Fable Heroes review for XBLA

Platform: XBLA
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Lionhead
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes

Fable Heroes isn?t quite your standard Fable adventure, and bears a more striking resemblance to old-school Konami arcade beat ?em ups like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, or The Simpsons. That said, it?s also not quite as enjoyable as any of the above mentioned games, but it?s not entirely devoid of some charm.

The art style of Fable Heroes adopts a puppet look to the various heroes you?ll get to control, which are all taken from the Fable series and should be instantly recognizable to fans. I actually really liked the design of the characters that you control, but thought it odd that the look didn?t carry over to the enemies featured in the game. The enemies, along with the stages, are also cribbed from the Fable universe, but are really just miniature representations of the foes you?d face in Fable 1, 2, and 3.

Fable Heroes is a multiplayer focused adventure, featuring up to four players with drop-in and drop-out online or local multiplayer. The premise is simple enough, guide your selected hero through a series of stages and whack your sword against everything else that moves. As you do so, enemies will literally explode into a shower of coins, which can then be spent on character upgrades. There are a lot of characters to choose from, and a few more which are locked away until the release of Fable: The Journey, so if you?re at all interested in maxing out the entire roster, it might take you a while to do so.

The character upgrade system is a little odd though, and not really to my liking. Instead of just giving you a list of skills to purchase with your gold, at the end of every level you?ll be presented with a game board and will be able to roll a certain number of six-sided die based on your performance in the stage that was just finished. Each space on the board represents about three different upgrades, like increased damage against certain enemies, additional emotes for your character faces, a different style of weapon, percentage increases to gold gained, and so on. This system becomes troublesome as you advance though, because eventually you?ll get stuck wasting dice rolls landing on spaces where you?ve already acquired all abilities available. This means when you?re down to the last five or six slots to fill, you?ll often need to replay stages again and again in the hopes of getting lucky enough to land on the scant few spaces you need.

And since I didn?t find the combat or stages particularly satisfying, it really starts to feel like a grind-fest pretty quick. Combat is little more than mashing the hell out of the X button, and occasionally tapping Y for a flourish attack which seems to do little more than have a long wind-up time associated with it. There?s not much of a satisfying impact effect when striking enemies, and the screen often gets so busy with different effects, creatures, and gold flying around that it?s actually easy to lose track of where your character even is. Combat also fails to be challenging on the normal difficulty setting, but bumping up the difficulty just prolongs the already lengthy stages and further emphasizes the lack of abilities these characters have. There?s even little to differentiate one character from another other than the fact that some are focused on ranged attacks while others are for melee.

Speaking of, ranged characters tend to get pretty screwed when it comes to collecting gold. When enemies erupt into gold, it doesn?t so much scatter as it does pool around where the enemy once stood. This means that the melee characters are in a prime position to get the majority of the cash, whereas your ranged characters are stuck picking up any leftovers. There?s a pretty big imbalance there that makes playing as a ranged character an instant handicap.

While there are a few examples of modern games handling the old-school beat ?em up genre well, like Castle Crashers for instance, Fable Heroes isn?t one of those games. I really did like the art style and look of the game, but couldn?t care less about the gameplay attached to it. I found it to be largely boring, uninspired, and little more than a promotional vehicle for the upcoming Fable: The Journey. So unless you?re some die-hard Fable fanatic, I?d advise giving this one a pass.

Grade: C-