As you near the end of each stage, lovingly crafted after recognizable Albion locations, you’ll have a choice to make. Each leads to a different conclusion to the level: a boss battle or a minigame. The boss battles, again, feature recognizable foes like trolls, clockwork contraptions, etc. Peel back the paint, though, and you’ll quickly see that they are all the same.
The bosses are restricted to one location on the screen. They will jump and slam into the ground causing damage or emit some kind of projectile. At points in the fight, the monster will disappear leaving miniature versions of itself in its wake. Then it will emerge, finally picking up another attack as it gets close to death. Put simply, it was not at all fun after the first time. It’s the same pattern over and over. No matter how enjoyable a game is from an aesthetic perspective, without varied and enjoyable game play, it’s hard to keep coming back.
The mini games are very brief and include races and survival challenges, with a heap of gold to the victor. You can visit these diversions and the boss fights independently after completing them the first time. To see everything, playing the ten-minute levels twice will be necessary.
Once you complete a stage, your earnings will be tallied and banked. Based on how much gold you collect, you’ll earn a number of dice rolls to be used on the upgrade board. Roll, advance and choose whether or not to purchase one ability from a short list. Once you exhaust your own character’s upgrade potential, you’ll move on to the AI-controlled puppets. Many of the options will increase your gold collection, attack strength, damage against specific enemy types and a variety of aesthetic effects. This is also where you’ll open up new puppets. Each character is upgraded individually, so you’ll need to play quite a lot to maximize each one. Playing solo, you’ll see very little growth in the characters you don’t control directly. They simply don’t earn enough to make the most of their time on the board.
After you complete the game (and work your way through the playable credits), you’ll have access to Dark Albion. These are more difficult versions of the levels which afford you greater potential for wealth. Still, you can see just about everything the game has to offer, with the exception of unlockable puppets (as those are reliant on the randomness of dice rolls) in about 3 hours. I expect the largest incentive to revisit the board game-like world of Fable Heroes’ Albion is as an easy way to farm gold for Fable: The Journey. This seeps through the pores of the design, and it ultimately leaves me feeling like the aesthetic was implemented as a way to disguise the true intent of the title.
The game does have a multiplayer option, and you can bring your game online with friends or strangers. It plays the exact same, only with partners actively trying to swipe as many of your coins as possible. Playing locally, I noticed some slowdown and lag even with only one other controller connected. Hopefully, this can be addressed with a patch down the line, because it is truly perplexing.
As I mentioned earlier, the aesthetic is very cute, successfully giving hobbes, hollow men and trolls an appealing and friendly coat of paint. My children were able to play the game with ease and, unlike the core entries in the series, it was easy to let them loose in this version of Albion. As a family title, Fable Heroes succeeds. The ability to change expressions (after purchasing that upgrade) with the bumpers also gives the kids something to do.
The highlight of the sound design is the remixed tunes from past Fable games that will be recognizable to anyone that has traveled to Albion before. There is no voice acting and only grunts and wordless exclamations help to enrich the puppets’ personalities. Most of the audioscape is filled with slashes, crashes, thumps and whines. It’s not terribly inventive, but it fits the motif.
Fable Heroes isn’t hard to like, but it is extremely difficult to love. The more time I spent with it, the more I disliked the title’s poor take on traditional, side scrolling beat ’em ups. The cookie cutter bosses, boring race mini games and lopsided “classes” make it nearly impossible to recommend to all but the most diehard Fable fans and those that are looking for a game to play with children. It’s hard to look at this as anything more than a not-so-subtle pitch for Fable: The Journey. In addition, selling a game with components locked until another title arrives, sometime in the future, feels a bit insulting. Other developers have rewarded loyalty with DLC after the fact. These could have been incentivized and patched in later. Instead, I can’t help but feel that the design was more about teasing a bigger game than creating a standalone, enjoyable and long-lasting game.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Great aesthetic that harks back to the collectible dolls in the original Fable
+ The remixed tracks have a great, light feel and are enjoyable to listen to
+ Characters function as you would assume based on their core-series personas
– Feels like one part cash-in, one part advertisement
– Repetitious gameplay is masked by the aesthetic, but not for long
– Bosses all use the same play book
– Each puppet is upgraded independently; grind, grind, grind
5 and 5.5 are mediocre. These aren’t necessarily bad games, they just doesn’t do anything that is worth caring about and not worth the time of most people.
Fable Heroes was developed by Lionhead Studios and published by Microsoft. It will be released on May 2, 2012 for 800msp on Xbox Live Arcade. A code was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.