It’s not easy being a character from a classic fairytale. The advent of electronic media has done a number on their popularity, but in addition to years of programs and games vying for the public’s attention, there is competition from the younger generation - those youngblood upstarts that steal the spotlight with their panache and daring. Such is the fate suffered by four once-beloved characters, feeling abandoned by all, including Granny, in favor of the Little Tailor. As Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, the Naked Emperor, or Jack (of “Beanstalk” fame), you will carve a bloody trail to your former glory by rescuing princesses, amassing treasure, and erecting statues to your greatness in Taleville.
Pulling a down-and-out fairytale character up from obscurity and thrusting them back into the spotlight through a blood-soaked hack-and-slash adventure sounds great, or novel at the very least. Who wouldn’t want to resurrect the Naked Emperor’s fame through some messy comeuppance? The problem is that novelty is about the only thing Fairytale Fights has going for it. As simple as a simple brawler can get, the repetitive combat, poor controls, awkward camera, and tedious design will leave you gritting your teeth and shaking your head.
Fairytale Fights problems are many. The biggest would have to be the overwhelming tediousness and banal design. For a game that features four main characters, over 150 weapons from six categories, and a plethora of famous enemies (Hansel and Gretel, the Pied Piper, and even Pinocchio), there is strikingly little to it. Once you get past the buckets of blood, the shock of seeing Little Red Riding Hood cut someone in half with a giant pair of scissors, and the – sometimes overwhelmingly and intrusive - colorful palette, you won’t find much to hold your attention. Granted, hack-and-slash action games aren’t typically known for the nuanced fighting systems, but there is a difference between having a handful of moves and doing the same move thousands of times over the same ten backdrops. What should have been expanded wasn’t, such as meaningful differences between characters and weapons, adjustable control and camera options, and combo count; while what should have been reined in was let loose, particularly the encounter rate, repeated backdrops, and boss battles. The end result is a game that looks much more interesting in screenshots and video than it is to actually play.
The first few chapters follow the same interest curve as each newly opened area. At first, the colorful graphics, crazy enemies, and huge weapon count elicit a good bit of excitement. Running through hordes of insane axe- and chainsaw-welding lumberjacks with saws and rolled-up newspapers is chaotic, but things seem downright ridiculous whenever you start sliding through the puddles of blood. You’re hacking guys up, with slicing weapons resulting in short cutscenes that show a close-up of you dismembering with reckless abandon, and collecting loot like there’s no tomorrow. Soon, however, you start to recognize the backgrounds are repeating, the encounters are a good three waves past you caring, and that you’ve literally been fighting the same enemy for about an hour, with only slight variations in an attempt to provide variety. By the end, you just want it to end.
A distinct lack of moderation is only one of the elements that drive nearly each session to the point of walking away. Aside from the negligible character differentiations, the weapons are more smoke than fire. The 150-plus items are gauged by effectiveness, but you will soon find that both class and damage rate –from the rare ‘very light’ to the dominate ‘medium’ (one to four stars) and rarer still ‘heavy’ – matter little, as they are largely the same. For example, there are 23 one-star blunt weapons alone that, aside from their models, might as well be the same item. Yes, it’s weird to hit someone with a squirrel, but after an hour it is only monotonous.
Combat controls also frustrate, with a Grabbed by the Ghoulies–type analog scheme used in favor of a button. Your character attacks based on which direction you tap: one tap is one hit, two taps adds an additional move while a third unleashes a four-hit combo with each successful hit charging a ‘glory bar’ attack. Glory bar attacks aren’t particularly potent or useful – the lack of a true crowd-busting move is a considerable omission – but more for style as a close-up appears on half the screen of you dismembering enemies in real time. There is also a block move and a ‘push’ move that are often negated by circumstance – too many enemies for either to be effective. The biggest pain is the lack of a locking mechanism, which makes it very difficult to hit targets, or at least the intended target.
