Sometimes it is nice to go back to the old way for a bite of the nostalgia apple. Games like Bastion, FEZ, and Castle Crashers have certainly proven that if done right fans love to indulge in its savory goodies. However, we have also seen many a development team attempt to do what Lionhead Studios did with Fable Heroes and leave us with a sour taste in our mouths. I compare Fable Heroes to that of a Candy Apple, it has a few nice ideas with an interesting art style, but after a few bites of it, it grows stale rather quickly and winds up as something I´d rather just throw into the trash halfway through instead of finishing up the whole thing.
When players start up Fable Heroes they are treated to screens full of the 10 Fable puppets (four available at start and six are unlocked through playing the game.) The puppets are cute and each one resembles a puppet seen in the fable universe such as Sir Walter or Scythe. They then proceed to the first level and begin the hack n slash adventure. Each world is a cel shaded and mostly static (except for the characters that inhabit certain areas that look like shops.) The static world meshes well with the puppets, which in real life would remain static until someone moved them. Each level has a semblance of a theme that matches a certain area of the world ofAlbion. The developers at Lionhead do a wonderful job of putting a lot of “Fable parts” into the game. Fans of the series will recognize all of the levels in Fable, as they are cel shaded versions of different areas ofAlbion. The game is chock full of a lot of Fable type gags and neat easter eggs for series fans. Aside from the branching points in each level, there are also good and evil boxes, which either reward or punish players randomly, regardless of who opens the box.
Players can also fight through the credits, similar to how players got to play one final song while the credits rolled in Guitar Hero. I laughed a lot while playing this level because the puppets destroy names of the Lionhead tech team or design team. There are also walking letters that attack players at certain points too. The score is also on point and is filled with cheerful themes that match the world of Light Albion, and darker ones that creep through the silent nights of Dark Albion. Probably the best thing about the Fable ties of this game is that Fable Heroes gives players the ability to place their earnings into Fable: Journey, Lionhead studios Kinect heavy Fable game being released later this year. Players can also unlock two extra puppets in Fable Heroes by having a Fable: Journey game save on their hard drive. All these things are what are great about spin-off titles like Fable Heroes. They provide a different vantage point in which to seek out the Fable universe and give Fable a fresh genre in which to play; however this wonderful Fable aesthetic is where the good things about Fable Heroes ends.
Even though the enemies all look authentic and different, they all behave in the same manner and do the same attack swing too. The process of going through each level is an arduous battle because there is not much variety to the fighting or the level design for that matter. Each level proceeds the same way, players fight through the enemies until they get to a crossroads where they choose between a mini-game or a boss battle. Some of the mini games such as chicken kicking or chicken soccer are interesting, but there also mine cart races and survival mode we have seen for years. The boss battles are annoying and not fun at all. The bosses take too long to defeat and all of them do the exact same thing. They do not really move, so they just attack you (which is easily avoidable if players are controlling ranged characters,) send out minions, have a rest period, and then repeat the process a billion times until the player happens to vanquish them. Luckily players only have to go through each world once, but the level board that resembles something out of “Mario Party” makes the world feel unfulfilled because there is a big spot open on one side. To truly complete the board, players must defeat each world twice by choosing each branch point. It also helps reaching the goal of 1 million coins to unlock “The Cloud” more reasonable because players are somewhat accomplishing something in each playthrough, the problem is you may not want to play each level more than once.
The game also gives players the ability to play through each area again in Dark Albion two more times, after they beat each area once in Light Albion. Dark Albion´s worlds are much more challenging and give each world a beautiful shadowy color palette. However, nothing else about the game changes other than some more difficult enemies. So, essentially players who want to complete the game (and do not care about getting certain colored medals) must beat each level four times. Asking players to beat the same level twice, let alone four times, is a lot to ask them to do when the core of the game is a monotonous chore.
The actual process of attacking only has three buttons to press and there are virtually no combos or special weapons to pick up either. Since the RT Trigger “Area Attack” takes away a life Heart (which is actually interesting but also limiting.) every time it is used and until fully maxed out, the strong attack can take so long to start and finish, it basically makes you want to use the X button constantly. There is also no way to block, players can only dodge roll away from enemies. The dodging works just fine but because there are many times where players will get lost on screen with the amount of baddies that show up at once, you might end up dodging as much as they do attacking. Even worse is that you may lose your character entirely and look up and realize he is about to die.
The rewards for demolishing everything are another “Mario Party” staple, which is a bunch of shiny coins that multiply the longer a player goes without being struck by an enemy. So, ultimately the fighting is a distraction to the bigger need of collecting these coins. In co-op action, whether it be online or in local play, the coins are what drives players because this is what determines who winds up in first place at the end of the level, kills have no merit in Fable Heroes.
Once a level is complete, players get to distribute their earnings through dice rolls on a game board to level up their characters. The game board is pretty deep and while it does give players an incentive to keep charging through each area, it does so at random. The game board resembles something out of Monopoly, complete with a free 1,000 coins for passing Go. The issue I have with the board is sometimes a player may actually level up an AI controlled puppet positively more than their own character. If playing co-op, the same can be said for watching another player do the former. This is because each piece on the board do something different and some of them are as frivolous as kicking a certain monster type to increasing the range or multipler of their weapon.
There is also the issue of earnings and upgrades sticking with the character and not on the player’s profile. So, people that play this game locally alone or in co-op are kinda screwed because they are stuck to one puppet their entire adventure. When playing online co-op this can work to a player’s advantage because this gives them more freedom to choose a different character because any character you used during local playthrough has those same upgrades during online play too. I applaud Lionhead for attempting to add depth to a shallow game, but because the actual game itself is boring and can be finished in four hours, there is no reason for anyone to level up more than character for their entire playthrough.
Final Verdict: Lionshead Studios tried to give players something different from the Fable universe and even though it did not pan out in my view, it does not mean there is not stuff to enjoy here for Fable fans that can stomach the poor gameplay especially for only 10 bucks. The online co-op helps add a little bit of length but not much and I expect online to be a ghost town fairly soon. Regardless, I still have to applaud Lionhead for really making this a Fable centered game and attempting to breathe new life into a genre that is on life support. However, Fable Heroes suffers the fate of many of the games in this genre, it is nostalgic and back then they could get away with stuff like this, nowadays two buttons and a special attack with lame boss fights is not fun.