Death in this dangerous world is fairly common, either thanks to clusters of enemies, series of fiendish, bladed traps or, annoyingly regularly, falling from the edge of the environment. Penalties for expiration are suitably light, however - lives are infinite and death really only means a reduction of your stock of treasure and fame. Even when dying becomes frustratingly commonplace thanks to the slidey controls (left stick manouevres, right stick attacks), it's never a rage-quitting affair unless you're particularly anal about stockpiling gold and gems.
Combat itself is pretty straightforward. Stabs of the right stick mean an attack in whichever direction your character is facing, and simple combos can be constructed with a little timing. These attacks are reliant on relative direction of movement to the enemy, and juggle combos are unleashed by striking upwards, launching enemies skyward in a gruesomely charming take on Devil May Cry's aerial shenanigans. Staying airborne means you'll deal a lot of damage to your selected foe with no chance of response, as well as staying out of the reach of earthbound enemies. Whatever the scenario, holding the analogue in a direction charges your next attack, useful for clearing crowds if you can squeeze it in.
There's also a rudimentary blocking system. It's immediate and initially satisfying, but feels like it could lack the depth to really hold water for long sessions. Character models are small, meaning that exactly what you're doing is often obscured in a frenzy of red mist. Thankfully, this has little bearing on success - wild flagellation is usually enough of a strategy to survive all but the most intense encounters. The action also tends to be neatly parcelled into discrete waves, giving time to take a breather, gather collectibles from cadavers and chests and gird your deranged loins before continuing.
It's all good, messy fun - strategy and planning are swept aside to make ample room for the simple pleasures of bashing and chopping. Cutting swathes through crowds of even the most basic enemies is a satisfying experience, and the Carpenter-zoom power-kills are amusing even if they do obscure a disproportionate percentage of the playing field. There are many nods to influences, both tacit (Castle Crashers, any number of side-scrolling ass-kickers) and implied (one particular boss, a giant beaver, is a definite homage to Gears of War 2's lake monster), and the characters the game lifts from actual fairytales are easily recognised and strangely consistent given their distorted nature and the variety of their origins.
Recent whack-'em-ups have trended towards the mindless and dreadful standards of execrable movie tie-ins like the two Watchmen games rather than the acquired-yet-inspired taste of Castle Crashers, so there's no doubt that Fairytale Fights could be a refreshing take on what was once a vastly over-populated genre. But there's a feeling that there might be a little too much recycling going on here, platforming and beat-'em-up clichés reskinned for a blood-thirsty and ironically knowing audience. With the game due out in a month's time, we'll soon find out whether it all lives happily ever after.
Fairytale Fights is due out for PS3 and Xbox 360 on 23rd October.