So what exactly does pornographic film star Ron Jeremy have to do with classic fairytales, violent 3D action and buckets full of cartoony blood?
Not much, it turns out. The fairy story-themed action title is only adult in that it wants players to be as violent as possible. Players take the role of Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, the Naked Emperor (from "The Emperor's New Clothes") or Jack (from "Jack and the Beanstalk") and battle their way through a world peopled with characters from other fairytales like "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and "Sleeping Beauty." Nearly everybody in the world except gingerbread men bleeds copious amounts of blood when you slap, beat, slice or hex them and for some reason, nearly everything in the world looks so cute it's almost psychotic.
But there's no sex or sexuality in the game whatsoever. So either the marketing team behind this whimsical gore-fest is made up of inspired geniuses with close connections to the adult film industry – or there's something wrong with this game that they need to hide behind the glamor of porn.
The Concept: Pairing cutesy stuff with violence is a proven concept. Just look at Happy Tree Friends, Fat Princess or Castle Crashers. Fairytale Fights follows along in lockstep with these examples as far as the setting and back story. Four major characters from four very familiar fairytales have their fame and notoriety stolen from them by a fifth fairytale character and they have to brawl their way through all of storybook land up to the Giants' house to find both the culprit and their missing storybooks. The combat keeps it simple, the setting is loaded with colorful props and characters that evoke a sense of nostalgia, which in turn creates a perverse sense of satisfaction when you bash a gnome or a bunny open to reveal buckets of blood.
The Graphics: The world of storybook land spans forests, cottages, castles, palaces made of candy and beanstalks. Everything is rendered lovingly with big, rounded and blocky art design via the Unreal engine. It's colorful and vibrant with a real sense of depth to the background.
The Music: Despite the raging violence that carries on throughout most of the gameplay, the music is consistently soothing and sweet. Like the cutesy setting, it does a lot to create the sense of juxtaposition and it totally mellows you out when the game aggravates you.
It's Broken: Fairytale Fights has its share of tiny flaws like graphics hiccups or poor collision detection when enemies go into ragdoll animations after death. However, it's also peppered with some pretty big bugs – like freezing during loading screens, corrupted audio playback and total failure of gameplay mechanics. For example, there's something called a Glory Kill in the game that you can activate by mashing a shoulder button after filling up a kill gauge – it makes enemies freeze in place and gives the player the ability to go nuts with the attack stick in a cool slow-mo animation. An unfortunate bug robs you of your Glory Kill by freezing not only the enemies in place, but you as well while the gauge runs out.
Fake 2D Platforming: Fairytale Fights is one of those games where everything is 3D, but the game adjusts the camera to make the world look 2D and then asks you to complete jumping puzzles in different planes of depth. I cannot stand this – it leads to a lot of pointless deaths from falling off of things while jumping in the wrong plane of depth, and it can get confusing in environments where you don't know where to go to access the next part of the 3D level.
Needs A Treasure Magnet The world is filled with treasure chests that contain either weapons or money. Unfortunately, some of them are placed poorly so that stuff falls off of cliffs as soon as you open said chests. But the real rub comes from the fact that money vanishes within seconds (while weapons stay on screen eternally) and there's no safe way to collect it when it happens to be near a ledge or a pool of acid. Granted, there's no economy in the game that requires you to have money – but it's so annoying to see a puddle of gems and know that it's not worth going after them because they're just going to vanish right when you get there and you might fall off a platform en route.
Camera+Controls = DEATH: Fairytale Fights is cursed with both a lousy camera that pulls way too far back most of the time and with controls that make it difficult to move your character away from dangerous ledges and out-of-shot positions beneath platforms. I think the Unreal engine is partially to blame – its physics make your character top heavy because their heads are too big for their bodies (so it's hard to slow down during jumping puzzles or make hard turns while running). But the fact that the camera can just lose you behind the 3D environment or pull so far back that you can't tell your character apart from the enemies makes it ten times worse.
Fairytale Fights is one of those sad games that suffer from good ideas and lousy execution. I wouldn't be half so upset if the concept was lame or the graphics were terrible. But the truth is that there are some really good things about this game that would be welcome in a normal, not-broken title. Heck, they might even be welcome in a broken title if it didn't cost a player $60. But these good parts don't make up for Fairytale Fights' numerous flaws. They're just made all the more tragic for being surrounded by them.
And Ron Jeremy. That's the most tragic part of all.
P.S. No, that "Kill 1000 Children" Achievement didn't make it into the game, but you can still off the kids you encounter in the candy palace.
Fairytale Fights was developed and published by Playlogic for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It came out on October 27 for $60. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed the main Quest using both two-player cooperative mode and singleplayer on Xbox 360. Played several rounds of Arena.
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