The length of a video game can be something of a touchy subject among gamers. How do you know if a game is just the right length? What if it’s a short game with a lot of replayability, like a Cave game? What about Portal, a first-person game that lasts for two hours but seems exactly as long as it needs to be. Or what about a long game like a Final Fantasy?
We ascribe value for money to game length. Portal would never have been successful as a full-price retail title, yet longer and much duller games are. The advent of online purchases has allowed shorter games to flourish, because we’re okay with paying a few dollars for the briefer experience.
So it’s difficult to criticise Fable Heroes for being too short. A full play-through takes roughly two hours, if that, through short, linear stages. Lionhead Studios have gone for the high-replayability model. Unfortunately, they haven’t made a game that’s worth replaying.
The kindest thing to say about Fable Heroes is that it’s Fable for kids. If you have a younger family member that you wish to introduce to the world of Albion, then this might be an okay option. Even kids are going to see the flaws pretty quickly, however.
The good news is that the game looks great. Lionhead have gone for a storybook style that reminds me a lot of Yoshi’s Story on the Nintendo 64. Characters are actually little wooden puppets, which I’m sure is a commentary on the nature of video games somehow.
Combat is really simple. You have one button for attack, one for a special attack that’s often more trouble than it’s worth, and another special that drains your life, Double Dragon-style. Ultimately you end up just using the regular attack because the others just aren’t worth it.
The game is designed around multiplayer, and the single player is just multiplayer with AI party members. This isn’t so bad, as they never get in your way, and at the end of each stage you get to develop them in the same way as the character you’re playing. When you go online, your character development is brought with you.
Fable Heroes also supports up to four players in local co-op, which is really the best way to play the game. In this mode, the game becomes a fun party game, as the four of you race around the screen collecting gold and killing enemies. The only downside is that it can become confusing to find your character on the screen. Fortunately, the developers thought of this and dedicated the entire left shoulder button to displaying your character’s name when you press it.
The party-game feel is enhanced by the way the game presents itself. The overworld is shown as though the game is a tabletop RPG, with carefully laid out tiles representing each area, with paths between them. There’s also a boardgame mini-game that allows you to build your character, albeit in a somewhat random way.
Towards the end of each stage, you get to choose two paths. One leads to a boss while the other leads to a mini-game that’s either a race or a survive for N seconds arena-type area. I found the boss battles to be really annoying, as each boss takes a lot of damage, even after you’ve levelled up, and you never feel powerful enough to take them on. The races and arenas are much more fun, especially in multiplayer. Once you’ve chosen one of these areas, you can go back to it on the overworld map and replay it.
In the end, Fable Heroes seems to exist mostly to remind people that Fable is still a thing. There’s not a lot of lasting substance here, and while the co-op mode will extend the replay value a little bit, most people will simply say “why aren’t we playing Castle Crashers instead?”. I feel like, had there been more to it, this could have been something really cool, but it’s let down by being a bit too simplistic and a bit too short.
Fable Heroes is available on XBox Live Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points.