Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: September 18th, 2013
Available On: PC, Xbox 360
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PC. There may be differences between versions.
Foul Play is a 2D brawler with a gimmick, one that you’ll probably notice right away. Simply, the game is a play. As in literally a play. You’re playing actors fighting other actors on stage for a cheering audience while special effect guys try to imitate things. The gimmick goes a little deeper than you may think, but is it enough to make this a game worth playing?
I do have to give credit to Foul Play’s set up. Taking the role of either Baron Dashforth or his friend Mr. Scampwick (or Dash and Scamp as the game shortens them to) you’ll relive their lives as professional daemon hunters. Or, more specifically, you’ll relive the story of their lives as told by them. Taking place over the years they’ve been in the business, the game is entertaining with some fantastic writing that bolsters its various humorous moments. I will also say that the last act contained a twist that was actually surprising at the time and really clever in retrospect.
The whole “It’s a play” thing goes beyond just being window dressing for the story though. In Foul Play you don’t have a health bar. Instead you have an interest meter. Your goal is to keep the crowd interested and entertained so they don’t leave. You raise the meter by doing combos and hitting enemies, while it lowers whenever you get hit or if you just spend your time idling around. It’s a smart system that encourages you to go on the offensive rather than hang back, plus it makes it so the occasional mistake is forgivable while reducing the need to hunt for healing items between fights (Or, worse, argue with your partner over who needs it more.) Do enough damage to enemies and you’ll unlock the Showstopper, which actually just makes every hit fill up the bar further. It kind of reminds me of a rhythm game almost, getting points to keep up the approval meter and getting awarded stars for your performances.
In combat you’ll be using a combination of light and heavy attacks to chain together combos. You’ll also have a parry button that, if used correctly, allows you to grapple with an enemy. From there you can smack them around more, throw them into other enemies, or slam them into the ground for an impact attack. It’s not a bad system, but you’ll be using the same attacks from the first fight to the last boss.The very small selection of unlockable attacks didn’t really do much for me. Each level comes with three challenges that require you to do things like beat specific segments in a certain amount of time, get long combos, or save extras from whatever situation they’re in. Complete all three challenges for a level and you’ll unlock a charm that you can equip to your character for some passive boosts. Completing the challenges are more difficult than the actual levels, though I honestly never found the rewards to be all that worth it.
Foul play has four “plays” that are then split into five acts, plus a fifth two act play. Each act takes between ten to fifteen minutes to complete, and every act in the game can be played cooperatively with a buddy either locally or through the internet. Foul Play feels a little on the long side, and with no real change ups in gameplay then things begin to feel stale before long. Each play ends in a boss fight that honestly just usually feels like a stronger enemy. Bosses tend to be little more than whaling on a guy with a large health bar.
Foul Play has a sense of style that looks great, but it’s brought down by repetitive gameplay. It has some good ideas, the crowd system is great, but it needed something to change up the formula so people weren’t tempted to just walk out.