Turning kids into cutthroats.
Little Billy is decidedly less than happy right now. While he was doing his best to slay all the hollow men and balverines, Suzy just ran around picking up all the coins and opening all the treasure chests. Having relayed this injustice to his Mommy several times to no avail, he did the only thing a reasonable young boy would do: He hurled his controller at his sister's arm. World War X breaks out, and now it's up to Mom to step in and bring an end to the madness.
Okay, so none of that actually happened. It could, though, if you decided to take Fable: Heroes for the family friendly co-op hack and slash it claims to be. Despite it going out of its way to become the new go-to babysitter for people with a pile of kids to entertain, I couldn't help but see all the ways in which it would most likely incite riots. It makes you wonder if perhaps it wasn't meant for kids at all, though that's a depressing notion. If it isn't meant to keep packs of rugrats from chewing on the carpet, then I'd like to know what it is for, because it certainly can't compete with other titles in the genre or vie for the attention of more serious gamers.
Whether old or young, you will no doubt find the game's repeated attempts to bash you over the head with the happy stick irritating. Between the smiley, Raggedy Andy-esque puppets you control, to the overly saccharine soundtrack, I regularly wanted to find something cute and hurt it… badly. While LittleBigPlanet succeeds in conveying an infectious charm by inspiring awe and wonder, this game simply tries to strong-arm you with the adorable. The visuals end up becoming a mess of mis-matched, over-saturated colors and goofy-looking art that not only makes the game look ugly, but makes it hard to see what's happening on screen.
In a game with four characters fighting non-stop against large groups of enemies, being unable to make out the action is a big no-no. If the confusing visual style wasn't enough, the general lack of clear feedback after dealing or receiving a blow will ensure that little Billy and Suzy have no idea what's going on. Thankfully, they won't have to. Many foes are kind enough to lounge about, patiently waiting to get killed. Combat options are shamefully limited considering the source material, but mashing the 'X' button is the only option you need in order to triumph. Even if you do take a scrape or two, there's almost always some extra health awaiting you while moving from one battle to the next. On the whole, combat is too vague to be entertaining and too simplistic to be rewarding.
The same can be said for the upgrade system, which tries to make powering up a character easier and more fun for young folk by turning it into a board game. Essentially, it plays out like a game of Monopoly, but without the fun. Depending on how they perform within a given level, players are awarded dice. When the level concludes, they get to roll their die to move themselves along a square board. Each square represents a family of upgrades and each time you land on one, you have the option to unlock something.
The first problem is that you have no control over what family of upgrades you'll be selecting from. It's entirely up to the roll of the dice. The next issue is that, at the start of the game, many categories of upgrades are locked until you finish an appropriate stage. So not only can't you control which family of upgrades to focus on, but you may also land on one that you can't do anything with even if you wanted to. Wanna know what's worse? Sitting there watching the other three players do it! Now, let's say you land on an upgrade that is both unlocked and something you are interested in. You still need enough coins to purchase it, and coins are a whole different issue.
Coins are supposed to be your reward for killing stuff. The more coins you earn in a stage, the more dice you are awarded and the more expensive upgrades you can unlock. The problem is that when you hit enemies, coins fly out of them like you just smashed a piñata, which means the person hitting the most things isn't necessarily getting the most coins—the players standing around them are. What's more, getting hit resets your coin multiplier, so the most effective way to score big is to let everyone else fight, stay out of trouble, and grab every coin you see. I'm a grown man and this pissed me off. And little Suzy? Don't take her coins, man. She will cut you.
It's a shame too, because with four-player local and network options, it could have been a blast if the core elements had been strong. But every system in Fable: Heroes is dreadfully executed. There isn't a single element within it that elicits a smile, which is ironic because of how hard it tries to get you to. Trying to imagine how anyone thought it would appeal to the core audience actually gives me brainfreeze, so I'll assume it's all for the kiddies. So if for some reason you decide to download it for your kid's next play date, don't be surprised when Billy leaps off the bed and missile dropkicks your neighbor's kid.