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Fable Heroes Xbox 360 Review

One of the joys of gaming in the era of downloadable content is experiencing titles that, in all likelihood, would never otherwise see release. Fable Heroes is a four-player arcade game from Lionhead Studios and an amalgamation of different genres too broad for a full-title release. Depending on who you talk to, the game shouldn’t even exist (some Fable fanboys demand better from the studio); however, this idea seems perfectly suited for download. Green-lit after a Lionhead Creative Day (where the developer’s employees showcase ideas for new titles), the game’s part RPG, action, and party-game mixture makes for a little ridiculous, occasionally frustrating, and surprisingly enjoyable downloadable romp.

Interestingly, the game’s gameplay is, similar to its artistic style, a hodgepodge of unique styles. Imagine a blend of The Wind Waker’s luscious realism, Mario Party’s mini-games, and LittleBigPlanet’s co-operative genius – if you can conjure it up, the result is a presentation heavily influenced by those titles, but still its own entity by how it approaches your journey. The game tracks your movement between levels on a 3-d game board, a view perfectly matched to this game’s whimsical style.

You view action from a side-scrolling perspective, and the camera occasionally switches to fixed positions during mini-games or boss fights. The camera capably shows off each level, yet it can prevent you from viewing all enemies at once. In these moments, the linearity was truly apparent – I could shoot off-screen knowing the game’s aiming mechanism would hit whatever was behind me. Melee characters won’t have this problem, but any sense of accomplishment as a ranged character was gone.

Still, you’ll remember each stage’s sharp visuals (you fight through masterfully-crafted mountaintop, cheery village, and cemetery scenery), and you’ll certainly recall how you finished those levels. You see, in testament to Fable’s series love of moral decisions, the co-operative gameplay requires that you take several factors into consideration.

You’re always part of a group of four, but each character’s fighting style is twisted by Heroes’ unique risk and reward system. To be sure, there’s still room for some action clichés. Enemies and objects drop collectable gold, and you have three – quick, strong, and impact – types of attacks. Yes, you can play as a melee (welcome back, doll version of Fable III’s Hero!), ranged, or mage character. But consider this – if you naturally avoid direct fighting because you prefer a gun, expect to never attain the same amount of gold as your companions.

Regardless of your preferred fighting style, you have to be close to enemies to collect treasure. You have to get dirty, but not too much – if you lose all your health, you don’t simply die; you turn into a ghost incapable of picking up gold but still able to deal damage to enemies. If you find a heart, okay then – back to fighting. However, your teammates can try and stop you from regaining life, if only to keep collecting all loot for themselves. Similarly, you can use an impact –  a powerful group clearing attack – move to help your team in a rough situation, but you’ll lose a health container in the process. Do you trust your teammates to get you back to life? Or will they purposefully spite your situation, grabbing every heart in sight, to earn more gold?

Various chests and power-ups strewn throughout levels offer the same good/evil dichotomy, forcing you to think more about tactics than frantically smashing attack every time you see an enemy. At the end of each level, you choose to fight a boss or engage in a mini-game; each is enjoyable, but the mini-games seem far more suited to the game’s tone than the boss fights. Sure, it’s great to fight against an oversized version of a Fable III Sentinel, but it’s really only exciting the first time.

The mini-games are different – think chickens. Seriously. Fable has always embraced the cluckers, and several mini-games feature the poultry in hilarious ways. Along with others like a mine-cart game, the games are great and can be even selected independently from the main menu once you’ve unlocked them. Additionally, Lionhead wisely made the game completely functional on Xbox Live or offline, so any progress you make by yourself instantly correlates online if you decide to play there. I still have to admit – playing the mini-games with your own friends might be the most fun the game offers, and having those mini-games available offline makes the game’s shelf life longer than it otherwise would have been.

Once you’ve completely finished a level, you move to a monopoly-esque board to enhance your character’s skill set and obtain unlockables. Use the gold you’ve collected to buy those upgrades, and voila – damage multipliers, health enhancements, and new attack moves are available, provided you roll the right numbers on the dice (no, I’m not kidding). It’s RPG-light, but it makes complete sense within Heroes’ structure. With twelve total characters (two of which can only be unlocked by purchasing Fable: The Journey), you’ll have plenty to keep you entertained if unlock everything is your gaming mantra.

While the game is enjoyable, I can only see fans of the Fable series – well, maybe not the ones who hated Fable III – really playing this game more than once. In terms of extras, there’s a few production pictures, but nothing really notable. It’s just deep enough to justify multiple playthroughs, and any gold you acquire here can be transferred to Fable: The Journey when it’s released this fall. Even then, you might grow tired of this game – there are only eight or so levels and about as many mini-games/boss fights. But for 800 Microsoft points, it’s worth checking out. If you are a fan of the Fable series and know a few friends who enjoy party-games, have at it. It’s not the golden goose by any means, but, for what it is, this Fable will do.

7 out of 10