FOUL PLAY REVIEW
A classically trained brawler with more than a few tricks up its ruffled sleeves.
Posted by PlayDevil.com Staff on Oct 14, 2013 15:14 (57 days ago)
Written by: Joe
The Show must go on:
Developer MediaTonic are best known for their quirky mobile games and the excellent Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess - a Playstation Mini that hooked me a few years back. With "Foul Play" MediaTonic have stretched their wings and delivered a full arcade title on Steam and XBLA that expands upon the studio's traditionally bitesize formula. With this increased depth and development, have MediaTonic proven themselves capable of providing bigger experiences?
Foul Play is a quirky, globetrotting adventure that takes place entirely on a stage in Victorian London. Much like Battleblock Theatre and Black Knight Sword before it, the entire narrative is played out before an audience upon an ever-changing stage. Unlike those two however, Foul Play commits to this idea, where new sets and props are wheeled into view and 'defeated' actors are dragged off stage - or simply walk away.
Foul Play revolves entirely around this mechanic instead of having it simply be an aesthetic gimmick, and is all the more successful for it.
The play itself is focused on the adventures of Baron Dashforth, an English gentleman with a monacle, a top hat and a penchant for Daemon hunting. Accompanying our star is Baron's sidekick Scampwick, a cockney chimney sweep who also refuses to buck the heavy handed stereotype. Our two heroes travel the world beating up evil entities and the cults that worship them, all whilst uncovering the mystery of Baron's missing father. Before the curtains closed Foul Play genuinely surprised me with an endgame twist, something I really appreciated from an otherwise standard arcade storyline.
For the most part Foul Play is played for laughs and succeeds wholeheartedly. The back and forth between our heroes and the pantomime villains is enjoyable and the writing is full of witty banter and tongue-in-cheek Lovecraftian horror.
Foul Play doesn't pull its punches when it comes to its gameplay - this is an old school brawler, through and through. Stages are comprised of battles and boss fights, and the title does little to change up this formula throughout. At the beginning your characters have little else to do other than wail incessantly on enemies with a weak and heavy attack, but before long Dashforth and Scampwick (who can be controlled by a buddy online or off) level up and unlock a satisfying suite of moves that allow you to parry enemy attacks, send foes flying relentlessly across the screen and bring about a whole new world of hurt.
As you fight the crowd will either boo or cheer you on, depending on your performance. As it's all a play, this is essentially your health bar. Mix up your attacks and deliver massive combos and they'll go nuts, quadrupling your points multiplier and allowing you to rack up stars on the scoring system. Get hit often and the multiplier will crash, the music will cut out and - I assume - you fail. I never actually saw what happened when you lose the crowd because the game is a touch too easy, but it remains fun regardless.
The real diversity Foul Play offers, and where it really sets itself apart from other titles in the storied genre, are the challenges the game constantly throws at you. Each level has three optional objectives you can undertake that members of the crowd will ask of you, such as saving villagers, reaching a certain number of hits in a combo, or finishing a section of the stage flawlessly. These challenges unlock trinkets that have a variety of effects on your character, and the hunt to acquire all of these kept me coming back to Foul Play far longer than I would have otherwise.
Whilst most of these challenges add extra depth and enjoyment to an otherwise standard brawler, some of them tarnish the experience by being irritatingly troublesome to complete. Flawless sections, for example, require you to keep a combo going from the moment combat begins to its finish, and are all too easy to fail if you kick an enemy away from you or if your teammate is polishing off the last foe and your combo drops. Sadly such tasks often meant I simply gave up on certain levels and ignored the unlockables.
Foul Play isn't a great looking game. It's oversimplified 2D art is a little lacklustre, especially compared to its contemporaries, and everything looks a little drab compared to, say, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World or Castle Crashers. Still, the stage often feels real because of some clever art direction, with badly costumed extras playing sea creatures and werewolves. The sets also look suitably amateur, and the entire production isn't without its own brand of charm. Indeed, by the end of the game I'd unwittingly become enamoured with the silly presentation.
The music is aptly vaudevillian, but the soundtrack ends up being fairly uninspired and forgettable. It serves its purpose and successfully scores the havoc on screen without feeling out of place, but it won't stick with you once the title is put away.