Don’t be fooled into thinking Fable Heroes’ is Lionhead taking a cheeky, cheery stab at the side-scrolling brawler genre with their franchise: masquerading as such a game is merely a front from what appears to be an attempt to cash in on the Fable name and ramp up interest for Fable Journey. The ‘fun to be had by all’ vibes this game sends you is a ruse, a cheap trick to entice you into committing to the purchase of the next Fable game that lies outside the definitive Fable canon. All the shiny coins and “aww”-inducing visuals don’t hide the dire lack of content beneath or the tepid gameplay that goes no further than bare functionality.
I’m willing to accept the party atmosphere Lionhead are trying to reciprocate here though, considering the framework of this quintessential party game you pay a fair amount for. Playable with (and optimised for) four players, Heroes is a brawler that takes players across Fable-inspired locations and fight enemies from the franchise with puppet characters similarly lifted from Fable. Think LittleBigPlanet meets the LEGO games but not as fun, interesting or diverse.
The basic structure of each level is to run from one side to the other, mash a few buttons, get a bit confused trying to find your character during clustered fights, combat roll in the direction of the coins that fling from every available crevice and hopefully finish the level without losing all your hearts in these clusters and becoming a ghost that can do everything except pick up coins (or in a lot of cases a heart to revive yourself with, since other Heroes around you will instinctively pick everything around up including hearts). The end of a level will give you access to two paths, which lead to brief Pokémon Stadium-esque mini-games or tedious boss fights. Once you’re past these the four heroes will stand on podiums as their coin tallies are totalled.
A winner and loser are declared and you’re thrust into a Monopoly-like board game that lets you spend these coins on things you don’t really need or want. Roll a die and your character will move from square to square before landing on the correct one, letting you buy performance-enhancing upgrades for your character based on what particular thing is on the square beneath you. It could be Balverine-based combat upgrades or general improvements to your character for example; at the end of the day, unless you’re playing on the hardest difficulty these upgrades don’t mean jack to your overall effectiveness.
The general gameplay is functional but uninspiring: it never felt like there was any particular good reason for playing and that’s coming from a fan of the Fable series. There didn’t seem to be any particular need to upgrade things since it all seemed chance-based and the upgrades offered were largely specific to enemy types that wouldn’t always be encountered. The chests that lay scattered around levels are at least a mildly interesting idea, containing a wide variety of temporary power-ups (or on the odd occasion an entity inhabiting the chest that attacks you). Certain points have good and evil chests side-by-side that either punish another player or reward them with something; it’s the weakest dichotomy choice function in a game I’ve experienced but at least it’s light relief from the general tedium.
At least the game’s nice to look at: Fable Heroes has a very shiny, attractive décor that sparkles something fierce at times. The visuals are but fanciful icing on a rather stale cake that does its best to detract from the disappointment and add a certain vivacity to proceedings. Somewhat successful, since the drab progression from level to level is given an uplifting edge by the trumpet fares accompanying a lively graphical display.
One can’t help but feel like this game is advantage-taking at its pinnacle: Fable III’s out of the mind’s eye now but with the franchise still in good stead and Fable Journey in the pipeline, beyond the artificial this simplistic quasi-Fable game lacks any purpose. Showing hallmarks of a game made just for the sake of it, Fable Heroes ultimately offers little for anyone. It’s certainly got an aesthetic quality going for it – the puppet characters are endearing and the quirky Fable universe references sometimes hit the mark – but aside from that, Heroes just comes across as a Journey companion piece that only Fable fans can really find any redemptive quality within.