Fable Heroes, developed by Lionhead Studios is an off-shoot Xbox LIVE Arcade title based on the ever-popular Fable franchise. Designed to tie-in with the upcoming Fable: The Journey, Fable Heroes ventures away from the traditional Fable role-playing game as it experiments with the dated side-scrolling formula in an attempt to inject fresh ideas into a family-friendly gameplay environment. A noble effort it may be, Fable Heroes ultimately fails to deliver in spite of the promising concept and highly talented development team behind it.
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox LIVE Arcade (Reviewed)
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Genre: Beat-em Up, Side-Scroller
Release: May 2nd, 2012
Release Price: 800 Microsoft Points (XBLA)
Incorporating side-scrolling action with an action-based RPG, hack-n-slash and an odd board game-esque twist, Fable Heroes feels as though it’s sacrificed its identity in exploration of re-invention. Taking control of a selection of hero puppets, players journey across seven varying environments (both a ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’ version are available) as they battle against enemies inspired by the Fable Albion. Progression works by travelling between tiles to different scenarios spanning green fields to darker locales, and even a cleverly crafted credit-based level thrown into the mix. Each scenario is linear until it reaches a junction prompting players to select between two paths. One will lead to a boss encounter while the other takes your band of puppet mercenaries to mini-game events such as toboggan-style racing and timed chicken avoiding tasks, taking a page out of the Mario Party hand-book.
Treasure chests can be found in each level bestowing temporary status effects from speed enhancements, time slow-downs to giant puppet transformations to name a few. ‘Break time‘ events in between levels has your puppet avatars beating on an oversized barrel which spews coins much like a barrel-shaped pinata as everyone scurries around picking up as many pieces of gold as possible.
Keeping with the family-friendly theme, the combat mechanics are fairly simple but limited, involving nothing more than a quick attack, a more heavy hitting slower attack and an evasive dodge maneuver. Action is delivered at a blindingly swift pace that descends into button-mashing over time. Tactics aren’t needed here with the quick attack the most effective option over the sluggish heavy attack that deals damage neglectable to its lesser counterpart. Each puppet can pump out a special attack move by sacrificing a life heart, helping to mix things up a little. Lose all your hearts and you’ll transform into a spectre unable to collect any items, however you will still be able to inflict damage. A health container will need to be collected to restore yourself back to your physical form.
Each scenario ends with a player crowned as the winner, determined by the player with the highest coin count at the end of each stage. This is part of where the problem in Fable Heroes lies with emphasis on coin collecting, forsaking engaging combat in the process. Coins become the focus and combat suffers as a direct consequence. Collected coins can be used to unlock additional puppet character as well as damage boosts, however none of these upgrades have any direct improvement on the gameplay aspect itself. Upgrades can be selected before each new stage by playing on a die roll board game where each player take turns selecting their desired improvements. In addition to the benefits within Fable Heroes, coins will also be usable in Fable: The Journey (presumable to purchase items) but their actual uses are still a mystery at this stage. The tie-in factor alone may be enough to drive sales for Fable Heroes once the details of coin usage is revealed.
Different game modes include up to four player co-operative via Xbox LIVE or local multiplayer, as well as an Online Leaderboard and Time Trials that offers more competition and challenge. For the full gaming experience, it’s fairly evident that Lionhead Studios intended for Fable Heroes to be played by more than one person and this does help lift it a notch higher. Knowing that you are pulverizing another player in coin count makes for fun times but whether your friends or online compadres are willing to overlook the fixed perspective camera, lack of distinct physics and squished paths is a whole other fable. The repetitive soundtrack and cutesy-style sound efforts starts to wear on the nerves after a couple hours of gaming too.
On the surface Fable Heroes looks brilliant with its whimsicle appearance and gorgeous cell-shaded environments but dig a little deeper into the game mechanics and you’ll find a hollow shell void of substance, not dissimilar to the sack boy-like puppets in which you control. It’s a crying shame as I really wanted to love Fable Heroes and poured hours into the title in search of more than my initial findings but what I uncovered is just as I feared, a video game that has fallen into the trap of simply trying to do a little too much and collapsing into a messy heap.
If you’re intending on purchasing Fable: The Journey, it may be worthwhile looking into Fable Heroes purely for the coin collecting aspect and unique gameplay direction. Looking through the developer diary packaged with Fable Heroes, it’s clear to see Lionhead Studios have invested their hearts into crafting what is different and outside the norm of conventional gaming and although it didn’t pan out as they would have liked this time round, I hope it hasn’t dampened their spirits on pushing the envelope of possibility.
6.0 – Above Average. Fun but it is let down by some questionable design choices. While it has its own identity, it doesn’t go beyond its own limits.