and Spirit live on the outskirts of the dusty town of Miradero, and Lucky – plus her gang of other riders, Pru and Abigail – get wind of a plan to steal a herd of wild horses, and do their teenage-best to stop it. By doing so, Lucky learns more about her late mother and there’s some gushy scenes about how similar she is to her mother.
What’s odd is that, when you look in more detail, the stories are clearly different, as if Lucky’s Big Adventure copied the movie’s homework but got important details wrong. Where Spirit Untamed is an origin story for Lucky and Spirit, detailing how the girl and Kiger Mustang found each other, in Lucky’s Big Adventure they’ve clearly been buddies for years. While the movie deals with a whole host of wranglers, here there’s only one. The game also revolves around a found treasure map, left behind by Lucky’s mother, which is absent from the movie.
It’s a kind of spot-the-difference, and whether it bothers you or your loved one is dependent on affection for the source material. Clearly, the developers only had a back-of-the-envelope synopsis for the movie and ran with it, which meant that they weren’t ruining the movie’s plot details.
If you’re more concerned about ‘will it look or feel like the movie?’, then the answer’s more mixed. Similar to Outright Games’ Ben 10 tie-ins, it feels like you’re playing with 3D-printed action figures of the characters, rather than characters from the series. They’re rough-looking and simplistic, hewn out of plastic, and the animations do them no favours whatsoever. When you chat to them, they don’t actually move. They’re posed into their emotional state – here’s Abigail in a ‘surprised’ pose, here’s your dad in a ‘questioning’ pose. The camera operator in these sections is clearly drunk, too, as you’ll be zoomed up people’s nostrils and with their heads barely visible behind the giant chat interfaces.
The town carries on the playset analogy, as it’s a few buildings with no characters. It’s a ghost town, as there’s clearly been cutbacks in the character modelling department. You meet five characters in total – five! – throughout Lucky’s Big Adventure, and you wonder if you’ve cantered into a post-apocalypse game, with Spirit suddenly confronted by a Deathclaw.
Things fare better when you get away from the town of waxworks and move into the wild. Lucky’s Big Adventure might not have a single other town, but the surroundings are reasonably large – enough to wander about in and get lost – and they’re serviceable. As long as you’re not a critical sort, it looks sweeping and lush, if a little dark when compared to the recent Horse Club Adventures, and it does enough to immerse you in a horse ride. If you are a critical sort, then you’ll be pained by the abysmal pop-in and some bizarre artistic choices. Is ice really just rocks with a different colour slathered on top?
What really makes the open world come to life is the music. Lucky’s Big Adventure has a fantastic playlist, sitting somewhere between Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes, and they will lodge in your head far after you’ve finished. We’re unsure whether they’re lifted from the movie, but they prove a saving grace in an extremely patchy experience.
Which brings us to the third and final question that we asked at the top of the review. ‘How did they manage to cram the game into the single year they had to make it?’ As you can probably guess from the comments so far, Outright Games haven’t really managed it. We can’t help but suspect that being tied to the release date of the movie, as well as being developed entirely remotely, has taken its toll on Lucky’s Big Adventure.
You can feel the sharp edges left behind from various cut corners. The controls are ropey, and our six-year old abandoned it pretty early. When Spirit is trotting, things aren’t too bad, but when you start galloping by pressing the B button, you careen in various directions and it was hard for our young one to keep it under control. It’s made worse by invisible walls in the environment, rocks scattered around, and creatures like bears that make Spirit rear up. We had a hatred for the finite ability to run, too, as you need to scrub Spirit at a stable if you want to replenish your stock of horseshoes that act as a run meter.
Occasionally you get to step off the horse and do some climbing sequences, but these are barely fit for purpose. There’s a huge latency at play, so you can be waiting and waiting for the game to give you a prompt to jump to the next ledge. Clearly you need to be in very specific spots for the game to recognise your intent, but these spots are narrow and unclear. Thankfully these bargain-bin Lara Croft sequences are rare and left mostly to collectible-hunting.
If the controls hadn’t proved to be a dealbreaker, then the guidance would have been the killer. Lucky’s Big Adventure guides you around its landmass with checkpoints, but they’re not based on where you are. You can race to a checkpoint, only to find that you now need to 180 to go back the way you came. Some checkpoints were on top of clumps of rocks that we couldn’t even climb, while others were way off a racing line. Considering that ninety percent of your time in Lucky’s Big Adventure is hunting for these checkpoints, you’ll be rabidly cursing them.
But if there was a big, obvious flag that Lucky’s Big Adventure was a rushed game, then it’s in the lack of content. We’ve talked about the lack of characters, but there’s just nothing to do. Choose to fast travel rather than gallop, and you have a maximum of an hour of main-questing here, and a half-hour of side quests. Choose to travel the distance yourself, and you might be able to tot it up to three hours in total. It’s not as if these stories are meaty either: you’re doing tasks for characters who should know better (if I’m doing your chores and your job, Dad, then what exactly are you doing?), or you’re following the treasure map your mum left behind. If you’re looking for ethical quandaries and dramatic moments, you should probably look elsewhere.
It would be excusable if the world was scattered with collectibles. After all, there’s some decent real-estate here, and it takes a good ten minutes to cross the map. But while there are outfits to find in remote climbing sections, there’s not nearly enough of them. You can use a camera to take photos of locations and animals, getting green ticks for composition, proximity etc, but they don’t amount to anything. You’re not unlocking anything, not even an achievement, so you’ll need a nosebag full of willpower and self-motivation to get anything from them.
We keep digging deep for something positive to say about our time in Miradero, but we only find more negatives. It’s a buggy game, with Spirit getting lodged in a few rocky nooks and needing a restart. Voice acting is sporadic, meaning you are moving from voice to text and back again in a single conversation. When there’s barely a few sheets of A4 in terms of script, you wonder why they bothered. Um, did we say the music was nice?
Making a licensed game remotely must have been quite the challenge – locked into a release date, sellotaping a game together from the scrappy materials that you’ve been given. We would have loved to say that DreamWorks Spirit Lucky’s Big Adventure was a plucky underdog, overcoming those issues to create something that fans and young players would love. But no. It’s a soggy cardboard box of a game, empty of things to do and barely holding itself together. And as cardboard boxes go, £34.99 is quite the asking price.
You can buy DreamWorks Spirit Lucky’s Big Adventure for £34.99 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S
- Cracking soundtrack
- There’s a sprawling world here to explore
- Controls are wayward
- Barely anything to do
- World is empty
- Graphically sparse and rough
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Outright Games
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch, PC, Stadia
- Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
- Release date - 24th June 2021
- Launch price from - £34.99