Fable Heroes: Lionhead's XBLA spin-off takes us by surprise

Castle Crashers meets Lego Star Wars...

There were a few new titles on show at Microsoft's Xbox Spring Showcase last week, but Lionhead's colourful Xbox Live Arcade spin-off, Fable Heroes, was the one that took us by surprise.

Heroes is the first full game to come out of Lionhead's regular creative days, in which employees are invited to come up with everything from tech demos to PowerPoint presentations and pitch their ideas to the bosses.

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At first glance, it's a 4-player co-op action adventure game with whiffs of Castle Crashers and Lego Star Wars. Beneath the surface it's a board game, an RPG and a digital hook to Fable's big brother release The Journey.

The most striking element of Heroes initially is its visuals; the game's big headed puppet characters and child's playset world come together to form a really striking package - even if those dead eyed stares might cause the odd nightmare.

A fantastic soundtrack from Rare's Robin Beanland and Steve Burke add the final spark - it's more than a little reminiscent of Banjo-Kazooie.

In terms of core gameplay Heroes feels like your standard hack 'n slash co-op game; strong and heavy attacks are available to the player, along with a dodge move and powerful special attack that saps up one heart of health.

Risk-reward gameplay is a strong theme throughout the colourful Albion levels, with power-up chests dispensing welcome super speed and giant hero bonuses, as well as the odd Mario Kart-esque lightning cloud that can be 'tagged' onto other players before eventually zapping.

At a level's conclusion the podium screen reveals some of Fable Heroes' more interesting features; stats and graphs count up every player's collected gold and gift 'dice rolls' based on reaching various quotas. These can then be used in Fable Heroes' overworld - the board game.

The world map looks just like a giant tabletop game. Across Heroes' 8 levels and two worlds nearly every region from the Fable universe is represented, from Bowerstone Castle to Fable 3's desert wastelands. Lionhead clearly wants to make this a celebration of the Fable franchise and that's also reflected on the diversity of characters on offer.


As well as accessing levels, unlocked mini-games (including, oh yes - Chicken Football) and the "hardcore" Dark Albion stages, the board game can be used to level up your Fable character by taking a dice roll. More than 40 different upgrades are on offer including bigger weapons, faster running speed and resistance against specific enemy types.

It's an interesting level of depth behind what initially looks like a standard multiplayer game. And then of course there's Heroes' connectivity with The Journey, including transferring your collected gold, unlocking Gabrielle as a playable character in Heroes and putting your puppet character on your cart in The Journey.

It's good fun, an interesting experiment, and certainly not what we were expecting from Lionhead.