Lionhead's Fable series has graced the Xbox Live Arcade before, but Fable Pub Games was more of a minigame collection than a substantial stand-alone experience. Thanks to a small team of veteran developers from the series, fans will have access to a lighthearted new addition to the series that draws inspiration from Castle Crashers and Gauntlet. Fable Heroes will be coming to XBLA this year, and I came away impressed after playing it at Microsoft's Spring Showcase last week.
Fable has never been a particularly adult series, but Heroes makes the main series look like God of War by comparison. You'll play as one of a dozen hero dolls, and the entire world map takes place on what appears to be a large and intricate board game. Creator Ted Timmins told me that the idea for the game sprang from the tabletop board game mission in Fable III, which wound up being a fan favorite. With its puppet protagonists and slightly cartoonish visuals, the aesthetics of Fable Heroes may remind gamers of the charming look of Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet.
After choosing between characters like Hero, Hammer, Reaver, and more, you'll take to the game's eight stages. Trademark enemies such as the Hobbes and Hollow Men will try to impede your progress, and you can utilize melee, ranged, magic, and area attacks depending on who you've selected. There will always be four heroes onscreen, with any non-human player being replaced by an A.I.
An upgrade system is in place, and you can utilize it to strengthen yourself as well as any A.I. characters that have joined you. Gold coins are the only currency in the game, and it can be earned by defeating enemies, finding it in treasure chests, or winning end-level minigames. The biggest cash-grabber of the group will earn the most dice rolls in a game-within-a-game that pops up at the end of each stage. Each dice roll places you on a square that will allow you to purchase upgrades, provided you have enough coin.
Stages are based on areas from the series such as Bowerstone, Mistpeak, Hobbe caves, and more. In addition to the standard enemies, these levels frequently feature opportunities for distractions. Items like a giant mushroom or egg will appear during occasional "break times," and players compete to destroy it in a minigame reminiscent of the car stage from Street Fighter II. Instead of the morality system from the main series, Fable Heroes has "Good or Evil?" treasure chest selections. If you open the Good chest, a random member of your crew may get a bonus along the lines of a gold jackpot. Open the Evil chest, and you may start up a game of Zap Tag, which summons a storm cloud above one player's head that knocks coins out of him or her at regular intervals. Since it's a game of tag, you can transfer this annoying cloud by touching any other player.
Two-thirds of the way through each level, players can opt to take on a boss or participate in a minigame. Either option can result in a large gold payout, but the latter pits players against each other rather than against a giant beetle or other baddy. I saw the Chicken Bomb minigame, which places players in a circular pen of exploding chickens. The last player alive gets the biggest gold bonus, and each hero has the ability to punt chickens around the area like a freakish game of Hot Potato.
Your gold can even be used outside of Heroes, thanks to a spot on the world map that's dedicated to the upcoming Fable: The Journey. If you're looking forward to the upcoming Kinect title, you can transfer any currency you've acquired in Heroes towards it. A similar feature was present in Fable Pub Games, and fans of the series should enjoy making progress in The Journey before it's even released.
Fable Heroes feels like a great fit for Xbox Live Arcade, and fans will certainly enjoy the many nods towards franchise trademarks. With four-player local multiplayer alongside drop-in, drop-out online play, it will also be the first time the series has featured support for more than two players. No specific date was announced for the game, but Lionhead stated that it will be out "several months" before The Journey. Keep an eye on the site, as we'll be sure to update as soon as a more specific release window is announced.