Preview versions of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of Playlogic’s Fairytale Fights showed up last Friday and after digging myself out from under a pile of other work, I finally got a chance to spend some quality time with the game. After diving in and coming up covered in blood and chunks a few days (and many replays) later, I’m even more impressed with how the game has progressed. The Unreal 3 powered hack ‘n slash/platformer hybrid is really coming together in this latest build and is shaping up to be an outrageous, surefire hit for hardcore gamers when it’s released on October 27. If you like your games bloody, challenging, controversial and off the charts hilarious, what’s here will keep you giddy and bouncing up and down like kids in the back seat on a Sunday drive sugar high.
Speaking of kids, I’ll have to mention right here and now that in NO way, shape or form is this game meant for, nor is it being marketed to children or those under 18 AT ALL. That “M” rating is absolutely, positively 100% earned here, as the amount of blood, gore and chunky bits is particularly impressive. That, and just about anyone (outside of the options map) in the game world can be hacked to bits if you choose to do so. So yes, in plain English – the game is really violent, but in a VERY cartoon-like (albeit bloody) manner. Crazed conservative parent groups, gamer prudes and folks that can’t grasp the whole mixture for what it is… well, get over it and grab a life while you’re at it. Hell, you won’t be playing the game anyway and neither will your kids, so there’s no need to light up the torches and go on yelling sprees all over cable and local news.
In terms of content and yes, that pesky violence, here’s some perspective from someone who grew up glued to the TV on Saturday mornings and many afternoons watching everything from The Three Stooges, Heckle & Jeckle, Chiller Theater, Tex Avery shorts and many more forms of entertainment seen as “too violent” these days by those folks that want to use games as the root of all things evil. First of all, Fairytale Fights uses the original versions of classic fairy tales we all know and love as its basis, so I’d guess you can blame folks long deceased for inspiring what’s here. Of course, what’s here is incredibly twisted and funny, particularly if your sense of humor picks up on all the references and in-jokes.
Secondly, If you’re old enough to remember those now-censored Warner Bros. or MGM classics and appreciate the gory hilarity found in Happy Tree Friends or Itchy & Scratchy shorts from The Simpsons, well… you’ll be rolling on the floor right from the opening cinema. For fans of Majesco’s super underrated M-rated sleeper, Raze’s Hell, you’ll be laughing it up even more as the level of violence here even beats that game to death. I’ll save the story reveal for the full review, but let’s just say that as one of four formerly famous fairytale characters, you’re out to reclaim your stolen fame and set things right (well, as right as you can) by laying waste to anything that stands in your way.
Meanwhile, back at the preview ranch…
The preview versions had all four characters playable and four (with a brief playable area in a fifth) out of a total fifteen chapters unlocked with single player and co-op action in full effect. You can choose from Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (from Jack & the Beanstalk) and The Naked Emperor ( of The Emperor’s New Clothes fame). Playing with the ladies are where it at for me, so Red was my choice on the PS3 version, while I picked Snowy for the 360. Each character has some pretty funny animations – Red is almost always looking like she’s set to kill something, while Snow White has this twitchy eye tic that’s hysterical. She’s off the rails and proud about that fact. I did play Jack and The Emperor for a stage or two and they tend to be a bit… er, disturbing. The Emperor runs around with a flapping fig leaf and crown, while simple Jack isn’t the smartest stick in the shed, if you catch my drift.
