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PAX 2009 Impressions: Fairytale Fights

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Playlogic Games came to PAX bringing a little game with them by the name of Fairytale Fights. While it gained notoriety pre-PAX for its “Kill 1,000 children” achievement (which may or may not be in the final release of the game, I was told), Fairytale Fights supports up to four players in a hack-and-slash platforming adventure across a sugar-coated storybook land. PAX attendees got the chance to play a little bit of this upcoming title for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC, and it’s certainly a very fun experience.

Fairytale Fights puts you in the shoes of one of four characters who have lost their fame — Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Beanstalk Jack, and the Naked Emperor — in a cartoony world in peril. The four are tasked with saving their world (and in the process, rewriting their fairytale stories), destroying any and all who stand in the path of their goal. It’s not a huge story, but it sets up the game to have a ton of different enemies to hack through as you make your way through forests, candy wonderlands, and many other traditional and colorful storybook settings. Up to four players can play in offline co-op modes, with other modes including multiplayer arenas and a single-player storybook mode.

The levels themselves have plenty of platforms to navigate and pitfalls to avoid, like mousetraps and boulder-sized disco balls which will kill you in a flash. Not all of the levels are bright and cheery, but they do feature a certain cel-shaded style that feels a bit like a pop-up book. The character animations are also rather fluid and the designs are pretty cute, which is a bit deceptive as it masks the bloodiness of the game.

In addition to the four playable characters, there are a variety of other fairytale characters, from Puss N’ Boots to the Little Mermaid, that appear in the title. The demo didn’t really feature these other characters, but their inclusion hints at possible levels and maybe even some possible enemies the four main protagonists will have to face off against.

Fairytale Fights runs on Unreal Engine 3, and as such, has a few new features. The first of those is called “real-time dynamic slicing,” which allows players to slide through 3-D polygons in any number of directions and actually see their cuts affect the models in real-time, a little bit like what Dead Space was able to do. It’s not only noticeable when an enemy is running around with an arm hacked off, but it’s also a nice little aesthetic touch because it makes it seem like you are really slicing through something and not just hitting an enemy until they fall down. If you don’t believe me, wait until the first time you disembowel an enemy with an axe through the gut and see them split in half.

The second update is called a “volumetric liquid system,” which allows blood and other liquids to pool in real-time and allows our heroes to slide through said puddles. There’s even an achievement for sliding through blood long enough. I didn’t get to see if this has a greater use in the game, but I’m sure there is some benefit for sliding through these puddles since they seemed to speed up my character when I was sliding.

In-game combat is pretty traditional fare for the hack-and-slash genre. Actually pulling off combat and moving around each level is rather easy, since jumping and attacking are mapped to the face buttons. There's no real lag between when you press down a button and the action taking place on screen, even when there are a ton of enemies on the screen. The only real problem with the game play is that… well, it's a bit monotonous. When you're not platforming and avoiding pitfalls, you are fighting enemies, and vice versa. Fairytale Fights has a few puzzle elements to try and break up the monotony, but from my play through experiences, I wish these were at little more commonplace throughout the levels.

The game features over 140 different weapons to select from, and each character can collect up to two at a time. The weapons all fall into different categories: for example, some are melee weapons while others are guns. Each weapon, whether found in a chest or dropped by an enemy, has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, which adds a bit of strategy to the game. Do you want to use the rifle you picked up from the toy soldier to get past the army of bunnies, or is the lumberjack's axe more appropriate for close-quarters combat? It's all up to you, and the game plays a tiny bit differently based on your choices.

Each attack fills up a little gold bar on your character's display, and when it's full, you can unleash a Glory Attack. In this mode, the game opens a little box, showing your zoomed-in character hacking an opponent to pieces if you've got a melee weapon. With guns, it opens up a rapid-fire mode that mows down all enemies in your path.

The biggest issue I ran into with Fairytale Fights was not the sometimes repetitive hacking-and-slashing, but the camera, which is fixed on a 2-D plane. This isn’t much of a problem until one character in a party moves too far ahead or lags too far behind. Because the game has to capture the entire space between all the active players, this means it can pan out and rotate into positions that aren’t optimal. Sometimes, pits or other traps become obscured because of where the camera is, and it can also hurt timing for jumps between platforms. Unfortunately, this is just part of the game and not something that can really be fixed with offline multiplayer, since everyone’s going to be looking at the same screen.

Fairytale Fights is full of fun and gore wrapped inside a cartoon-like appearance. In a way, it’s a little but like Fat Princess, a PS3-exclusive title that’s one of the big reasons I’ll eventually be buying Sony’s console. It’s hard to deny the appeal of this title as a game that will not only look good, but also provide a decent challenge as well, camera problems and all. Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 owners get their chance to rewrite fairytale history on October 27, with the PC version coming next year. Of the titles coming out this fall, I’d have to recommend Fairytale Fights as one to keep a very close eye on.

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