All the world’s a stage… literally for Baron Dashforth, renowned daemonologist and classy, monocle-sporting gentleman, the main character in Mediatonic’s lively side-scrolling brawler, Foul Play. As Dashforth, you are re-enacting your demon-hunting adventures in live theater with your trusty sidekick Scampwick (who looks a bit like a chimney sweeping ninja), and are expected to put on quite a show. How magnificent that show is, well, that’s actually up to you.
Foul Play is divided into plays, and each one is separated into acts. Like in an actual theater, each stage and transition are introduced with backdrop switches almost exactly the way sets are changed. The stagehand is often seen feeding actors lines, clearing knocked out enemies off the stage (actually extras in flamboyant costumes), and cleaning the floor. Moving your character into the spotlight to move to the next part of a level and performing a bonus “encore” at the end of each act were clever enhancements to the game’s environment.
Your health is the audience’s level of excitement. The audience reacts to your every move, the longer and better you chain your combos, the happier they become. They’ll even toss their hats in the air! But they won’t hesitate to boo and mutter when you take a hit, or aren’t attacking enemies. If you idle around, your audience excitement meter will decay. The combos you do, build up points to unleash Showstopper Mode, which doubles your hit points and can be used if your audience meter is dangerously low or to give your stunning performance some extra polish.
You can finish Foul Play’s campaign by mashing your buttons and barely scraping by each level. You don’t have to dole out impressive 150x combos to progress, but the gameplay is significantly less satisfying when played this way. The audience’s continued excitement actually encouraged me to keep dishing out my 100x chain combos and made it fun for me to keep playing, and try out new combos.
The introduction of new moves also keeps the combat fresh. As the enemies become harder to defeat using your most basic moves, you’re encouraged to chain new abilities into your existing combos to please your audience. In the earlier stages, basic button mashing combos were much easier to accomplish as many enemies were usually grouped together, but as I progressed, enemies were faster and fewer, which forced me to think of my next moves quickly, since they had more health and were spread farther apart on the stage. Three optional challenges to accomplish in each act also prevented this type of gameplay from becoming repetitive. Some are timed, some involve lengthy combos, some tell you to kill the leader last for the most dramatic finish to the level. You don’t have to complete all the challenges to progress, but if you do complete all three per act you are rewarded with a charm that gives you some kind of passive bonus stat.
As you complete acts and plays, your Daemon’s Diary, comprised of four chapters, is updated with new pages. The bosses you’ve defeated are documented by Scampwick and moves you’ve learned are written by Dashforth. A detailed history of events that lead to the current story are unveiled through Horatio Dashforth (Baron’s father, also a famous daemonologist) and Scampwick’s apprenticeship under Dashforth is told through another chapter. It’s a neat addition that provides more depth to the fantastical story.
If played in local or online co-op, Scampwick is the secondary character, and at the end of each act, scores for both players are shown on the screen. The option to play single player or co-op creates a great opportunity for replayability – multiple chances to achieve missed challenges, unlock charms or get a higher score.
It didn’t take long for me to become completely engrossed in Foul Play. I chuckled at the witty dialogue – notably the “Aim for the crotch, sir?” type of jokes – and thoroughly enjoyed the Indiana Jones-esque soundtrack. While the combat is kept exciting with the introduction of new moves, I actually wanted to uncover more of Dashforth’s adventure as I progressed. Having gone through the game, I look forward to playing through it again with a partner. Who knows, perhaps I’ll put on a better show next time!
Review copy supplied
Tested on 360