Foul Play is a charming little game brought to the Xbox Live Arcade and PC by Mediatonic, an indie game developer behind several games you’ve probably never heard of, such as Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess, Must. Eat. Birds., and Robot Unicorn Attack Evolution, among others. Obviously inspired by other recent entries in the genre, Foul Play has you filling the shoes of Victorian Daemon-Hunter, Baron Dashforth as he and his trusty companion Mr. Scampwick (played by your optional co-op partner), re-enact scenes from his unbelievably adventurous life tracking down and defeating Daemons all over the globe. The entire game takes place in a theater, on a stage, in front of a cheering crowd, as you battle costumed extras representing the various pirates, werewolves, mummies, and other ruffians you would expect to hear about such remarkable tales.
The gameplay is pretty typical for this genre of games. You’ll spend most of your time mashing the attack button to bash enemies over the head with your cane (or broom, if you’re playing as Mr. Scampwick), while throwing in some parries and heavy attacks from time to time as well. The challenge comes from making sure the audience remains happy and doesn’t boo you off-stage. This is done by completing perfect scenes, which can be achieved by defeating all enemies without losing your combo, or being hit. This works relatively well, except for when you seem to be perfectly lined up with an enemy and miss, or when the last enemy of a group gets stuck behind an object and you lose your combo before finding a way to draw him out and finish him off. These instances are largely rare, but still noticeable and annoying.
Maintaining a happy crowd is a good indication that you’re on your way to a high score, which means you’ll be leveling up and unlocking more combat moves in the near future. Completing challenges within the various acts of each play will also unlock charms, which can be equipped (up to two at a time) to provide you with various buffs, such as double the combo points for parries, and various team-buffs if you’re playing co-op. It seems as though an RPG aspect was overlooked, in that you can’t choose which abilities you unlock when you level up. The only choice is which charms you want to use for any given act. This isn’t extremely important, but it might have been a nice feature to have.
The enemies you’re facing are mostly similar, with various types of fodder enemies, big enemies, and multiple bosses. The bosses are all unique and have their own interesting abilities which keep you on your toes. Some of the bosses are more difficult than others not from a gameplay aspect, but for the fact that keeping the crowd excited while fighting them can be a chore. This doesn’t change the fact that the diversity of enemies, bosses, and environments will keep you from ever being bored throughout your adventures though, as each act usually brings a different visual style and adds in a new enemy type that still fits the overall theme of the 5 plays.
Overall, the game is a decent addition to the side-scrolling beat-’em-up genre. It was obviously heavily inspired by other similar games like Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim vs The World. There are a few technical issues that bog down the combat experience, but Foul Play is still a pretty good game. If you’ve already played and enjoyed other games in the genre, you’ll probably enjoy this one as well.
A repetitive but catchy soundtrack, and very little spoken dialog. At the end of the day, you won’t remember either very much.
Featuring a charming and cartoony art style that fits the humor and atmosphere of the game, there’s nothing to complain about here.
The writing is witty at best and predictable at worst. Most of the charm is derived from the humorous events scattered about in the plays themselves.
A couple of issues with hit detection and enemy AI mar an otherwise acceptable beat-’em-up experience.
If you enjoy games such as Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim vs The World, you might want to pick up Foul Play. However, there are arguably better games to try first, if you’ve never experienced this genre before.