Review | Fairytale Fights
Format: PS3/Xbox360 | Genre: Action adventure | Publisher: Playlogic | Developer: Playlogic | Release date: 23/10/09 | RRP: £39.99
By Sam Giddings
Hans Christian Andersen; Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm; Heinrich Hoffman: these names are synonymous with dark childhood stories and centuries of moralising fables.
In Fairytale Fights, Playlogic has built a game around the alluring conceit that these superficially kid-friendly fairytales mask a more terrible visage. Truly, it has succeeded in every way except that which counts: entertainment. Underneath the cute, stylised graphics and literal fairytale setting lies a gruesome, sadistic game, one so joyless and bleak that it resembles its literary counterparts perhaps more closely than ever intended.
Let me elaborate. Firstly, the characters are downtrodden outcasts, distorted reflections of their expected archetypes. Even with the introductory sequence, the dispiriting tone is set. How so? In Fairytale Fights, you take charge of one of four willing heroes in order to save the fairytale kingdom. The game opens with Red Hiding Hood finding herself redundant, now that Granny’s home help has obliterated the wolf with a blunderbuss. Snow White’s glass sarcophagus is shattered to free her, with one particular shard gouging the eye of an onlooker. By the time we’ve met Jack and then been introduced to the Naked Emperor, the scene has degenerated into a horrified anti-nude stampede, the streets running with blood and children being trampled to death. There’s even something slightly depressing about the notion that these four heroes will so gleefully rally to arms in order to spill such gratuitous amounts of blood (and spill they do).
Now, I’m not saying that fairytales aren’t often horrible – in one of the original versions of Snow White, the evil stepmother is forced to dance to death in slippers of molten iron. In Hoffman’s Suck-a-Thumb, a boy has his thumbs snipped off by a passing tailor because, well, he can’t stop sucking them. Pretty grim stuff, from a time when children were often treated in a pretty grim way.
But regardless of the horrors of these stories, at least they had a moralising theme, however macabre: these tales served a purpose. Fairytale Fights manages no such redemption – the plotline is minimal, the aims are vague. In part, this is thanks to the lack of language – while characters and enemies issue mutterings and half-sounds, there is no dialogue. But even this doesn’t justify the omission of a plot – one only has to look as far as Machinarium to see that a gripping story can be carried off with aplomb despite the absence of speech. The decision to avoid the spoken word seems strange, given the rich literary history lending its inspiration to this misguided affair. Given that Fairytale Fights hides a gory, grown-up game behind the veneer of cuddly graphics, some good old-fashioned chat could’ve really helped engage a more adult audience.
The only explicit source of in-game language is the fairytale book popping up intermittently to explain new functions. Even this is handled clumsily: most of the time, the advice is given long after you first needed it and thus managed to conjure a solution for yourself. There’s no real introduction to the combat when you start, simple though it is, and even the book itself is occasionally cruel and mocking. One of the very first assertions it makes is that “no-one likes poor people.” Upon reaching Hamelin, the village of the Pied Piper, the narration remarks that “it used to be a bustling little harbour not so long ago, but then suddenly all the children vanished, which really cheered up the elderly.”
This is, I’m sure, simply an abortive attempt at sly humour. But it’s misplaced, instead lending its weight to the creation of the cruel fun-vacuum that is Fairytale Fights.
//A losing battle
The empty repetition of a slight combat system is where the game truly tries – and utterly fails – to shine. Put bluntly, it plays like a woeful imitation of Castle Crashers. As you progress through the kingdom, you can pick up all manner of weird and wonderful objects with which to dispatch enemies: lumberjack axes, candy candles, broken lollipops, bunnies. Unfortunately, combat is as poorly designed as the controls: all attacks are mapped to the right analogue stick. This can work – look at Too Human, a game which I happened to enjoy – but it doesn’t in this case. Instead, it reduces melee combat to a confusing mess of wiggling the right analogue stick and hoping you hit something. While it’s possible to charge attacks, it makes little difference to the process of killing, and success is arbitrary.
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