For all of the tap-based moves, there might as well be one. One-hit attacks are rare, due to being swarmed constantly, so you just spam the one combo over and over. You also cannot stop the combo once it starts, which leaves you open to rear and flank attacks. The marginally responsive controls only add frustration to the boredom of tapping ad nauseum, due to being so loose that it feels as if you’re always running on ice; and that is in addition to the camera problems. For a game that is 90% combat, having a mind-numbing and bewilderingly simple-yet-muddled combat system is not a good thing.
As umpteen deaths can testify to, there seems to be a lack of understanding at just how essential a solid and responsive camera is for platforming. The poor angles make it very difficult to correctly judge distance and depth, which can lead to a lot of unfair deaths. It is far too easy to combo or simply walk off into oblivion. Specter railings, exaggerated animations on tiny platforms, and background areas that look navigable but are, in fact, chasms of doom all do their part. Obstructive objects do not become transparent, either, so you are frequently left confused as your character gets stuck behind and between objects, or vanishes off of the screen. The camera is often pulled way too far back, which results in both combat being little more than a mass of bodies and blood and many deaths by one of the nearly impossible to gauge insta-kill environment traps.
Few elements are present to help alleviate your plight. Instead of offering a short period of invulnerability after respawning, as most games do, Fairytale Fights opts to instead utilize a countdown timer. After dying, a timer ticks down to zero over a gravestone, and continuing sends you bursting forth, your armed weapon and some gems lost, and enemies flying back. This approach works well enough when you die in combat, but not when you were burned or cut in half by a trap: there’s nothing quite like respawning directly in front of a pipe shooting out giant balls of fire to ruin your day.
A lot of these issues wouldn’t be such a big deal if the game weren’t so tenacious in its attempts to thwart whatever enjoyment you’re getting out of it. Each new area, be it a castle made out of candy or ascending a massive beanstalk, represents an opportunity for the game to turn things around and fulfill the concept’s potential. Instead, you find difficult traps returning with a vengeance and dozens of bland cloned enemies. The puzzles, if you can call them that, are the same kind of fluff as the copy-and-paste encounters: the few there are actually solved themselves; I just had to step on the same switch multiple times. The key element lost in the design is that something only moderately interesting the first time isn’t so the sixth or seventh – and that’s if it was interesting to begin with. Oh, and it would help if the boss battles weren’t 20-minute trial-and-error nightmares of unavoidable attacks.
In addition to the single-player story mode, there is an online mode that allows players to play co-op and to also have at it Smash Bros. style. Arena mode isn’t close to being as good as Smash Bros., of course, but playing it and the story co-op with a pal is much more enjoyable than slogging through the rest of the game solo. Multiplayer is the game’s best feature, maybe – and I stress maybe – elevating the game to a rental.
It’s difficult not to go into Fairytale Fights with a lot of goodwill. Slicing through toy soldiers with a giant compass or melting their faces with a vial of acid as Little Red Riding Hood sounds surreally enjoyable. And to be fair, it’s not bad at first. Picking up tridents, love potions, tiny gnomes, and blunderbusses to fend off the packs of enemies in showers of blood should be entertaining in at least a minimally juvenile way. But you’ll be past done by a few statue upgrades in, which is the only thing that can be upgraded or purchased in town. The fleeting, precious coins and gems you collect are tallied in Taleville’s bank but do nothing save for enhancing your statue and spent in wishing wells for weapons. The loss of coins upon dying is otherwise meaningless, because you eventually stop losing money and run on infinite lives. In the end, money is much like the game itself: dangerously close to pointless.
Fairytale Fights has a good pitch, but you’ll quickly find the zany combat monotonous and the colorful levels a garish vehicle for platforming torture. Tedious combat, poor controls, a counterintuitive camera, and a staggeringly weak combat system swiftly stamp out the initial thrill of unlocking a new chapter or encountering another renowned character. Given that it’s roughly 15 chapters long, you will be done with Fairytale Fights long before it will be done with you.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)