Game: Fable Heroes
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade Only
Fable Heroes is a side-scrolling hack-and-slash from Lionhead Studios that aims to hit the sweet spot of being fun for the whole family. This is no easy task, but is Fable Heroes up to the challenge? It’s hero or zero time for this Xbox LIVE Arcade title.
Fable Heroes forgoes any attempt at a plot which is probably a good thing, a half-baked story explaining why four rather demonic looking puppets need to travel across Albion wouldn’t have many people on the edge of their seat. So instead of watching an opening cutscene, you’re taken straight to the puppet select menu where you’re given have a choice of four starting characters, Hero, Hammer, Reaver and Garth. Anyone who has played the three main Fable games will recognise characters like Hammer and Reaver. This sense of recognition carries through to the locations featured in the game, with places such as Bowerstone, Mistpeak and Aurora. Rather than a traditional text based menu Fable Heroes lays out each level across a table, as you progress through the game your puppets will merrily skip along to the next location.
Once you actually start playing though, things take a turn for the worse. Graphically the game is average at best with an uninspired cel-shaded style, where nothing really stands out as being new or creative. It’s certainly not ugly to look at just nothing to remember, and it’s the same story with the audio. The music that greets you at the start screen is cheerful and appropriate enough, but in-game it never really changes and ends up being just as forgettable at the visuals.
Fable games have never really punished players for dying, Heroes takes this one step further by not letting you die at all, at least not on normal difficulty. If you do manage to run out of lives your character simply turns into a ghost, and you can carry on playing as normal. The only penalty is you can no longer collect coins. It is possible to fail a level on the games hardest difficulty if all 4 puppets turn into ghosts, but extra lives are so easy to come by that this is very unlikely to happen.
Enemies in the game vary in look but not much else, you’ll make short work of Balverines, Trolls and Hobbes with a few mashes of the X button, in fact the only time I felt the need to use anything other than X was to try and alleviate the cramp building up in my right thumb. You do have other attacks like flourish, but even on the games hardest difficulty setting you’ll not require them. Combat in Fable Heroes gets old quickly and, given that the games offers little else in terms of content, this is bad news.
Fable Heroes is also a very short game featuring just seven levels, they all look unique enough but are no more than backdrops on which to run past. Apart from the window dressing of the locales each of the seven levels in the game are basically identical. You walk along dispatching enemies as you go, until right near the end where you are forced to choose from one of two paths. Each path will result in you completing the level and will see you either fight a boss or take part in a mini-game. The boss battles are dull affairs that all play out the same way, with players simply spamming the X button and dodging the occasional ground pound. The mini-games, however, are even worse, a collection so bad it’s hard to imagine anyone enjoying them. Once you’ve made it to the end of the seventh level, which you’ll do in well under two hours, you have the option to do it all again, this time in Dark Albion, featuring the same levels with minor aesthetic changes and more enemies.
One of the few interesting ideas the game has comes at the end of each level. During the levels you’ll collect coins dropped by felled enemies, and depending on how many you manage to obtain, you’ll earn rolls of a dice. Your puppet stands on a monopoly style board, each tile containing certain unlocks like increased weapon damage, moves or even new characters. If you roll a four your character will move four tiles up the board, this makes unlocking things in Fable Heroes quite exciting as you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.
Like previous Fable Arcade games, Heroes lets you transfer gold earned in-game to an upcoming core title in the series; In this case it’s Fable: The Journey, a Kinect only game coming later in the year. In previous Fable games this hasn’t always proved worth the effort but it’s still a decent incentive to keep playing. You’ll also be able to unlock two puppets in Fable: The Journey for use in Heroes.
The A.I. characters that accompany you while playing solo are competent and take out their fair share of enemies, but they’re unlikely to challenge you for first on the leaderboard at the end of each level. Of course the entire game can be played with four friends via local or online co-op, but apart from competing to collect the most coins there is no real benefit to doing so. It would have been good to see some co-op moves that allowed players to interact but sadly this is yet another area where the game lacks imagination. It is in fact beneficial to play alone because while playing with others you can only upgrade one puppet at a time, whereas going solo allows you to roll the dice for all 4 puppets after each level.
VERDICT: As a fan of the Fable series I was really hoping to like Fable Heroes, but with its short length, repetitive gameplay, and overall lack of spark I found myself coming away feeling very disappointed. I understand that in order to make a game fun for children, the Ninja Gaiden approach is probably best avoided, but no challenge equals no reward and no reward equals very little fun regardless of age. At 800msp it’s impossible to recommend picking this game up but if you’re a die-hard fan of the Fable series then at least you know what you’re getting yourself into.