Ladies and gentlemen, please, take your seats. Tonight, you’re in for quite a treat. You shall be regaled with tales of wonder, and witness the foulest of daemons ripped asunder. Tonight, and tonight only, mind you, Sir Dashforth, renowned daemonologist, and his assistant, Scampwick, shall recount their most daring adventures from their illustrious career.
Forgiving my weak poetry, it’s true that Foul Play is indeed an affair worth witnessing, albeit an affair based around an interesting gimmick. This side-scrolling brawler takes on the form of a stage play, pitting the hero and his partner against extras dressed up as demons and other villains. Since the events of the evening are simply a play, health bars are done away with and replaced by a meter that measures how entertained the audience is, reminiscent of games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Like most other brawlers, combos are the key to success, and keeping the audience satisfied means keeping the combo streaks climbing higher and higher.
Dashforth, armed with his cane and trusty top hat, is equipped with the basic quick and heavy attacks along with a parry and the ability to dodge attacks. As this is a brawler, it’s highly recommended that you bring a friend along to fill in as Scampwick for a spell, but unlike other genre entries, Foul Play doesn’t feel overly difficult without a second player. In fact, the game is quite easy despite a few flaws that cause some issues.
Attacks feel a tad sluggish and almost fall behind button commands, but not enough to tip the scales in favor of the enemies. The slight delay is more of a minor annoyance than a game breaking glitch, but it still exists. As I said before, Foul Play is a pretty easy game, and I didn’t have the curtains fall on me until the final levels. Most enemies can be beat by mashing the attack buttons as fast as possible. In fact, trying to be strategic and planning elaborate attacks will do more damage than running into a group of baddies with cane swinging.
Some variety is sprinkled throughout the campaign, as each stage comes with challenges that can be completed for extra perks. These come in the form of charms that can be equipped before each level, giving you small boosts that help make the game even easier. Although the challenges are fun, and definitely add to the replay factor, they almost necessitate having a second player there to help out.
The biggest drawback is the issue that all brawlers have to deal with: repetition. As fun and hilarious as Foul Play is, it’s undeniably repetitive. New attacks are unlocked as Dashforth’s fame levels up, but they barely add anything new to the fray. Whether it’s a charge attack, a counter attack or an uppercut, it’s nothing new. In fact, these are moves that should have been unlocked from the start of the game. Since you can only resort to smacking whatever stands in your way, extended amounts of play can be tiresome.
With that being said, Foul Play is broken up in a way that makes it easy to find a good flow to play in. Throughout 22 stages, the game is divided into five individual stage plays, each chronicling Dashforth’s encounters with a different group of enemies. Each play takes about an hour to beat, meaning a play a day keeps the boredom away. If you take your time and play through it with a buddy, you’ll have an absolute blast.
Even though the gameplay is a bit lackluster, the setting and writing are handled masterfully, always providing a laugh or drawing your eye away from the action for a split second. The stage (which is apparently miles long) is constantly undergoing changes as the scenes fly by, dropping new backdrops, props and enemies into Dashforth’s way. Janitors will get caught in the spotlight cleaning up last minute, and extras forget their lines to the dismay of the director. It all feels like a genuine vaudeville show, making it easy to forgive the lackluster gameplay simply to see what happens next.
The array of baddies facing Dashforth down is extremely varied, ranging from mummies, mermaids, robots, pirates, zombie squids, and of course, a Bearicorn. Each play recounts a scuffle with a powerful demon, and each of them are hilarious in their own right. The extras are all dressed in costumes ranging from campy to elaborate, and despite the look of the play, a few of the bosses have incredibly detailed transformations. There are a few moments that pull you out of the play mentality, but they never get in the way of the fun.
As much humor as the little touches add to the experience, a few of them can get in the way of the actual game. Sometimes, downed enemies will slink across the stage, and it’s easy to mistake them as an active baddie. Bigger adversaries tend to take up a bit too much of the screen, meaning they also block smaller enemies from view, and cheap shots become more common as the game goes on. No matter how satisfied you keep the fickle audience, it takes nothing more than two or three hits to drop the meter to a critically low state.
Despite these flaws, Foul Play is one of the most enjoyable XBLA games of recent memory. It’s brimming full of personality, creativity and humor, much of which stems from the banter between Dashforth and Scampwick. Even if the gameplay is painfully repetitive, the characters and play setting are worth exploring. Impressively enough, this is developer Mediatonic’s first foray into console releases, and it’s a heck of a debut. Hopefully they can learn a few lessons from this experience and bring Dashforth back for another game, because he’s one of my favorite video game characters from recent memory.
If you enjoy brawlers or quirky adventures, then Foul Play will hit more right notes with you than wrong. Grab a friend and experience the life of the acclaimed daemonologist Dashforth. Just do so in a dignified manner.
This review is based on a copy of the game for the Xbox 360 that was given to us for a review.
Full of fun, humor and creativity, Foul Play mostly manages to overcome its repetitive and mediocre gameplay.