For almost as long as fairytales and fables have existed, other stories have sought to poke fun of them. While taking classic childhood stories and adding adult themes is not necessarily a new idea, it has been done exceptionally well in books, comics, movies, and video games in the past. Fairytale Fights is a new spin on an old concept, merging beloved characters and familiar settings in a Mature-rated, bloody hack and slash. While this could have been a simple but enjoyable title, Fairytale Fights is held back by glitches and poor game design. Instead of being a quirky, humorous take on the grown-up fable, any fun to be had in Fairytale Fights is quickly overshadowed by frustration.
At first, Fairytale Fights seems promising. You start out in Taleville, a safe haven where fighting is not permitted that can be returned to between levels. There, you can choose from one of four playable characters: Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (of Beanstalk and Candlestick fame), or the Naked Emperor. No matter which form you take, the story is exactly the same, and the only differences between them are their appearances. You can also spend the gems used as in-game currency on a giant statue of yourself in Taleville, as well as accessing different game modes and story levels.
After choosing a character and poking around Taleville, you can proceed to the first level, and the game's story begins. Fairytale Fights draws elements from just about every story you can remember from your childhood, and yet for some reason, the plot is almost completely bare. This was definitely a missed opportunity for an original tale to be crafted; instead, you’ll find yourself chasing after a missing cauldron for level after level, and before long you won’t remember or care why. The game looks really nice, with the bright primary colors adding to the storybook effect. The environments do a good job of appearing like illustrations from a children’s book, as well as having a slightly stylized look, just like the characters.
It only takes about thirty seconds before you find out that this is no children’s tale, though. Fairytale Fights is an over-the-top hack and slash with dozens of weapons at your disposal throughout the game. It won’t be long before you’re staining the serene forests with pools of blood, hacking the limbs and heads off any foes that come near. Weapons come in three varieties: sharp, blunt, and ranged. Players can hold up to two weapons at once: one stored, and one in use. While there are a good amount of weapons, and some of them are extremely silly, there is almost no need to use more than a few trusty items throughout the entire game. Sure, it’s funny to attack a gingerbread man with a lollipop, or a pirate with a swordfish, but since most of the sillier weapons are also very weak, you’ll find yourself sticking with knives, swords, or axes whenever possible.
As previously mentioned, there’s a lot of blood in Fairytale Fights. After taking out a group of enemies, you can slide around in the pools of blood, which is another funny touch. Unfortunately, even when not gliding around on bloody shoes, characters move as if they are on roller skates. Trying to grab the treasure that pops out of chests or dead bodies can be tricky, especially since riches only stay on the ground for a couple of seconds before disappearing. Another problem with character movement comes in platforming sections that take place across the 3D plane. Often, as you try to move from platform to platform, you will end up jumping behind or in front of your intended target because you cannot actually tell what plane you are on. Because of these issues, Fairytale Fights often felt like a relic left over from the early days of 3D gaming. It was pretty bizarre to experience a game that looked next-gen and played like a PS1 title, and the gameplay definitely could have been tighter.
Even worse than the questionable platforming, though, was how cheap and infuriating enemies could be. Part of the problem was the constant glitches that didn’t break the game, but sure sucked the fun out of it. In particular, I could never use my character’s special move, which was supposed to freeze enemies around me for a short period of time. Every time I unleashed it, I was frozen as well, and left to stare at my screen for half a minute, waiting for the spell to wear off. Both playable characters and foes could get stuck in walls and other solid objects, and I would also find myself wedged in corners while a handful of enemies ganged up on me. The boss fights were the most frustrating parts of the game, though. It seemed like the developers wanted to make non-traditional boss fights, which are usually interesting and keep the gameplay fresh. In Fairytale Fights, however, it meant infuriating, poorly designed segments that went on for far too long. I died dozens of times during many of the boss fights, losing almost all of the riches I had acquired during the level. Some are better than others, but there was no portion of the game I completed feeling pleased; after each section, I was always more than ready to return to Taleville, shut off my 360, and walk away.
As if glitches and questionable design choices aren’t bad enough, Fairytale Fights has a fixed camera that works against you more often than it works with you. It is often zoomed out much too far, making it hard to tell where your character is on the screen and in what direction you are attacking. Other times, objects in the foreground will cover a significant part of the screen, and as a result you will have to fight off a group of foes completely blind. The platforming segments may have been more tolerable if there was any camera control whatsoever, but that concept is nonexistent in this game, which again makes it feel like a relic from several generations ago.
Inviting friends to play Fairytale Fights with you makes the game marginally better, but that is mostly because levels go by faster when played cooperatively. Up to four players can tackle the story mode together, jumping in and jumping out as they please. However, since all of the same issues exist, and some are magnified with more people on the screen, it won’t be long before your friends wonder why you are forcing them to play this exercise in frustration. Sometimes, when enemies are decapitated or chopped apart, a giant animation depiction this brutality will appear, taking up almost a quarter of the screen. This can be mildly annoying when playing alone, but with other players, it is almost a guarantee that this will cover up at least one character, making it impossible for that person to see what he or she is doing. In addition to co-op play, up to four players can battle each other in the arena, but this is even less fun than the story mode.
Fairytale Fights could have easily been a very good game. The concept, while not the most original, is still very solid. The graphics are nice, the character and level designs are quirky, and the numerous weapons should have brought something unique to the table. Instead, this decent idea got buried under glitches, a bad camera, and frustrating gameplay, and there seems to be no reason for that to have happened. With a little more time, Fairytale Fights may have been a surprise hit that kept you and your friends occupied for weeks. Even if you really want to hack and slash your way through this game, it can be completed over a weekend, and the multiplayer certainly isn’t enough of a draw to keep you going back. We’ll never know what could have been, and though the game can be entertaining at times, you’ll likely get more long-term enjoyment out of Castle Crashers instead of paying full retail price for Fairytale Fights. It’s a shame, but this game does not end happily ever after.