In Foul Play, players take control of a charming gentleman and world famous daemon hunter by the name of Baron Dashforth, as he recounts his life story and the fiercest battles of his life. The story plays out on stage with actors portraying all of the enemies and monsters Baron has battled against in the past, and a live crowd reacts to the performance given on stage. A second player can also join in the action and will take control of Baron's sidekick, Scampwick. As each act develops, scenes will change and actors will change outfits on the fly, and often times, characters can be caught off guard on-stage for some of the funniest moments in a humorous storyline. Foul Play never takes itself seriously and provides laughter throughout its entirety.
Much of Foul Play's gameplay is in the traditional mold as other games from the same genre. Enemies attack players in waves and must be combo attacked into submission with a mixture of light and heavy strikes, and there are plenty of boss battles mixed in to avoid too much repetition. Foul Play does incorporate a nicely designed counterattack system that is not unlike fighting seen in Batman: Arkham City and forces players to fight carefully dodge incoming projectiles and melee attacks to continue chaining combo strings. As players progress through the game, additional maneuvers are unlocked including an ability to throw enemies that stuns others and a special attack that excites the crowd when unleashed.
Controlling the crowd is a vital part of gameplay in Foul Play. Since the whole game is a play that is reenacting Baron's life story, no one ever dies or gets knocked out, but the crowd wants to be entertained, and it is possible to get booed off stage. Defeating enemies and successfully landing combos without being hit will keep the show going and the crowd entertained. While the idea is pretty original and an interesting way to play the game, it's rare that anyone will ever die in the game, since the crowd is so easy to please. The crowd meter isn't horrible, but it definitely takes away some of the drama that comes with a traditional health meter and managing healing items.
Foul Play is another game in the popular 2D beat 'em up genre. With only two playable characters and no additional weapons or equipment to unlock in the game, Foul Play needs to do something special to differentiate itself from other releases. Each act in the game has three different challenges to complete such as landing a 50-hit combo on enemies or throwing enemies into destructible and interactive items in the scenery. When a player completes all three challenges in an act, a charm is unlocked that grant various passive abilities including charging combo attacks faster, running more quickly or some other similar effect. Completing challenges to unlock charms is one of the most addictive aspects of Foul Play, and it adds plenty of replay value to an already fun game.
In total, there are five plays with four of the plays having five acts each and the other having only two for a total of 22 unique acts. Foul Play is about four hours long from start to finish, but there are enough reasons to play through the game multiple times. Players can also team up with a friend locally or online for the entire campaign. Cooperative sessions are definitely the best way to play the game, and the two-player storyline keeps the action from ever being too hectic. If players land counters on the same enemy at the same time, they will have to battle it out in a quick button mashing mini-game to see who gets to land the attack. When working together with a good teammate, it's nearly impossible to lose an act, but it does become more difficult to complete challenges.
The art style featured in Foul Play is similar to a Saturday morning cartoon, and it's the perfect fit for the humorous atmosphere the game manages to establish early on. The colorful characters help bring the game to life, and the imaginative costumes that recount Baron's memories are mostly exaggerated but still provide a good image of what he really faced. When an act switches to a new scene, the curtains can be briefly lowered while stage hands quickly change the props and backgrounds. It's a fun aesthetic idea that gives Foul Play a truly unique feel that no other game possesses. The camera can be troublesome at times and rarely seems to focus on enemies that come from off screen. Sometimes combos can be lost simply because enemies can't be seen, and while this is frustrating, it doesn't take away from the overall presentation too much. Though there is no voice acting for the lengthy dialogue in the game, there is a great soundtrack that immerses the player in the game action for the duration of the campaign.
There isn't much content in Foul Play beyond the main campaign. Players can unlock pages in the Daemon Diary that can be accessed from the main menu to learn about enemies in the game or how to perform certain attacks in the game. The diary does add a bit more humor to the game, but most players will likely overlook this additional feature. The diary also acts as a help menu/tutorial, so it's a bit surprising Mediatonic only made it accessible from the main menu and not from in-game where it would be more useful for players.
Foul Play is a great cooperative experience that rivals some of the best downloadable games released this year. Side-scrolling beat 'em ups isn't a new genre, but Foul Play is very effective at setting a fun tone that will have players laughing between hours of battling against enemy hordes and big baddies. The game manages to provide some unique design choices that makes the new title stand out in a crowded genre. Foul Play allows players to team up locally or online, and this flexibility makes it a great game for friends to pick up and enjoy together at a low price. Grab a friend and pick up a copy of Foul Play for a fun time this weekend, and maybe you'll learn more about battling daemons and being a gentleman too!
Foul Play is now available for Xbox LIVE Arcade and Steam and can be purchased for $14.99. Foul Play is rated E by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Alcohol Reference, Mild Language & Use of Tobacco. For more information on the game, check out the official Foul Play website.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Xbox LIVE Arcade (reviewed) & Steam
Release Date: September 18, 2013