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American McGee and Tim Schafer are two of the industry’s foremost on “weird” and “exaggerated”;  McGee with his “Grimm” and “Alice” titles, and Schafer with “Grim Fandango” and “Psychonauts”.  Both are masters of the strange, and have set the bar almost impossibly high for those looking to make a game cut from the same cloth.  Yet, it is this very cloth that Playlogic’s new game, Fairytale Fights, tries to emulate, and unfortunately fails more often then it succeeds.

This isn’t entirely the games fault.  When you’re understandably compared to two of the greatest minds in gaming history, it’s tough to stand out.  That’s exactly what happens here.  For the first hour or so, Fairytale Fights seems like a fun time.  You start off as Red Riding Hood, who spirals into a jealous (and murderous) rage after she is replaced as Grandma’s protector.  Pretty soon, the game has you fighting four lumberjacks with a carrot, and things couldn’t be more awesome.  Moving along this opening level yields new weapons, and a couple of new enemy types, keeping things fresh and enjoyable.

Fairytale Fights screenshot

The game features over 140 weapons, which are ranked on a scale of Light, Light to Medium, and Heavy.  These range anywhere from carrots, pencils and crowbars to swords, chainsaws and Jawbreaker candy guns.  While the weapons show extreme creativity and variety, very quickly, they can become overwhelming.  Determining which weapons are more effective than others becomes difficult, because they’re pretty similar.  Also, as you progress through the levels in the game, the sheer magnitude of items dropped around you makes everything feel a bit…oversaturated, to say the least.

Speaking of excess, huge amounts of blood, gore, and flying body parts make their way into the game.  This actually ends up being a positive for the game, because without the violence and brutal death, killing the inhabitants of this fairytale world would have grown dull much, much earlier.  The destruction is enhanced even more by a death panel (No, not the one bandied about in regard to U.S. healthcare reform!) that shows up on the side of your screen, and zooms in on the carnage you cause to any given enemy.

Fairytale Fights scene

Sure, Fairytale Fights brand of mindless killing might seem like just the breather you’ve been looking for after deep experiences like Dragon Age: Origins and Modern Warfare 2, but this is not the case for long.  Everyone playing this game will undoubtably reach a point where they realize that all the charm packed into this game (And there’s a decent amount) is not enough to stretch out over a full experience.  Had this been an XBLA or PSN game, “Fights’” shallow nature could have been overlooked, but in a full release, it’s painfully clear.

Outside of the game mechanics that just don’t last, Fairytale Fights shines in other area’s, such as art style.  There’s something about seeing a deranged Snow White wield a machete that never gets old, or the “That’s so gross, yet I can’t look away” idiocy of the Naked Emperor.  Environments look really well thought out and designed (Fighting within them is another story), and various twists on fairytale staples all serve to give the game a unique look.  It’s just unfortunate that the gameplay istelf doesn’t support the art.

Fairytale Fights- The face of a killer

Another notch in Fairytale Fights’ belt are the memorable boss battles.  To use an example early on so as to avoid spoiling anything, you are stranded on a wooden board in the middle of a lake, and forced to fight off a giant beaver.  Avoiding your foe as he glides across or chomps on the board in an attempt to ingest you, you are treated to one of those “Scripted enough to look cool, but still requires strategy” sort of fights.  At times, he will even lift the board straight above him, and attempt to slide you off into his mouth.  Later boss fights carry much the same formula, but unlike normal encounters, never wear on your patience.

Really the biggest negative here is one I’ve already touched on, and it has to do with price.  Outside of Alice and Grimm, Fairytale Fights was also likened to Castle Crashers, the masterpiece XBLA game from developers the Behemoth.  This is extremely unfortunate for the game, as those are even bigger shoes to fill, and charging full price for a game that is about half as fun as an arcade game seems like a bit of a travesty.

That said, Fairytale Fights has enough merits to warrant checking out.  After all, who couldn’t use a little more cartoonish decapitation in their lives?  With a graphical style that catches your eye, enjoyable humor, and epic boss fights, there are some positives to found here.  However, most of them are mired by the fact that you’re paying full price for a game that’s fun for about 3-4 hours, when there are cheaper, more rewarding experiences out there.  Did I hate my time with the game?  No.  But I found myself wanting to play one of the myriad of big titles that have hit this year, and sadly felt that had I not been reviewing it, it may have slipped through the cracks.  Definitely better served as an arcade release.