Fairytale Fights Review
Just under a year ago I was enjoying one of my favorite Nintendo DS titles of 2008. The unknown and underrated Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ was a simple, yet satisfying arcadey shooter that pitted a shotgun-toting Little Red against swarms of flesh-eaters in twisted fairy tale settings. The gameplay was straightforward run-and-gun stuff, but the dark humor was irresistible, especially to a self-described Disney geek who also happens to possess an insatiable hunger for mowing down undead menaces. So, when I heard about Fairytale Frights, a similar gaming mash-up of storybook fantasies and over-the-top gore, I was intrigued by the potential to once again paint candy-colored environments with the bloody innards of freaky fantasyland inhabitants.
What I found even more promising, though, was that Playlogic's warped take on children's tales wasn't a budget portable entry, but a high profile, next-gen powered release. And again, as someone who visits Florida's most famous theme park once a year, the “Tragic Kingdom” marketing campaign—complete with Disney font—had me happier than a baby bear with a belly full of porridge. Sadly, my sky-rocketing expectations were swiftly grounded upon entering Fairytale Fights' blood-soaked storybook world.
While its morbid presentation and satirical storytelling is spot on, the gameplay's about as appealing as a poisoned apple. But before we bite into that, lets see what this not-so-happily-ever-after entry gets right. The eye-pleasing visuals are mostly impressive. From lush, lumberjack-populated forests to castles built from colorful candy, the levels blossom from the screen, nailing the fairytale vibe. Some great touches, such as giant children's books working as drawbridges and treasure chests emitting a sing-songy Snow White-like audio cue when busted open, really sell the atmosphere. Contrast this animated innocence with buckets of blood, and Fairytale Fights is off to a good start. The gore is as well done as the feel-good presentation; blood pools on the ground, splashes every which way, and even causes anyone who steps in it to slide across the screen. Even Snow White's—one of four playable protagonists based on iconic fairytale characters—helmet of Disney princess-like hair gets appropriately splashed by the crimson plasma. The bloodbaths also get a literal close-up, as picture-in-picture swatches pop on the screen to show more graphic depictions of your foes being chopped into gooey chunks.
A selection of over 100 weapons further complements the fairytale-gone-bad concept. Ranged muskets and slingshots as well as countless melee items, liberally littered throughout the title's 22 chapters, ensure you'll never have to maim, behead, disembowel, or eviscerate the same way twice. Standard swords, knives, chainsaws, and bats serve your blood lust alongside more creative killers such as swordfish skeletons and beavers on spits. Even cooler are the death dealers that really embrace the twisted presentation; there are love potions that temporarily daze enemies, giant jagged edged lollipops, and jawbreaker-spitting guns. Using some of these more inspired weapons yields some great animations, too, like tiny pink hearts spinning above the lovesick potion swallowers, and crumbs flying as you beat a gingerbread man with a candy cane.
There's no question the presentation is loads of fun. And for fans of the adult-aimed humor from the Shrek films or the over-the-top cartoon violence of Happy Tree Friends, the blood-bathed Disneyland atmosphere and animations might be enough to hold your attention. However, those looking for gameplay that's as engaging as the sicko style will be disappointed. For starters, the hack-n-slash action grows repetitive far too quickly. Despite a good variety of enemies, weapons, and environments, the actual brawling remains a one-trick pony. Attacks are simple and limited, weapons all feel similar, and character progression is mostly non-existent. Additionally, attacking by pointing the right analog stick in the direction you want to fight feels far less satisfying than button-mapped moves. If ever there were a game screaming out for simple button-mashing fun, it's this one. Platforming controls also feel slippery, boss battles are frustrating, and camera issues—like when the view pans out so far you can barely identify your character—further sully the experience.
The lackluster execution could be partially forgiven if Fairytale Fights were an Xbox Live Arcade title. But as a full-priced retail release it feels like a missed opportunity. In fact, Castle Crashers, a title that treads much of the same ground, only much more successfully, can be purchased over XBLA for a fraction of the price. An inspired presentation, some solid dark humor, and an imaginative concept kept me playing Fairytale Fights till I sliced and diced every last cute woodland creature, but its flawed gameplay—even with the appeal of 4-player online co-op—keeps it from being much more than something I'd recommend scooping from the bargain bin a few months from now.