Tech and Gadgets

Netflix’s latest game is a fresh take on platformers

When you think of a platformer, you probably think of jumping. The simple move is a staple of the genre, whether we’re talking about classic side-scrolling adventures or larger three-dimensional worlds. But Lucky Luna, the latest release on Netflix’s fledgling games service, offers something a little different: it removes the jump altogether.

Lucky Luna takes place in a beautiful pixel art world of ancient ruins and tasks players with navigating a series of levels to uncover its secrets. It has many of the staples of the genre, like collectible orbs, hidden areas, moving platforms, deadly spikes, and enemies that move in specific patterns. The twist is the lack of a jump button. In fact, Lucky Luna doesn’t have on-screen buttons at all. To move, you simply swipe left or right; a hard swipe will see Luna dash across the screen, while lighter taps will result in smaller movements. Safely getting around involves using those limited options together with smart timing to avoid obstacles and get to the end of each stage.

I’ve played the first few levels, and while I can say that Lucky Luna is definitely pretty challenging, I was also surprised by how quickly I adapted to the lack of a jump button. After a few stages, I didn’t miss it at all; the vertical levels are cleverly designed around the swipe mechanic, which feels intuitive once you learn to let go of the jump. It’s sort of like the inverse of Super Mario Run, another mobile take on the platformer but one where jumping is the central way to interact with the world.

A screenshot from the Netflix mobile game Lucky Luna.

Image: Snowman

According to Andrew Schimmel, a producer at developer Snowman — best known for the Alto series of snowboarding games — the idea was to “evoke those like classic experiences that we grew up on but not be identical to them. We didn’t feel like an endless runner could really capture that feeling we wanted to sort of go after.” The decision to remove the jump button came later in development, but it naturally had a major impact on the experience. “It was a tough one, but it really allowed us to lean on the level design and get more creative,” he explains. “So that’s why we just went with a single touch and then try to introduce something new in every level.”

Though Netflix started its mobile gaming efforts last year, the service still hasn’t gained a lot of traction since then. That said, the quality of games available has certainly improved, with notable titles like Into the Breach and Heads Up coming to the service. For Snowman, the potential audience of Netflix was something the studio couldn’t turn down. “We’ve reached a lot of people with some of our previous work, but this is just like a new potential audience,” explains Snowman creative director Ryan Cash. “And I think it’s always exciting to be part of something in the earlier days as well. That’s really appealing to us.”

On mobile, Netflix has joined Apple Arcade as part of a burgeoning scene for subscription games. And Snowman has been heavily involved in that scene; the studio has released a number of games on Arcade, including an enhanced edition of the hit Alto’s Odyssey. The rise of these services has opened up a new avenue for game developers, offering a way to release quality premium experiences without having to worry about how to monetize them. Cash foresees plenty of more changes happening in the space over the next few years — and for now, Snowman has a front-row seat. “We’re just sort of watching it unfold in front of us.”

Lucky Luna is available on iOS and Android via Netflix starting today.

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