Fable Heroes – Review

Platform | Release Date
360 | May 2, 2012
Developed by Lionhead Studios
Published by Microsoft Studios

The Pitch:

“Fable Heroes” on Xbox LIVE Arcade is an action-packed hack-and-slash adventure set in the “Fable” universe, it is a fresh spin on the franchise, taking playful competition to the next level with four player co-op, time trials and leaderboards on Xbox LIVE. In “Fable Heroes” players work together to defeat enemies while also competing with each other to collect gold coins, which will level up their character and unlock unique items in “Fable: The Journey” when it launches later this year.

The project started out as part of our yearly Creative Day, a day where anyone from the studio can showcase an idea they have for a title. It was green-lit and a 5 person team started working on the title in early 2011

Fable Heroes is a simple but soulless romp.

The puppet characters and dollhouse levels literally represent the patchwork of ideas taken from other titles. On the surface, Fable Heroes looks like a cross between LittleBigPlanet and a children’s beat’em up with graphics that are both technically and artistically terrible. Mechanically, it is similar to the Lego games; it replaces studs with coins, removes the jump button, and drops any environment interaction. Your party of four adventurers travel an overworld map just like Castle Crashers. At the end of each level, you fight a boss or play a Mario Party style mini-game to defeat your friends and earn a large bonus in gold which is tallied to determine a winner of each level. In a game you can beat by just pressing X, two whole buttons are dedicated to changing your facial expression (ala LittleBigPlanet, again).

In the early stages, Fable Heroes offers zero challenge. In death and defeat you are simply a ghost that can still attack and do damage. The only drawback is an inability to earn coins until you collect a heart to restore your life. Even if all 4 characters are knocked into ghost status, you continue through the level until you win. This only happened when I was playing reckless or lazy and the AI was stupid or suicidal.

I just don’t know who the target audience of this game is. It is meant as a tie-in product for the Fable series and allows players to transfer gold into Fable Journeys. Some characters are even locked until you own and have played Journeys; a game that is not even available. But the series has always been rated “M” for 17+. Despite the cartoony nature of the presentation, Fable has been a series for grown-ups. Just behind the happy pastels are tales of true horror; Fable 2 contains one of the only sequences in any game ever to really creep me out. It manages this because of the juxtaposition of a funny, pastel, fairy tale land and truly dark undertones. Fable Heroes lacks this entirely. Even in its “Dark World” new game plus mode it remains rated “E” for Everyone.

That’s not to say an “E” rated title couldn’t capture the spirit of choice, freedom, or humor found in the Fable series. Fable Heroes is none of these things. Each level is a completely linear path with almost no exploration. The only choice is presented at the end of the level: 2 paths, one leading to a boss and the other to a minigame. You must play the level twice to unlock both on the world map. There are also “Good” and “Evil” chests, but the less said about those, the better.

It doesn’t even have any dialog: no Narrator, peasants, or taunts from enemies. The narration banter in Fable Coin Golf from the Dungeon Masters helped set the stage as to why you were playing in a tabletop, board game world, and was generally funny or tip filled. Nothing tempted me towards evil and the dark side more than the constant praise of the citizenry in Bowerstone during my Fable 2 exploits. If I ever hear one more mob of a dozen random people chase me down, block me in the corner of an inn, and ask me in unison why I haven’t given them a motherfucking ring I swear to bring down the thunder and purge this town of every last man, woman, and child!

But in the silent world of Fable Heroes, I missed them. I desperately wanted to hear someone say anything.

The only voice comes from the chirps of the player characters taken from past titles. I have extensively played Fable 1 and 2, but have yet to play much Fable 3, so while I recognized Jack of Blades, Hammer, Reaver, and that Hero of Will guy (Garth), several others are unrecognizable oddities.

Since I enjoyed the character of Reaver (read: asshole) in Fable 2, I jumped in with him first. He is terrible; do not play as him. As a ranged character, he is naturally far away from the gold collecting. As a character with a piss-poor normal attack, even upgraded, he does little damage at a slow rate. I think his boon is meant to be his excellent Area Clearing special attack but this costs health and you’ll soon be dead if you rely on it. The only reason to play as him is because each doll can unlock a unique hero during their character-specific level up process, so you’ll be forced to play as each to collect them all (ala Castle Crashers, again).

The level-up mechanic is somewhat interesting. It’s a board game, where at the end of each level you earn a requisite number of die rolls based on performance/gold. Roll the die, land on a spot, and you can buy a set of upgrades from that spot. It’s a bit like a cross between Monopoly and the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. It’s still not fun, but the random chance adds at least a tiny morsel of mystery and intrigue. If it were also a linear system, I’m not sure I could have finished the campaign – as short as it is – due to predictability and boredom.

The new game plus “Dark World” offers slightly more challenging combat and could be interesting, but I don’t think I could force myself to play another hour of Fable Heroes to find out. Not without at least three friends capable of a MST3K level of humor and a case of beer. Don’t buy Fable Heroes, or at least wait until Fable Journey to see if $10 and a few mind-numbing hours would earn you some much-needed gold.

About Aaron Phokal

Aaron is a staff writer for Splitkick.
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