I have a soft spot in my heart for the "Fable" franchise. The vibrant art style, colorful characters and unique brand of humor has made this action-RPG series a favorite of not only mine, but a legion of Xbox owners.
Now "Fable Heroes," the recently released Xbox Live Arcade spinoff, is set to introduce the world of Albion to a whole new group of gamers - kids.
No, "Fable Heroes" isn't specifically geared toward young players. The game pays homage to its roots by including familiar locations and enemies, and long-time fans of the series will appreciate the subtle nods to past "Fable" games. Even the morality system found in previous "Fable" games returns in a creative way - treasure chests present good and evil choices that can either reward or punish your teammates. But with its puppet protagonists, easy combat and cooperative gameplay, the game certainly appeals to gamers of all ages.
"Fable Heroes" is a straightforward beat-'em-up action game designed for up to four players. Utilizing a mix of melee and ranged attacks, players battle through stages ripped from the pages of "Fable" lore like Bowerstone and Mistpeak. Each stage ends with either a boss battle or mini-game and at the conclusion of each level, you take part in a board game-type event in which you can spend coins you collect during each stage on things like upgrades for your character or new heroes.
As with any action game, combat plays a big role in "Fable Heroes." Eliminating waves of Hobbes, Hollow Men and other familiar baddies is often as simple as pounding your attack button and mixing in an occasional magical spell. But with that simplicity comes a certain level of repetitiveness that may leave some more-experienced gamers more annoyed than entertained. I didn't mind as I was playing alongside my two kids, who simply adored everything about the game, but tackling "Fable Heroes" solo may be less than ideal.
And while I appreciate the light RPG elements, the board game just feels out of place here -- I would have rather simply jumped back into the next level. The ability to import the coins you earn in "Fable Heroes" into the upcoming Kinect-enabled "Fable: The Journey" is a neat twist, however.
Fans looking for the next great "Fable" experience won't find it here, but "Fable Heroes" is just too darn cute to pass up for anyone looking for a family-friendly adventure.
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studio
Available for: Xbox Live Arcade ($10)
Rating: E+10 for everyone 10-and-up