Once upon a time, in a studio not too far away, a developer had an idea. "Why," said the developer, "don't we take the rich, well-established, hugely varied and copyright-free world of popular fairytales and retell them for a new generation? We could even use these traditional characters in a subversive way, making them all edgy and post-modern and stuff."
"I'm not so sure," replied another hypothetical member of staff. "Sounds like hard work. Fairytales are old and moralistic. Nobody cares what pigs do with their houses these days. If we want to attract the kids why don't we just knock out something with loads of blood in it?"
"Why," said a third little imaginary developer, "don't we do both?"
Meanwhile, in a completely unrelated place and time with totally different people, someone thought up Fairytale Fights.
Initially I was cautiously optimistic about Playlogic's blood-soaked beat-'em-up. It's built on a quirky premise, has stylish, well-defined art direction, and for the first few levels even boasts gameplay that stumbles forward proudly, pregnant with potential. A good start. Some of the issues from last month's preview code have even been fixed. Controls are no longer as slippery, death is less tooth-grittingly regular.
Two hours later my optimism had sublimed into a gassy rage.
The thing about beat-'em-ups, or at least the scrolling variety, is that they can be fairly unvaried. Walk, punch, kick, boss. Repeat until world/universe/girl saved. Because they don't usually have the move catalogue available in one-on-one fighters, side-scrollers need to get their variety kicks in different ways. Interesting enemies, environments and bosses play a huge part, as do story and a well-judged difficulty curve. Fairytale Fights doesn't really try for any of these. Instead it relies on a huge list of weaponry and buckets of well-rendered and physically interesting gore.
"Weapons?" you might say. "We like weapons." Well, yes, weapons sometimes add spice. They can add variety, forcing players to concoct new tactics and playstyles. Specific weapon types can be made more effective against certain enemies, their effects can be interesting, amusing or even useful.
On the whole, Fairytale Fights' are not. Despite the massive list of available weapons, everything boils down to ranged or melee, and the only discernible difference is that some are more powerful than others and one or two will freeze enemies or deal damage over time. For a game which is so arsenally fixated, the lack of variety in the actual execution of executions is a terrible blight.
But the real letdown is the control system. Instead of using buttons to attack, Fairytale Fights maps all the offensive moves to the right analogue stick. Tapping the stick snaps out an attack. Tapping it out again moves into a combo, which can be extended a few times. Holding it in a direction charges up a more powerful blow. And that's it.
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