Fairytale Fights Review
When I first read about the concept for Fairytale Fights, I was instantly reminded of American McGee’s Alice, just because both are twisted, bloody, sadistic takes on the cutesy and wholesome fairytale worlds that enchanted us as children. Then, I started seeing some early footage and other media and a dark, guiltily morbid smile spread across my face when Little Red Riding Hood slashed apart woodland creatures with a giant cleaver and subsequently became spattered with gooey red blood. Heck, she was even slipping on the gore that stained the otherwise idealistic landscape. It was at this point when I became intrigued by Fairytale Fights and when I sat down to play it a few days ago, I just couldn’t wait to indulge in the extraordinary contrast between happy-sappy and devilishly brutal. Unfortunately, while the atmosphere didn’t entirely disappoint, I still came away very disappointed in the overall execution and as a consequence, can’t possibly recommend a purchase.
I could label the graphics as the first disappointment, due to the lack of polish and clarity in both the character detail and the repetitiveness of the level design. It just didn’t shine as bright as it could’ve and in many ways, the visuals in Fat Princess - you can understand why I might use that game in this comparison – are actually cleaner. Understandably, Playlogic was going for something a little different; these nutty graphics have more of a clay-like quality. But it still lacks that shine we’ve come to expect in this day and age and as I just mentioned, too many of the single-player levels consist of many cut-and-pasted background elements. I did like the general environment as it suits the style of the game perfectly, and there’s definitely something to be said for the insane combat effects, which included copious amounts of bright red blood and slashed and bashed foes. This was by far the best part of the visual presentation (and a few of the bosses were kinda cool), but everything still falls well short.
The sound is a little better and once again, the highlight comes from the battle, where the gut-wrenching and even comically exaggerated effects take center stage. You won’t be too impressed until you get your hands on a slashing weapon of some kind – it could be anything from an axe to a swordfish – and that’s when everything explodes into a flurry of exorbitantly nasty sights and sounds. And while there are no voices in the game at all, some of the characters and enemies make these hilarious sounds that add to the intended flavor. For instance, the first time you run into a pack of enemies, there’s a brief cut-scene where your chosen character views them with a look of gleeful anticipation and issues something that sounds like, “heh-heh!” The soundtrack also fits the situation at hand but it always takes a back seat to the effects, which is both a blessing and a curse. In the end, the sound, coupled with the background presentation, is the best aspect of Fairytale Fights and sadly, it goes downhill from there.
At first, I figured everything would be just fine. You jump with the X button, run around with the left analog, and although the camera is always fixed, I figured that wouldn’t be an issue (I was wrong, as I’d come to find out, but whatever). Then I made my first attack and realized that I had to use the right analog to perform the attack; just press the stick in the direction you wish to attack and your character will unleash hell. Why? Why do developers insist on mapping action buttons to the right analog stick? This just has to stop. It never works the way it should and it’s never a better option that simply having us a face button, like the standard Square. Honestly, if Playlogic had given me the option to alter this absurd controller setup and allowed me to map the attack to a different button, I can guarantee I would’ve been happier and more lenient in my review. But throughout the entirety of my play time, I just kept saying, “yeah, this sucks because of the stupid right analog.”
The gameplay itself is fairly straightforward. You select one of four “insignificant” characters at the start – Red Riding Hood, Snow White, the Naked Emperor, or Jack (the beanstalk guy) – and you set off on an appropriately silly quest laden with nasty lumberjacks toting axes and even blunderbusses, spinning blades, rushing water, and other deadly obstacles. The control is decent but the aforementioned fixed camera can really cause some issues, especially when your character gets a little stuck in the environment. For instance, even though it appears as if you should be able to explore more of the landscape, you really can’t, and I got caught in some awkward situations several times. Furthermore, I’m not the biggest fan of the jumping mechanic as it doesn’t seem quite responsive enough and maneuvering in the air felt a tad loose. But this basic stuff is really okay; the major problems revolve around the combat, which is bloody as all hell but riddled with several significant downfalls.
I already mentioned the right analog as a bad choice for the attack button, but it goes beyond this; stringing together attacks isn’t really an issue, but directing them is a little annoying. You also can’t break off a combo attack and turn your assault in another direction, which means you’re always getting slammed in the back. You can try to hold down the L2 button to block but this is easily the worst aspect of the battles, just because it only seems to work every now and then and if you’re not facing the exact right direction, you’ll still get swatted. It also doesn’t gel that we’re pressing one of the analog sticks to attack and holding down a button to block, which is something that should’ve been recognized during early testing. The bottom line is that you’re going to die quite often and you’ll swear that it’s not due to a lack of skill, but to a poorly constructed combat system. The controls aren’t on-point, the camera can cause vision blockages, blocking is nigh-on useless, and you almost always feel overmatched.
The good news is that many of the weapons you come across are quite satisfying. The slashing weapons are a bit more rewarding than the blunt, crushing weapons but whenever you have a deadly object in your hand, you always want to use it as soon as possible. Also, by simply pressing the L1 button, you can store one extra weapon for when you lose your current one, or when the situation calls for a switch. Another positive aspect of the game are the bosses, which are creatively produced and mostly fun to fight, even though you will once again die quite often. After completing a chapter, you can always return to the central hub of Fairytale Fights, which is an expansive, colorful village that lets you check your accumulated stats, change characters, try the multiplayer mode, access the options, and even build your own statue. However, all of this doesn’t serve much of a purpose as all you’re usually doing is checking on your progress; you can’t buy new weapons or anything, and the characters are all basically the same.
The online multiplayer seems to work just fine but that certainly doesn’t mean the serious gameplay flaws disappear. It’s only a bit more balanced because everyone will encounter the same problems you do, and you won’t have to deal with AI-controlled enemies that obviously have no issues when it comes to controlling themselves. Overall, while we’re supposed to be having ceaseless fun slashing our way through a crazy wonderland, we’re continually frustrated and instead of reveling in the charming bloodshed, we’re just frowning at the screen. In other words, Playlogic falls well short of their goal, and that’s unfortunate. Something like this could’ve been a guilty pleasure for everyone and in all honesty, if they had just tightened up the control, put a bit more thought into the levels, and overhauled the combat mechanic (and get rid of the right analog), this game could’ve easily hit the mark. But no. Fairytale Fights, as sadistically zany as it is, just isn’t worth the price of admission.
Side Note: Hey PR guys, I have no idea what that candy was that you included in the box, but it was one of the most offensive things I’ve ever tasted. White sugar wafers with the pictures of the characters on them is a neat idea…but how do you mess up a sugar wafer?
11/3/2009 Ben Dutka