Developer: Mediatonic | Publisher: Mediatonic | Played On: PC | Price: $14.99 | ESRB: E10+ [Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Alcohol Reference, Mild Language, Use of Tobacco]
Gather ‘round my friends, and let’s listen to the gentlemanly tales of Baron Dashforth and his companion Mr. Scampwick. Stories full of skullduggery, malicious villains, and the most treacherous foe of all… repetition! Foul Play is a side scrolling beat ‘em up disguised as a theatre performance. While some innovative ideas separate the game from others in its genre, Foul Play is held back from greatness by simple combat and repetitive gameplay.
After years of treasure hunting and adventuring, Baron Dashforth has taken to the stage to recount his tales of danger, excitement, and heroism. Each act is performed by actors wearing costumes onstage in front of a lively audience. The game utilizes the stage setting to humorous effect as well: you can usually see the actors’ eyes behind the giant werewolf masks, knocked out bad guys lie on the floor and look around before shuffling off stage, and the stagehand can be seen frequently in the background. The jokes are funny the first time, but it can get unabashedly stale once the same gags appear throughout the entire game. Nonetheless, the theater motif offers a unique twist to an otherwise straightforward brawler.
Not just an aesthetic feature, being on stage is also integral to the gameplay. Instead of Dashforth having a life meter, the success of his performance is determined by audience approval. By linking together combos, using a variety of attacks, and not getting hit, the approval meter goes up and the crowd goes wild. The more the crowd cheers the more points you get. Take too much of a beating and Dashforth is forced to start the production over. The approval meter doesn’t drastically change gameplay compared to other brawlers but it does offer a different approach that fits with the setting.
In terms of gameplay Foul Play is all about combos. As you use your cane to whack robots, pirates, and mummies you build up your combo meter which in turn improves the audience approval of the bout. Should you get hit by an enemy the combo ends and the audience approval meter drops. Enemies will announce their intent to attack, allowing you to parry their blow and continue your combo. What this amounts to is Dashforth wildly attacking one enemy, jumping onto another and beating them up until he hops onto a different bad guy. At first the action is fast paced and challenging, but once you get a grip on the mechanics the gameplay becomes boring. Additional attacks and abilities are unlocked as you complete levels but these do not vary gameplay enough to keep the game from being a mindless button masher.
The only added sense of excitement to combat is the Showstopper ability. As you beat up baddies you also build up a separate special meter that you can activate to earn extra points from battle, perform combos faster, and boost the audience meter up quickly. Though it is a neat way to earn extra points it sadly doesn’t do anything that would otherwise change or enhance the gameplay.
There are five plays to reenact with each consisting of five separate acts, capped off by a final boss act; running through the game will only take you a matter of hours. Replay value comes from earning five stars on each stage as well as completing level specific challenges like defeating a certain enemy first or reflecting back a set number of enemy projectiles. Overall, Foul Play wraps up rather quickly and the only incentive to go back is to play for a higher score.
There is a multiplayer option that adds an extra layer of depth to the gameplay, but nothing so drastic as to greatly alter the experience. Another player can tag along as Mr. Scampwick to aid Dashforth in each of his missions. Mr. Scampwick plays identically to Dashforth, but having both players does open up some opportunities for tag team attacks. I was expecting the additional protagonist would increase the difficulty or at least throw more enemies at me, but instead it felt like I was running through the single player campaign with two people . Interestingly, some of the stage challenges were downright impossible to complete with two people, forcing me to replay the level solo.
The gameplay is mediocre, the multiplayer wasn’t anything to get excited about, and the combat was repetitive: so why did I still enjoy Foul Play? To answer that question you need look no further than the art style and theme. The game plays up the theater setting to the extreme, with the aforementioned actors playing each role, as well as the audience taking up the lower third of the screen—add on to that clever nods to the stage like cardboard props, moving the actual stage background to designate traveling through time, audience members yelling, and actors breaking character. It was all so novel I found myself playing through the entire game just to see what they would do next. Visually the game stands out as well, featuring a cartoony look to the characters and backgrounds. Stage environments in particular stood out as highly detailed and varied.
Foul Play is a combination of good and not so good. On one hand the overarching theme, visuals, and humor are top notch. But on the other the gameplay is boring and there is little challenge. While the game won’t satiate the need for another solid side scrolling beat ‘em up, it will feed your craving for a brief moment. If you have a penchant for curly mustaches, old timey dialogue, or well mannered English gentleman then perhaps you can look pasts these faults.
+ Theater setting is unique and fun
- Combat is simple and repetitive
- Small replay value
7 / 10