After playing around on the great options screen village (unlocking an Achievement and Trophy in the process) it’s off to the races in the four areas that make up The Lumberjack Lands. This first set of stages are a total trip thanks to the expansive environments and plenty of enemies out to do you in. the game gradually eases you into things as enemies and the overall challenge increase. There are so many ways of dealing with enemies, it’ll make you look at a few other higher profile releases and wonder why those games aren’t as inventive. Think God of War meets Tom & Jerry and you get the idea. The combat system allows for hand to hand combat which includes punches, grabs and throw moves and attacks with bladed or blunt weapons and firearms. Oh, and when you add magic potions and wands to the mix, it’s sheer brilliance that other developers will be no doubt be swiping for their action games…
Multiple baddies in your sights? Grab the nearest weapon and have at it, pick up a goon and toss him into three others, kill an enemy and take his weapon for your own, burn, freeze or otherwise zap multiple foes and more. The stage is packed with tricky platforming amongst deathtrap buzz saws, train tracks and other hazards that culminate in a ridiculously bloody boss battle against a crazy, gigantic beaver in surfer shorts. You’re stuck on a big wooden raft and have to deal with his attacks plus a few pesky surprises that can send you into the drink or leave you in pieces, if not in stitches. After that, it’s off to a small portion of The Candy Castle that’s even funnier than the Woods stages, but the game cuts itself short as a particularly treacherous Ferris wheel is reached.
Controls in both the PS3 and 360 versions are tighter and well implemented than in my first go at the game a while back. This isn’t a “button-masher” at all, as the game uses the left analog stick for movement and the right for pulling off attacks. This actually works beautifully as you learn to flow moves together as you literally cut enemies piece by piece into meaty chunks. The controller’s face buttons are used for jumping, pushing or using items and potions, while the triggers allow for picking up, switching or throwing weapons, blocking and using powerful “Glory Attacks”. Some message board denizens have been babbling away incorrectly that this is merely a 3D version of The Behemoth’s excellent XBLA release, Castle Crashers, or the PSN hit Fat Princess, but once you actually play the game, you’ll see this isn’t the case. For starters, FF was in development far longer and the team has continued to add to and tweak the code during the development process to make the game stand out on its own.
First of all, the game is simply gorgeous to look at. Playlogic’s internal dev team has truly done wonders with the Unreal 3 engine. Not only does the game NOT look like anything out there using the engine, there are a number of amazing visual effects that even Epic Games hasn’t managed to get out of their own tech. Screenshots don’t do the game justice at all and those movie clips you’re seeing pop up all over the Internet are great, but don’t even come close to actually sitting down and playing the game. Enemies in each area are different, as are certain attacks they can do. You don’t have to (or NEED to) lay waste to everyone you see, but those end of stage ranking are quite tempting as you’re graded on kills, loot gathered and a few other factors.
When you’re not killing it up or avoiding death, take time to look at all the hard work that went into the game maps. You’ll see some crazy-looking NPCs and enemies, stunning depth of field and at some points, you’re able to check out where you came from and where you’re headed as the camera does its thing. In terms of problem areas that are being tinkered with, there were a few camera hitches and while the sound design is excellent, bouncy music, weapon noises and all, some cut scenes were missing effects. Again, Playlogic says all of these issues will be fixed in the retail version.
Granted, the experience isn’t perfect, especially if you’re stuck with a smallish TV. The game camera is set a bit far back, which is fine for frantic multiplayer games. However, in single player or co-op, you’ll be moving the couch closer to the TV unless you’ve got an HD setup around 36 inches or so to play on. Then there’s the picture in picture deal, where part of the screen is obscured by a BIG close up of you or your co-op buddy slicing up an enemy. It’s not a game killer, but it happens often enough that the frequency needs to be made player adjustable in the options village. If this one thing isn’t taken care of by the time the game ships, I’m hoping it can be patched quickly by the team right after the release. I’m guessing the PiP deal is so you can see certain kills up close and personal, but perhaps a automatically zooming camera would be a better fix for those gorier slow-motion kills…
Overall, I’m happy to see Playlogic taking a chance on adding innovation and well, more gore to the beat ’em up category while cooking up a game that really needs to be played to see how it all works. After about four years of work, it would be insulting to call this a “simple” arcade game, or a quickly made XBLA download masquerading as a full priced boxed version. Playlogic says a huge chunk of DLC is planned for both versions, which is a great thing. No, I’ve no idea what sort of content is coming, but the possibilities of more levels and characters is nearly endless if you know your fairy tales. Besides, what’s life without a little variety in your game library? Hell, if enough of you actually dive in and buy the game, play it online and off and spread the word, this might be one of those titles with appeal that lasts longer than some jaded games out there think.
Back with a full review in a bit… stay tuned.