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Fable Heroes: Less farting, more Castle Crashers in Lionhead's new spin-off

XBLA title brings four-player co-op to Albion

The latest issue of Xbox World is on sale now.

The Fable franchise was always geared towards more casual gamers - welcoming world with a low barrier for entry as it was - and this Xbox Live Arcade spin-off is now even more accessible.

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Though Lionhead's 'idea's man' Peter Molyneux is dearly departed (from the company that is, not real life), Fable Heroes retains the broad appeal of the main games. Our only worry, on early evidence, is that the cute visual style might skew too young for most.

Cheap and cheerful is the focus here. It's nowhere near as deep and involved as the last three console games, but then, being an XBLA game, it's nowhere near as expensive either. It's a beat-'em-up, with loot-filled dungeon-crawls; its visual style is Castle Crashers by way of Terry Pratchett (although swearing gargoyles are unsurprisingly given a rest this time out).

Four-player co-op is the hook. There are plenty of famous faces to choose from, including Stephen Fry's Reaver and Fable 3's popular Garth and Hammer, with the promise of more to unlock.

Rolling as a posse through the magical land of Albion (Streets of Mage?), now rendered with more than a little patchwork, looks a gentle delight. Slashing entry-level bandits and goblin-like hobbes isn't too taxing, but the shower of coins they leave behind (and the fact this is a Fable game) suggests a levelling mechanic, hopefully with a few more moves tobuy besides the standard 'light/heavy' attacks.

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NATIONAL TREASURE

Most interesting about Heroes is its franchise crossover. There's a slow-time attack like in previous games, and character-specific powers - Reaver is a master pistoleer, while Garth blasts blue lightning from his slender fingers. You need to combine powers against chunky bosses, like lava trolls and giant beetles if you want to progress.

There are also fun diversions, like chicken-kicking (naturally) and mini-games where you have to chase a fleeing chest and smash the coins out of its greedy gob. Cheeky inter-player deviousness, like nabbing all the gold before your mate can get any, adds a Four Swords-like layer of friendly competition.

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If this was set in any other universe it wouldn't be half as worthy of attention; it's the cross-references that elevate it. And we just know that plenty is still to be revealed. Lionhead will have missed several tricks if they don't include a dog companion that digs up treasure, a raid on a bandit camp, or a fighting tournament at The Crucible. Just don't expect any morality lessons, child-raising or bigamy

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