Genre: Dropkicking Daemons
Release Date: 9/18/13
Reviewing games means I get a chance to play games that I would never have encountered otherwise. Sometimes this means I spend time playing games like Motorbike or Turbo instead of games I’d rather play. Then there are games that are fantastic that I might have missed out on otherwise that remind me what it is I like about this hobby.
Foul Play is one of those games. It is joyful, as in the literal sense of that word; it is filled with joy.
The game charms immediately with an interesting art style. The game is a 2D brawling game that takes place on a stage, and opens with the main character explaining what is going on. He is Baron Dashforth, a daemonologist whose adventures have been chronicled in a play. Since there is no one better to perform as the Baron than himself, he takes the stage along with his companion Scampwick to provide the narration for the play.
The game is a visual treat. The characters are large headed cartoon sprites the reflect the period of the game, with Baron Dashforth sporting a large mustache and a monocle and armed with a cane while his companion looks like a scruffy chimney sweep who is armed with a broom. The game is set on a stage with an audience sitting in front, with backgrounds that are shifted, lowered and moved like set pieces on a stage. Every part of the game follows this aesthetic, with curtains opening and closing on each level, enemies that are designed to look like stage hands wearing costumes, and items in the levels that are designed to look like stage props.
It’s fantastic to watch and the small details that are on display are amazing. Seeing an enemy you’ve just beaten lay there for a moment then sit up, look around and try to crawl offstage is great. Some are removed by a hook that pulls them off stage. Some larger enemies you can see the eye holes in the costumes as the stage hands peek out. The game features a lot of different settings and enemies and the developers used a lot of creative ways of making these fit with the play setting. The backgrounds are even better, with the game taking place across locations such as Egypt or the Victorian London, and each area has a distinct look with interesting backdrops.
The audio is just as well done with great background music and sound effects, but more importantly the way the audience plays into the game. Depending on how well you are doing in the game the audience will either response with enthusiasm, even throwing their hats into the air, or will quiet down to be nearly silent except for a cough or boo. This actually works well within the game as how much the audience appreciates the action is tied to other mechanics within the game. Being able to tell audibly how well you are doing at a given moment can be useful. I played this game late at night and tried to mute it to not disturb my wife, but found that the audience reactions were such an integral piece of the game that I turned the volume back on.
Foul Play is a 2D brawler, meaning that the majority of the game is spent traveling right to left smacking enemies around. Dashforth does this with his cane baritsu-style, knocking foes around like any seasoned Daemonologist would. The way you beat enemies up is fairly simple, X for regular attacks, Y for strong, Right trigger to block and dodge, A to jump and B to parry attacks/grab. During the game enemies will attack you and when they do little lightening bolts appear above their heads, pressing B will grab smaller enemies in the air and from there you can smack them around, throw them at other enemies or piledrive them for a small area of attack. Larger foes attacks can be parried but usually they’re harder to get to a state that you can grab them.
While playing the game I unlocked additional attacks, but I most consistently played the game by parrying attacks and depending on the situation I’d hit them a few times before throwing or piledriving them. That sounds simple, and it is, however doing well is another matter. The game has a number of different things going on at once, there’s a combo meter that can be increased by constantly attacking enemies, but will disappear if hit or if too long is spent between hitting enemies. This window is fairly short, so it’s important to try and string attacks and parries as much as possible to obtain a ‘perfect scene’. There’s an audience meter that acts as both the health bar and score system. Getting hit or just general inactivity will lower the audience meter, it’s important to keep the audience happy. Keeping them happy will increase the score multiplier, plus if the audience becomes too unhappy the curtain will close on the scene and it will be game over. There’s also a special move meter that will build up that when activated will rapidly increase audience satisfaction with each successful attack. In addition to all of that are challenges for each level that require meeting specific goals, such as saving innocents, reaching a specific combo, meeting a time requirement, and so on. Beating all of the challenges will unlock charms, which are equipable in the level select area and provide different bonuses onto the player, like making the audience meter drain slower.
One of the things that made me the most impressed by Foul Play was just how well it all works together. The way the game makes the play setting work with the narrative, graphics and sound is just fantastic. As I mentioned, the way the audience audibly reacts was able to let me know more than once that my ‘health’ was too low, and the quickest way to bring it up again wasn’t to find a health potion but to increase my combo meter, which increased the audience reaction. That’s just a brilliant way to make my actions have meaning while also keeping it in context of the setting. While I will not spoil anything, the end of the game also just ties it all together in a way I didn’t see coming was worth playing the game for alone.
Foul Play did not take very long to beat, however for a beat-em-up it also is long enough that it gets to the point where it might start feeling to repetitive, and then it’s over. The game doesn’t overstay its welcome and provides incentives to encourage replaying it, both with challenges, leaderboards for score, and unlockables such as the charms or pages from a journal. The unlockable pages contain a surprising amount of text that adds more to the story and characters and is worth taking the time to check out. The game can also be played co-op locally or online with another player who takes control of Scampwick, I did not mention this in the control section as I did not play it co-op locally and could not find anyone online while playing the pre-release version of the game. In co-op there are double team moves that can be performed, and as much fun as it was to play by myself I can only imagine that it’s even more fun with a friend.
Like I said in the beginning of the review, it’s just a joy to play. The game is filled with charming little details and is full of humorous scenes. The enemy design alone is enough to put a smile on my face, but the game is filled with playful references to different fictional works from authors like Doyle, Verne, or Lovecraft. When I mentioned that I was surprised by the release of the game on Twitter against something like GTAV the account for the developer responded that it was the only open slot before the holidays. I enjoyed the game so much that even as a fan of the GTA series I’m hoping Foul Play doesn’t become eclipsed by the popularity of that title.
As a consumer of video games it’s ridiculous for me to really become emotionally involved in the success or failure of a game. As a reviewer I really shouldn’t be biased one way or another if it succeeds or not. Over this last weekend Foul Play made me a fan though, which means I’m crossing my fingers and hoping it succeeds even though a big title comes out around the same date.
The audience is cheering Mediatonic, take a bow.
Short Attention Span Summary: I spent a lot of the time playing Foul Play with a smile on my face. The game is endearing, charming, funny, and does an amazing job at making every part of the game feel interconnected. It’s a tightly designed brawler that I pray doesn’t get overshadowed.