Review
Fable Heroes

By Seán O'Sullivan - May 14th, 2012

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Writing a review about Fable Heroes is something of a daunting proposition, given that the only thing going through my head as I played it was thoughts of all the better things I could be doing with my time.

But I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Fable Heroes is the latest 4-player cooperative brawler to show up on the Xbox Live Arcade, which sees the Fable universe’s hero-dolls (as in, child’s playthings) come to life to hack and slash their way through hordes of enemies, competing for loot drops along the way. The competitive-cooperative schtick is one that’s worked well in the past (think Castle Crashers, or even Zelda Four Swords Adventures); but here it just falls flat, given the sheer tedium of the combat mechanics.

The levels in Fable Heroes see four heroes (populated by AI if you can’t make up the number with humans locally or online) walking along a linear track until the camera refuses to scroll, a ‘no entry’ sign appears to signify that it’s battle time, and the screen fills up with dumb enemies that trudge towards the player. The combat system allows for quick and (worthlessly slow) heavy attacks, rolls, and area-of-effect specials that consume player-health; but the enemies present such little threat that mashing the quick attack is all that most encounters require.

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This sounds like a feature built into the new Bionic Woman.

Along the path, breakable objects such as barrels (and bizarrely, fences) can be smashed open to reveal more collectibles, which is about as much fun as fighting the enemies – so most will outright ignore their presence to get through the level quicker. Each stage is only a few minutes long, but after the first enemy encounter, it feels like a slog to get to the end.

It’s not that the game is offensively put-together – the production values are quite high on this one. The colour palette is bright and varied, the puppet-theatre motif is fairly consistent, and it’s not wanting for content or online functionality. The problem is that the core game-play is just terminally bland – I spend more brainpower scratching my ass in my sleep than I do trudging through a level of Fable Heroes.

It’s clear that I’m about four lifetimes past the target demographic of this game; but do games for a younger audience have to revel in such inanity? If you thought the empty feeling of dispatching mindless drones and breaking barrels was bad, wait until the game plonks down an inanimate object and demands you spam it with attacks until it disintegrates (at least when Street Fighter II had you destroy the car you had to change sides; and it showed damage appropriately!) Each level ends with a blind choice that will either lead to a mini-game, or a boss – if you draw the latter, brace yourself for another battle of attrition (not just with the uninspired mechanics – your patience will be tested).

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Spam-a-lot.

It’s difficult to reconcile such simple game-play when the character progression system is so obtuse – players must roll a dice to land on upgrade squares which they can only avail of if they have the requisite number of coins. Good luck explaining that balancing act to little Timmy.

Fable Heroes is not a hate-able game, it’s just entirely unremarkable. It doesn’t seem that this game was built to tell a great story (since there is none), nor was it to express a novel combat scheme. I’m inclined to believe that this is a (lovingly crafted) branding exercise – especially considering the hooks to transfer gold to Fable: The Journey that exist on the map screen.

The proven, talented people at Lionhead have somehow managed to make a game with a veneer of charm – but no personality. It’s a sugar coated puff of air, and I entirely expect to never speak of it again now that this review has concluded. Even if you’re struggling for titles to keep your young ‘uns entertained, I’d advise you to give Fable Heroes a pass, lest the resulting frustrations heaped on your urchins manifest elsewhere.

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