Step into the theatre and catch a showing of the greatest story ever told, starring Baron Dashforth the daemonologist and his trusty sidekick, Scampwick. Mediatonic has cooked up an interesting theatre-style brawler for XBLA and PC, rewarding a smarter, more patient play style over mindless button mashing. It’s not hard to pick up, but there are quite a few moves available once you’ve unlocked them all, which makes Foul Play tricky to master. It will take you three of four hours to complete the first time, but there’s plenty of reason to replay levels to unlock and discover all of its content.
There is no shortage of brawler games with a combo meter to try to maintain, but the way Mediatonic has implemented this into Foul Play is interesting. There is no health bar and no death. Your primary goal is to complete level (or section) specific challenges and to continue pleasing the crowd with long combos and fancy moves, all while uncovering Baron Dashforth’s tale of daemon hunting for the audience. This crowd plays a major role, much like in Rock Band. Keep high combos going, perform special moves, and avoid getting hit to keep the crowd cheering towards a five star rating.
The overall theatre presentation of Foul Play looks great, with the set changing in front of you, the cute little stagehand dude always accidentally getting in the scene, and all the enemies obviously appearing as extras in costumes. The game is split up into five plays, each with five acts, aside from the final play which only has two acts. As you beat bosses and acquire high ratings on each act, additional daemon notes and story tidbits are unlocked; it’s all cleverly written and made me laugh, while also unveiling some of Dashforth’s story. The other challenges comes in the form of…challenges. Each act has three goals, such as getting a 50x combo during a certain segment, or defeating the leader of the pack last. Upon completing all three challenges, a charm is unlocked. These charms have various passive effects, either helping you improve your overall crowd rating, or to maintain big combos.
In terms of gameplay, this is where the game really shines. It uses mostly typical X/Y brawler controls, but adds a counter button, which most side-scrollers don’t seem to use. When I played this at PAX, I quickly noticed the white lightning bolts above enemies’ heads, which is a prompt to hit the counter button before they attack; it’s very reminiscent of the Batman: Arkham series, and works really well too. Once you’ve pulled off the counter, you have a few different options, the most fun being the B button to throw your attacker in whichever direction the left stick is pointed. When thrown towards your co-op partner, they can catch them, and repeat the process. The countering has a nice audio cue to let you know when you or your partner has pulled this off, so keep your head up when the sound triggers. There is also a standard leveling up system which automatically unlocks a new ability at each level, 12 being the max. Between the standard attacks, counters, and special moves acquired by leveling up, there is plenty of variety in the combat.
I did experience some online problems with my co-op partner, though. None of the tooltips were popping up for tutorial messages or anytime we leveled up to show us what new move had been unlocked. This meant backing out and disconnecting from my partner after each act to check our new moves, which got a little tedious. But this seems more like a bug that can be fixed with a patch, so let’s hope for that.
Enemy attack patterns and their mechanic variety felt a little stale as I progressed, but the change of setting (five locales in total, one for each play) and costumes was enough to keep me interested throughout. The changes are mostly cosmetic, so the main thing that is changing is your character’s abilities, not the enemies’. When played alone, it actually seemed easier to maintain my combos, as I had more costumed extras at my disposal for pummeling. This shows the importance of communicating and coordinating with your partner to keep those combos going. Pulling off double team moves, or passing one of our poor opponents back and forth were the moments in which I was having the most fun.
While this isn’t a particularly huge game, I’d say it’s worth the $15 entree fee, especially if you’ve got someone to sit down and play with. It’s cute, clever, but most importantly has smooth and responsive gameplay. I enjoyed my time with Foul Play, and look forward to hopping back in to unlock the rest of the charms and notes in Dashforth’s Daemon Diary. It is available now on PC via Steam, or XBLA. Go grab a friend and play it!
[+Fun theatre presentation] [+Cool co-op moves] [+Interesting rating system] [+Variety of locales] [-Some online issues] [-Enemies lack variety in terms of mechanics]