Fable Heroes – Review

Title   Fable Heroes
Developer  Liohead Studios
Publisher  Microsoft
Platform  Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Genre  Arcade Beat-em-up
Release Date  2nd May, 2012

When Fable Heroes was announced it flew quietly under the radar for two reasons: the first was that everyone was still in shock at the thought of Fable: The Journey, the other being that no-one actually took it seriously. Heroes is the product of Lionhead’s annual Creative Day, and sees some classic Fable characters lovingly recreated in puppet form and sent brawling their way through some cartoony renditions of familiar Albion locations. For many, the thought of their favourite Fable characters in puppet form was an instant turn off, and the fact that the game was a spin off made it even less than desirous. Yet, despite the fact that it was a game that no-one really wanted, Lionhead have done an admirable job of creating a pretty enjoyable brawler that relentlessly pokes fun at a franchise they obviously love.

From the get-go you can play as either The Hero of Albion, Hammer, Reaver or Garth, each of whom has their own individual style. Garth and Reaver are ranged fighters while Hammer and Hero are melée focused. There are more puppets to be unlocked as the game goes on, each with their own slightly unique feel.

That said, most of the puppets play in a similar fashion, which is undoubtedly as a result of the controls. These are fairly standard for a brawler, consisting of a fast and light attack, a slower and heavier attack and a roll that serves as a dodge although, in reality, you’ll likely spend most of the game mashing away at the light attack button and occasionally rolling out of danger, a system that gets boring very quickly, especially considering the number of enemies that are thrown at you.

As you battle your way through Albion you’ll face a host of foes, including Hobbes, Hollow Men and Balverines. More often than not they swarm you, with a horde of enemies looking to take down your little team of Heroes, but your enemies don’t get stronger as the game continues; instead it just throws more enemies at you, so by the time you reach the last few levels it’s tough to pick out where your characters are in the colourful mess.

Some recognisable parts of the franchise are present, with Fable’s well known morality system being parodied in the form of good and evil chests that appear once per level. Choose good and a randomly selected member of the party enjoys a perk, such as a cloud that follows them around and rains coins. Choose evil and they could be stuck with a lightning cloud that zaps them at brief intervals, at least until he tags one of the others and passes it off to them.

Little things like that, as well as the way that the game gives out scores, makes it a surprisingly-competitive co-op experience. Each enemy that you kill drops gold, though not necessarily to the person who killed it. The person who has collected the most gold at the end of the level is the winner and enjoys a place on a pedestal above the others, while the one who collected the least is ushered out to the sound of a sad trumpet. This means that even though you’re working together to reach the end of the level, you’re also in constant competition to get the most coins, giving the game a frenzied and exciting feel during combat, despite a slightly-floaty feel to the movement.

When you hit the end of each level you are offered a choice between two paths – another amusing hat-tip towards the morality system – which will lead you either to a big boss battle or a mini-game that pits the players against each other in fun tasks, such as kicking explosive chickens at each other or racing minecarts.

After you’ve bashed your way through each level you’re presented with the opportunity to upgrade your puppet. This is done through another mini-game, which is very similar to Monopoly where you earn a number of dice rolls, depending on how many coins you’ve gathered. Each puppet then makes their way around the game board, buying upgrades as they go. As with Monopoly, however, it takes ages to buy everything, and by the time you do you’re a little bored of it.

The levels you play through are based on Albion locations, mostly drawn from Fable 3; each fantastically recognisable, adding a new dimension to places that players will already be very familiar with. The game world is bright and colourful, as are the characters and opponents that populate it, although sometimes it can almost be too much, especially when there are a lot of enemies on the screen and you’re struggling to pick out your character from the mass of colours.  Not only that, but each is given yet another tweak when you eventually unlock Dark Albion. The bright graphics darken and become almost luscious, with more than one creative twist on the levels that have already been played through – Hobbes riding wolves or wearing dog hats, and Hollow Men in Christmas gear are just some of the surprises that crop up.

Throughout the game there are dozens of features that show not only how much Lionhead love the Fable franchise, but also the fun that they are willing to have with it. The game is almost a playful parody of the main series, poking fun at things like the morality system and familiar enemies. Take Snollow Men for example, Hollow men who burst from the snowmen that are scattered across Mistpeak and who keep the Snowman’s head. There are also miniature versions of most of the main enemies that you can kick around, which was a great touch.

The game does have some irritating flaws, not least the slow and wishy-washy movement of the characters. It’s quite often difficult to aim precisely when playing as the ranged characters, and my characters would regularly be found flinging fireballs in random directions, completely ignoring the hordes of enemies or the big boss that I’m facing. The balance of the boss fights are another issue, as I all-too-often found myself pumping fireballs into the bosses for five minutes or more – longer than I spent actually getting to them!

Perhaps the most annoying thing though, was that you couldn’t die. When you ran out of health, you simply fell over, reappearing as a transparent ghost, who can fight and kill as normal. The only thing the ghosts can’t do is pick up coins, which is irritating but in no way a real problem. In fact, I found it more convenient to be dead than alive at some points, especially when I was playing with AI and had thousands and thousands of coins anyway. There are also some annoying graphical issues, with the few items that have to move or change often disappearing completely and then reappearing in their new state.

Overall, the world sometimes feels a bit lifeless as the towns and cities – lovingly recreated as they are – feel a bit empty without all the NPCs that made Albion so alive and vibrant. The puppets are also silent, leaving them feeling a bit flat, and the jaunty music quickly starts to grate. Thankfully, on that front at least, the game isn’t particularly long, which meant that my poor ears and my exhausted thumbs didn’t give up completely after all that button mashing. More than anything though, Fable Heroes is just a bit of fun, and this is reflected in the 800 MSP price tag so, in that capacity, it succeeds.

  • Great graphics
  • Fun references
  • Solid multiplayer
  • Floaty controls
  • Poorly-balanced boss fights
  • No death

Despite all the problems, the game is undeniably fun. The irreverent humour of the Fable franchise is somehow present, despite the absence of any voice acting, and the game really comes into its own when played with a couple of friends. Dark Albion is fantastically creative, and the graphics throughout are very pleasing on the eye. To top it off, it’s also chock full of references that any Fable fan will undoubtedly appreciate.

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One Comment

  1. Furie says:

    I always thought a little more design would have made Heroes a more compelling experience.

    Redesigning the board so that there are missions, shops, trainers and events on there would have been pretty nice. Then wherever you land you either play a mission, buy a weapon upgrade, train for a new ability or have a special event play out. Special events would turn the game upside down (awarding your next ability to the player on the left, giving you a quarter of everyone else’s gold, etc) and could also be available on cards in chests in the missions (to be played in place of a die roll). Add in custom ending and winning rules (first to X gold earned, most gold after X missions played, etc) and you’ve got a game that can be played as a hobby instead of a throwaway title.

    A little redesign like that with characters reset at the start of each game would have been compelling enough to keep a lot of people playing beyond what they did.

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