When exactly did Fable morph into a kids’ game? Not that there’s anything wrong with making entertainment for the little ones, of course, but it’s still unusual to see a series once synonymous with ambition and innovation now hankering for a few of those lucrative Lego bucks.
Fable Heroes does indeed closely resemble the Lego games, except where Travellers Tales’ legacy oozes charm and variety, Lionhead’s entrant into the Xbox Live Arcade Next promotion is a game about hitting. Hitting, hitting and hitting. It’s a rudimentary co-op hack-and-slash effort that sees you and three chums plodding through Albion’s most famous landmarks, hoovering up coins, killing all comers and generally wondering what the hell happened to your life.
It’s almost impossible to fathom just who this is for. Yes, Fable II and III made concessions to appear more accessible to a general audience, but anyone who’s experienced the richness and wit of those games will surely be bored stiff by Fable Heroes’ monotonous baddie-thwacking. And as for the kids, will they have any affection for the likes of Hammer, Garth and Reaver? It’s not very likely.
Presumably it’s meant as a family game, given the Mario Party-esque dice-rolling intervals between each pad-thumping stage. Here you can send your puppet around a simple board, and then buy upgrades based on the square he or she lands on, but a confusing menu and lack of worthwhile character improvements makes it feel redundant.
Perhaps the only bright spot in Fable Heroes’ rainy day is the chance to grief your cohorts. Certain chests dotted throughout the levels give you the option of picking a good or bad outcome (the closest the game ever gets to aping Fable’s traditional moral dichotomy). Bad is always the best, resulting in a tag game that sees the person who’s ‘it’ chased by a storm cloud that sporadically zaps with coin-losing lightning, like some sort of defiantly British Sonic The Hedgehog enemy. It injects a bit of personality into the relentless grind.
Actually, there is a bit of character and humour dotted throughout. The jaunt through Mistpeak sees you fighting Hobbes in Santa hats with candy canes instead of axes (a bit odd for an April release, but never mind) and there are some lovely views of a picture book Albion as you stroll through the levels. Just a shame, then, that what you’re actually doing during that time is so uninteresting.
Considering the recent quality of XBLA titles (Fez, Trials Evolution, even Alan Wake) Fable Heroes feels like a bit of a black sheep. It’s a trudge of a game, and while it performs its chosen task moderately well, it’s about as ambitious and captivating as a drizzle-soaked walk to the local shop.