Move over Phantom Of The Opera – there’s a new star at the theatre and it’s called Foul Play. Instead of singing and dancing you’ve got hard hits and combos, but would you want it any other way?
At its core Foul Play plays in the style of a classic scrolling beat ‘em up. You can play solo or with a friend as you work through a stream of levels, re-living the tales of lead character Baron Dashforth’s daring life. The game takes a theatrical twist though by having the whole game play out in the vein on a staged play. It’s an interesting premise that works well for the most part, but does the gameplay stand up well enough to make Foul Play a Broadway hit?
Foul Play’s lead character Baron Dashforth is a daemon-hunter, so as you can imagine he’s been on some interesting adventures in his time. You’ll be re-enacting some of his expeditions for the audience, with journeys across deserts, creepy forests, demon filled towns – you know, the usual locations that show up in video games. Whilst your adventures doesn’t send you anywhere too unique, the way in which each story is told is enjoyable with charming and witty dialogue shared between the main characters and the clichéd villains encountered along the way.
It was a little disappointing that there was no voice acting to go with the dialogue though. I understand there are budget constraints with developers, but Foul Play’s premise would’ve worked really well with some over the top British voice acting. Whilst the story isn’t the sort of blockbuster performance you’d expect from a theatre production, it’ll do enough to entertain you throughout the five acts featured in the game though.
Whilst Foul Play plays like a traditional side scrolling beat ‘em up, it features one big difference that really changes up the formula – success and failure depends on how well you please the audience who are permanently seated at the bottom of the screen. You don’t have a health bar that depletes and causes you to fail, but rather an audience that’ll boo you off the stage if you’re not entertaining them enough. On the other hand, if you provide a startling performance you’ll get raucous cheers from the doting crowd.
The best way to keep them happy is by pulling off a good variation of moves, dodging your opponent’s attacks and keeping your combo count high – something fairly easy given that Foul Play has slick controls that work perfectly. It’s easy to attack, maintain combos, parry enemy attacks… if anything it’s a little too easy. You’ll take down enemies with minimal fuss, your biggest adversary being the amount of damage they can take before falling.
The game’s boss encounters suffer from the same easy difficulty. It’s a simple case of learning their attack patterns and then spamming them with hits until they eventually meet their demise. Whilst they may lack any real challenge, at least bosses look great – Foul Play certainly offers great visuals, something clearly demonstrated with the boss designs.
Foul Play follows its ‘theatre show’ premise to a tee with its aesthetic design. You’ll notice that most enemies you face are clearly actors in costumes – they’ll often even go as far as running off stage after you defeat them. You’ll even notice that the environment around you is in fact a theatre set – heck, you’ll see the theatre staff moving pieces of the set around between levels! It all adds to the quirky charm of the game, although it doesn’t always completely maintain the theatrical illusion – especially when you consider the stage seems to be endless in length. It’s doesn’t deter from the vibe of the game too much though, it’s just unusual that there wasn’t some workaround for it given the effort the developers have made in order to create an authentic theatre atmosphere.
It’ll take you roughly four to five hours to complete Foul Play but there’s plenty to come back for. Each act consists of multiple stages, with each stage offering a variety of challenges for you to complete. These objectives include tasks such as defeating enemies without getting hit or reaching a certain combo count – there’s a decent mixture of tasks that are easily achievable in standard gameplay but also some that you’ll actually have to work a little harder to complete. Either way, they offer a little something extra to work for in each level. You’ll also unlock charms from completing all of the challenges a stage offers. These charms can then be equipped, offering the player some boosts will give you the upper hand throughout the game – not that you need it though.
There’s the co-operative multiplayer to play through too, with the game offering both local and online options. I had a blast playing through Foul Play with a partner – the duo of Baron Dashforth and Scampwick were unstoppable at times, although perhaps a little TOO unstoppable. The game isn’t difficult on single player, so co-op was even more of a breeze. Still, at least it’s fun to play through and you’ll definitely have plenty of laughs as you play.
Whilst I may not be a big fan of the theatre I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Foul Play. It offers a unique take on the traditional side scrolling beat ‘em up, and whilst it doesn’t really evolve the genre in any way it still manages to feel like a breath of fresh air. The game is charmingly self-aware of its theatre premise and plays that in well with level transitions, whilst enemy design is splendid with actors clearly shown to be playing each vicious demon you defeat. A lack of difficulty lets the game down a little, but it never stops Foul Play being an enjoyable, action packed beat ‘em up experience – it certainly earned plenty of applause from me.
– The theatrical production premise of the game is well utilised and offers breath of fresh air to the genre.
– Great aesthetic design.
– Plenty of challenges to complete.
– Tight, responsive controls that make the game a joy to play.
– There’s a severe lack of difficulty.
– Bosses are disappointing and predictable.
Developer: Mediatonic (www.mediatonicgames.com)
Publisher: Devolver Digital (www.devolverdigital.com)
Release Date: 23/02/2016 (Playstation 4, Playstation Vita) 29/10/2013 (Mac, Linux) 18/09/2013 (PC, Xbox 360)
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC, Mac, Linux, Playstation Vita