Eyes-on at E3 / Fairytale Fights

“We need to add blood there.”

This is a line that was muttered from Fairytale Fights’s lead designer to one of his cohorts in the creation of this crazy crazy little game. This was muttered right in the middle of a press presentation, and it was said with all sincerity, with a tone seriously suggesting “that needs work” and not any attempt to get a rise out of us.

The scenario in question was when the game’s protagonist, in this instance Little Red Riding Hood, got an unfortunate enemy trapped in a pit of spinning blades, which then proceeded to grind him up. Thing is, there was not a drop of blood spilt. Given everything that we had seen up to this point, which was one absurdly and hilariously violent videogame, we the spectating press were in what I like to imagine was silent unanimous agreement. The lack of blood really did stick out.

And that instance sums up my experience seeing Playlogic’s Fairytale Fights pretty succinctly. Let me break it down a bit more…

Playlogic has made a game that has both surprised and delighted me. The name suggested something silly and fun with classic characters, and that is certainly there. The story takes place in a sort of Fairytale land, and has these old characters clamoring for a chance to rise in fame like they did so long ago. The game presupposes that they do not, in fact, live happily ever after. Opportunity knocks when peril strikes Fairytale land, and that’s where you the player take control.

It’s a funny little premise, and it’s made more so by the design of the world. Fueled by the Unreal Engine 3, the game is very brightly colored, and with a very consistent theme that everything in the realm is literally made of books. Roofs, you’ll see, are two gigantic books leaning on each other. Porch steps are stacks of books, bridges are books… almost everything is made of books. And this book-laden realm is all well lit by bright sunny days. The brightness is in sharp contrast to some of the actual things going on. The one that sticks out in my mind was a Hansel and Gretel-themed level that takes place in the witch’s house (Many levels are based on classic fairytales). There, you’ll see kids hopelessly chewing on candies, some some helplessly fat. Really, it’s pretty dark, but humorous too. Characters are rendered to be very cartoon-like, and so these goofy fat kids are funny, but you know that they’re there and the way they are from having been lured into that house.

The guy playing the demo hacked these kids to pieces with his Little Red Riding Hood that was carrying a hatchet.

Which brings me to the start… this is a violent game, and one that celebrates violence. This in itself is nothing new, but to see it in a game with this kind of visual style is just hilarious. The next closest thing I can think of is the humorous violence in Team Fortress 2. The difference here is that the blood can actually affect gameplay. As I mentioned, this is a brawler. You pick from a number of classic fairytale staples. On display were only Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White, but there are to be more than that available, and more downloadable characters after release. With your chosen staple of children’s stories, you will then proceed to hack n’ slash your way through various levels of whimsy and wonder. The level we were shown with lots of lumberjacks getting hacked up in a variety of ways showed that enemies spill a lot of blood on the floor, and that said blood will make your characters slip around. This will surely be an interesting and funny dynamic in fights. Hopefully, though, it won’t become a frustrating one.

Also driving the point home that this is a violent game: Dynamic Slicing. The developers were keen to accentuate this feature. To attack, you will use the right stick. Whatever direction you press it is the direction your character will slice. This, if done under just the right circumstances, which seemed to happen quite often, I might add, will treat you to a half-screen-filling up-close view of your enemy getting chopped apart according to how you sliced. These aren’t completely predetermined, either. We saw one poor lumberjack get sliced from top to bottom, but not down the middle. He only lost the left-most portion of his head, his left arm, a good chunk of torso, and about half his left leg. Naturally, you can also lop off only part of someone’s head and not do complete decaptiation. It’s a mechanical feat, I suppose, but more than that it was just startlingly brutal for this kind of game.

“This is horrible!” shouted another journalist. “I like it!” So did I. The limb-severing did stop, though. Yeah… it stopped when he dropped the hatchet for a giant metal wrench…

Also, the game does offer up some multiplayer fun. You can do online or local co-op with three other players. To demonstrate, another developer jumped in as Snow White to assist in the carnage. You’re able to also hack each other up in this mode if you so desire. Don’t get too carried away, though, as deaths will cost you your weapons and some of your currency, which can be used toward some upgrades and other weapons at the main central village. One thing that disconcerted me was when they mentioned that you are unable to turn this off. Friendly fire is built into this game. The reason this bothers me is that usually hack n’ slashers or brawlers can break in multiplayer from constantly accidentally swiping at your pals, which could put them in a bad spot. I am hoping this is a non-issue for the way this game plays out.

I did have some other concerns, too. I did get worried that this hyper-violence around cutesy characters might grow stale. It was fun to see the different levels that were based on different stories, and a nasty fight against a giant beaver seemed to mix things up a bit. It’s a creative sight and it looks like fun, but I just hope it’s not a cheap temporary thrill meant to grab the kind of quick attention E3 is all about. There’s no way to tell if they’ve created a rich and compelling experience from what we saw, unfortunately. Also, I may be being picky, but the framerate seemed kind of low. There have been more complex-looking games running on UE3, and while everything was playable, I feel like it could’ve been smoother. That’s just a small thing, though. Like I said, it was playable. Plus, it’s still not finished. They have blood to add to buzzsaw deaths.

And it is still worth mentioning that it did grab my attention when I didn’t expect as much from it. Some of the game’s inspirations, as we were told, come from Itchy & Scratchy (you know, that cartoon on The Simpsons?), Happy Tree Friends, and Ren & Stimpy. Makes sense. They also mentioned that they wanted to touch on the dark tones of the classic versions of these tales. You know, the ones where the evil queens get burned in the middle of villages at the end while the prince and princess dance around within view. This is great to me. Why aren’t more games taking these new angles? Why aren’t more games willing to put more stock in humor, too? That alone puts this game on my radar, but that it may potentially be a really fun game certainly doesn’t hurt. I certainly wanted to play it while I was there.

I won’t have long to wait, though. Expect this one later this year on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and the PC. The potential fountain of blood those spinning blades will produce from those poor lumberjacks… my imagination will have to suffice.