Like most hack-and-slash games, the button scheme is fairly simple, featuring a light and heavy attack, along with a roll maneuver. You can open chests for various power-ups (some of dubious helpfulness) and there is a special move that none of my multiplayer party fully grasped. I knew how to do it, but for the life of me couldn't figure out when it was available. This led to rampant guesswork with limited success. The help section of the game didn't offer much assistance either. (Though it does include a 17-page description of all the power-up chests.)
You can play as either a ranged or melee character. One way or another, however, you're going to be using the attack button almost nonstop – and you can forget about strategy. As far as I could tell – I played the game for some time and I'm still unsure – there are no consequences for death other than your character being unable to pick up coins. You can still attack, no longer take damage and can revive yourself with a heart. The hearts are dropped infrequently, but aren't particularly hard to come by. Even if every member on the team loses all of their health, everything continues as normal, except your puppet is transparent.
The coins are used to upgrade your character during a board game sequence at the end of every level. While it sounds like a fun concept, forcing players to randomly roll to land on different upgrades severely limits customization. For example, I really just wanted to upgrade my character's attack damage, but after a dozen levels I only managed to land on spaces that allowed me to buy a new puppet or a costume for my current puppet. Some spaces allow you to pay to move to other spaces. Once you've purchased all the upgrades on one space, it becomes useless to land on. It's probably the worst upgrade system I've ever seen.
Admittedly, the two friends I conned into playing the game with me enjoyed it for the first few minutes, but after we had beaten a half dozen levels, we felt like the game hadn't matured or changed in the slightest. Put simply, the game was boring. We could see past the difficult visuals and squeeze some enjoyment out of it, but the lack of consequences (such as death or a loss of coins) made a potentially fun experience tedious and pointless. That's what makes Fable Heroes such a disappointment. It has potential as a cutesy hack-and-slash, but when getting to the end of the level is a matter of time and not skill; interest quickly wanes.
You may be wondering why I haven't addressed the game's connection to the Fable universe. It's because the game is such a shameful representative that it barely merits mention. Though it pays homage to different locations and characters, these are more cameos than true representations of Fable lore.
It might be a suitable family game, but there are certainly better family games out there – games that won't leave a five-year-old yawning. For Fable fans distraught about Peter Molyneux's departure from Lionhead, I would recommend pretending this title didn't even exist. And for the unlucky few who can't resist and buy it anyway, I'd wager a nickel that you only ever play the game once.
[This review originally stated that Fable Heroes contains no characters from the Fable universe. The reviewer's claims were inaccurate and the review has been updated accordingly. -Ed.]
This review is based on a download of Fable Heroes, provided by Microsoft. It will be released on Xbox Live Arcade this Wednesday, May 2, for $10.
Nationally unacclaimed freelance writer Jonathan Deesing has been writing about video games for dozens of weeks. His professional knowledge ranges from skiing to Peruvian history and, of course, anything with buttons. If you can't get enough of his musings, check out his Twitter feed.
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