Xbox Live Arcade Title
Developer: LionHead Studios
Multiplayer: 2-4 player co-op.
Thanks to Microsoft for providing a copy of this game for review.
Since its humble beginnings in 2004 Fable has become one of the more controversial gaming series to date. While there’s a lot to love about the series, from its semi-free roaming world to its unique humour there’s one thing many people associate with the series and that is disappointment. And now with the release of the cutesy arcade beat-em up Fable Heroes I can’t help but feel that same sense of disappointment yet again.
An Xbox Live arcade exclusive, Fable Heroes is Lionhead’s attempt at creating a fun coop action RPG, having a very distinct Castle Crashes vibe surrounding it. Said to bring “a modern touch to the old and out dated side scroller” according to Lead Designer Tim Teddins, Heroes sees you and up to three others battling through various well-known locations in the Fable universe, from Bowerstone to Aurora.
The game’s story, and I use that term loosely here, centres around what seems to be a puppet show. The characters resemble the collectible dolls/puppets you can collect in the previous games while the scenery has a distinct cartoony, painted style to it. It works well, giving a unique stylised look that appeals to pretty much everyone without losing the true Fable feel.
As for gameplay, it’s a simple setup with the initial choice of four different characters, The Hero, Hammer, Reaver and Garth with the ability to unlock a wealth of other characters such as Jack of Blades and Lord Lucian as you progress. The four starting characters set the roles for the rest of the unlockable, with Hammer and Hero being the melee characters while Reaver and Garth stick to ranged. Apart from these distinct roles however the other unlockable characters are mostly just cosmetically different with similar abilities. You can’t expect that much variation from an arcade brawler but then again it certainly feels like a missed opportunity.
On the subject of characters another thing Fable is known for is its advanced customisation but you’ll see little of that here. The Hero character, a crown wearing king that’s supposed to be the Hero from Fable 3, lacks any cosmetic customisation. While this isn’t necessarily a big deal considering the array of playable characters available, something similar to the character customisation available in the many LEGO games would have been more the welcome.
Once you’ve chosen your character, whether you’re playing alone with the AI, local coop or over Xbox Live, you’ll be presented with a level selection similar in style to the old Mario games, advancing along a line of main stages with each having two other levels attached to it. Each stage is a location in Albion such as Bowerstone while the levels leading off of them are each either a boss fight or minigame that has to be unlocked by choosing one of two paths to follow at the end of each stage.
Stages are short, taking around five minutes to complete and are not overly difficult even on the hardest setting. It’s your regular 3D side scrolling affair with waves of iconic enemies along the way that are progressively harder to kill but ultimately the same except for in their looks. The only remotely different enemies are Jack ‘o Lanterns, Pumpkin headed scarecrows able to throw their heads like grenades, and Balverines, werewolves that are able to jump into the air, effectively teleporting around the battlefield.
As you progress you’ll find power-up chests that add a slight mash-up to the normal combat, such as slowing time for a few seconds or turning your character into a giant. There’s only about six different power-ups in total that are all rather useless but fun for the first few times you get them. And that’s pretty much it for the main gameplay, fighting waves of enemies with the occasional power-up and much money grabbing along the way.
Coins are your source of abilities, allowing you to unlock new characters and improve your character in the level up section, which is also another minigame in itself. Taking place on what looks like a downsized Monopoly board, you take turns in rolling dices you collect while in the main stages. Each tile holds a different unlock tree, from attack damage and range to unlocking new characters and special bonuses vs certain enemies.
While it certainly puts a new spin on leveling and does add to the incentive to replay move levels the sheer random nature of how and when you gain new abilities is sometimes frustrating when it takes you seven levels of earning dice before you land on the tile you need.
Speaking of minigames, the ones available, while not in a large variety, are all pretty fun and ultimately simple. My personal favourite is a variation of Hungry Hippos where each player has a set of goal posts they have to kick chickens through to score points. It’s fun, fast paced and hectic as well as one of the better aspects of the game.
At the other end of the spectrum there’s the boss fights. These involve a large, static enemy who sits at one end of a small play area doing various attacks. While each bosses attacks were varied, ranging from shooting smaller enemies out of a giant blunderbuss to creating massive shockwaves for players to dodge, the overall strategy is the same. Keep back as your melee characters defend the ranged ones from the little minions while your ranged characters chip away at its health. Unfortunately, after the initial “Oh damn, boss fight!” wears off, which is pretty quickly I might add, it’s mostly a boring slog match.
And so we come around, yet again to what seems to be a trend for Fable games. A nice concept that is ultimately flawed. Essentially Fable Heroes is a tie-in game for the yet to be released Kinect title Fable: The Journey much like Fable 2’s Pub Games in the sense that your progress in Heroes contributes to Journey on release.
All in all Heroes is an average arcade title, an alternative to the classics such as Castle Crashers that’s a little more child friendly and good for those who are looking to get everything they can out of the next title in the series. As it stands however, there are titles with a lot more depth and replayability to spend your points on…
+ Unique Puppet Show Style
+ Fun Minigames
+ A Good Child Friendly Beat ’em Up
– Lack of Substance to Level Design
– Poor, Repetitive Boss Fights
– Dumb AI
A great style overall that’s both unique, colourful and true to the series. Locations are varied and enjoyable to explore while player characters also take on the style of their series counterparts, bounding over scenery and joyfully smashing Hobbes skulls in with plush warhammers.
While there’s no voice acting to speak of the music is great, again having that same Fable feel to it with a mixture of Irish and folk themed tunes overlaying much of the mayhem.
There is no real story but the overall puppet show setting is a nice backdrop to the entire thing.
While the minigames are fun and the enemies slightly varied there are a few flaws such as the repetitive boss combat and general shortness of the game, lasting only around 45 minutes to clear every stage. Family players will find a lot to have fun with if their kids are playing but hardcore gamers might get bored a little too fast.
This is really up to how far you want to go with the game. Is it purely a beat ’em up you’ll be playing with your friends or kids? Or are you playing it to enhance your experience in The Journey when it’s released? Whether you’ll find it worth more than a few replays is dependant on how you answer the question.
The Verdict: 7
Cute, fun but ultimately missing that special something. There’s no doubt that Heroes will give you a few hours of enjoyment before the spell wears off. If you’re looking for a cheap arcade title to play with your kids, you could do a lot worse than Heroes but don’t expect it to satisfy your coop party needs like Castle Crashers or Super Smash Bros…