Greed is good – even when you are a doll.
Welcome to Albion as you have never seen it before. Fable Heroes is a spin-off from the Fable franchise for XBLA which takes the settings, monsters and heroes from the popular RPG series and casts them all into a Castle Crashers like hack-and-slash adventure with an almost Little Big Planet visual style. The heroes have become dolls, the monsters have a comical, almost childlike, quality to them and the levels through which you progress, based on the locations from the Fable games, are all quaint and enjoyable. The entire game has an overriding cuteness that will raise a smile on the faces of most gamers. But hiding beneath the happy surface of this four player co-op game, both online and local, is a tale of betrayal, greed and the lust for gold.
Players first get to choose from four available characters, each with their own method of combat. Fans of the Fable series will be pleased to know that these four characters, and indeed the rest of the unlockable characters that will be discovered later in the game, have all leapt straight out of the Fable games, albeit with a patchwork twist. There is Hero with his sword, Hammer with a hammer, Garth with magical spells and Reaver with a pistol. Each of them play slightly differently, with Hero and Hammer getting up close and personal for melee attacks and the other two more suitable to ranged attacks.
The attacks themselves are button mashing goodness. A quick light attack or a heavier charged attack are both available. There is also an impressive heavy area attack available to each of the characters, but use of this power will cost one of the players’ heart tokens, leaving them closer to death. There is also a button that will allow the player to dodge, making for some very simple and enjoyable mechanics for the game as a whole.
So, the player and up to three friends, work their way through the linear levels of the game, fighting Hobbes, Balverines and other Fable meanies, as they head for the levels end. Defeated monsters and smashed barrels will give up gold coins for the players to collect and chests will be found containing a variety of helpful power-ups. As the players approach the end of each level, they will be presented with a fork in the road that will take them either to a massive boss battle, or a competitive mini-game. The mini-games offer a fun break to the hack and slash, ranging from races in boats or mine carts to running away from exploding chickens.
It is the collection of gold that is most important to the game however, and makes for the betrayal and greed that was mentioned earlier. At the end of each level, the amount of gold that each player has managed to collect is compared, with the player collecting the most given the top position on the podium and the player with the least being suitably humiliated. This brings out the competitive side of the game, with players running around trying to grab the gold before their companions.
Fable Heroes is carefully balanced to encourage this competitive spirit. Using the melee fighters will put the player closer to the action, and thus better positioned for grabbing the gold as it falls from fallen enemies. But it will also put them at more risk of dying and becoming a ghost. As a ghost, the player will still be able to fight, but not collect any of the gold, leaving more for the other players. This state can be reversed by picking up a dropped heart, if the other players don’t get to it before you.
Amongst the chests, which contain cool power-ups such as becoming a giant, a Hobbe disguise or a doppelganger, there are even good and evil chests for the players to choose between. Good chests may shower the lucky player with gold coins, whereas the evil chests will create a cloud that takes coins away from the given player. It’s all very mischievous.
The coins are not just for bragging rights, mind you. There is a really cool leveling up mechanic at play in Fable Heroes using what is basically a board game. The number of coins that a player collects dictates how many dice they get to roll to move around the board, as well as how much they have to spend on upgrading. Different squares on the board will allow the player to purchase different upgrades, from unlocking new characters or the ability to change their dolls expressions, in a Little Big Planet style, to damage and range increases.
Fable fans will already know that there is another Fable spin-off in the works, the motion-controlled Fable: The Journey. The great news is that there are some cross-over features between Fable Heroes and the upcoming Fable: The Journey. Players who pick up the Kinect game when it arrives will be able to transfer gold across from their Fable Heroes game to give them a bit of a head-start. Also, the unlocked characters, or dolls, from Fable Heroes will be transferable into The Journey and hung from the players’ cart like a rear-view mirror accessory. Any dolls unlocked within Fable: The Journey will apparently also be transferable into Heroes. Good times!
For all of it’s cuteness, classic Fable humour and competitive spirit, Fable Heroes does have an Achilles heel. The game is quite short if you are only planning on getting to the end. The player will be encouraged to go back for more with the much more sinister “Dark Albion” mode unlocked once the final level is completed and there is a high replay value, with dolls and such to collect and level up, and gold to gather for Fable: The Journey. But the button-mashing gameplay can get repetitive after extended periods of play.
The game has a family-friendly nature which is at its best when played in short bursts, with a bunch of people, either online or locally. Fable Heroes, which is part of the XBLA Arcade Next promotion, is a huge bundle of fun that looks absolutely gorgeous.