Foul Play Review

Foul Play Featured

Foul Play Boxart

Developer: Mediatonic
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360 – XBLA
Review code provided

“All the world’s a stage” is a quote which well reflects the realm of gaming. Games themselves tend to be visually represented stories, often mimicking tricks used first from plays or films. But every once in a while we get a game that doesn’t eschew that fact. Instead, we get something like Foul Play in which the lead character narrates his story and then acts out memories through a stage play.

Baron Dashforth is a self-proclaimed “daemon hunter” as well as a gentleman. That much is evidenced through things like his top hat and mustache. Despite his supposed gentlemanly nature though we are tasked with making Dashforth brawl his way through copious enemies and stages. From a beginning in Egypt all the way to the hellish daemon plane, there’s a lot to see.

Fights themselves can easily become button mashing fests. In order to lessen this, developer Mediatonic chose to offer special challenges on each stage. There are three at a time and often ask players to either defeat enemies in a certain time frame, keep civilians safe, or destroy enemies in a certain fashion. Successful completion of all three grants the player a new reward. The hardest challenge to complete almost always ends up being the one that asks players to chain successful attacks in excess of 100 hits.

Foul Play Featured

What makes pulling off a 100+ combo difficult? Primarily, it is the controls but the visuals also play into it. For one, Dashforth is small and not particularly speedy. Because the game takes place on a “3D” plane, he can move into the foreground, middleground, or background. Getting from one side to the other is pretty slow, even after gaining a useful ability in the third act. With not enough speed, you can find yourself losing a chain simply because you can’t get to another enemy in time.

The art style also causes trouble. Many of the characters are the same skin tone as Dashforth and about his size. When they aren’t dressed up in costume, it’s easy to lose track of your character among them. Similarly, when a massive enemy (or group of them) appear, they can completely obscure the view of your character. Static objects become see-through when you’re behind them so why can’t the big baddies do the same? Then, when there are enemies clustered all over each other, it is simply easy to not notice one is prepping an attack that will break your combo. Dodging and blocking is very easy and quick, but you can’t dodge effectively if you can’t see what’s coming!

Foul Play Screenshot

Players can enter into Foul Play solo or engage in local or online co-op. When in co-op the game makes more sense. This is because story scenes feature both characters and then have the second disappear once the single player resumes control. Perhaps the story itself isn’t that exciting, but it is able to offer some laughs along the way.

I did not much care for character designs, but that’s not to say the art as a whole is awful. This is not the case. The animation is smooth and the play aesthetic is used well. Heading to a new part of the screen often has backdrops being switched out, and new things hanging from wires off the ceiling. Similarly, enemies dress up as crabs, bears, and more and you can always see their face tucked into the costume. The concept of having the game be one big stage play is executed well thanks to the art design.

For as cute and silly as the visuals are though there is still work that needs to be done to tune up gameplay. It is easy enough to play but frustrating in other design areas. Even with all moves unlocked, it’s still hard to keep attack chains going far beyond 100. At times, it feels like a chore and that’s something you never want a game to become. Foul Play is one game that seems to emphasize style over substance. Pick it up if you and a friend absolutely adore brawlers and can run through the five acts together.

Score: 2

2 out of 5 alpacas

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