Play out the life of a Victorian demon hunter in front of an audience.
A mighty combination of Mediatonic, Devolver Digital and Mastertronic have combined to breath life into the adventures of gentleman demon hunter Baron Dashforth in Foul Play, which happens to be available now on XBLA and PC.
This vaudevillian tale will see the round-headed, moustachioed Baron Dashforth and his faithful Londoner, chimney-sweep sidekick Scampwick recreating the adventures of the Baron’s life in front of an excitable Victorian audience. It is the audience’s interest in the tale that decides whether the show will go on.
Foul Play is a side-scrolling brawler that brings combo-filled action and humour together to entertain a fickle audience. There are no life meters or hearts to show the heroes health here. Instead, the continuation across the different tales that Baron Dashforth wants to share depends on the audience being entertained. The meter at the top of the screen shows their level of interest and as soon as the audience becomes bored and the meter empties, it is game over.
So, how are the audience entertained? Well, just like real life audiences, they want action and they want to see the bad guys have their butts kicked in the most dramatic way. In Foul Play this means combining light and heavy attacks, counter attacks and dodges into visually impressive combos. The audience will react to what is going on on the stage, and even get involved at times, giving the player feedback as to how well they are doing.
The controls themselves are simple with the different attacks and evasive moves. As the player unlocks new moves, they will quickly find themselves stringing these moves and juggling the bad guys in the air like a pro. Boss battles come along occasionally and the player will find themselves learning the patterns to overcome these obstacles. All in all it is fairly easy and most players will be able to make it to the end without much trouble.
So where is the challenge? Well, this comes from the fact that the player is scored for each act on how well they have done, with the highest rating being very touch to achieve, and the completion of challenges within the acts themselves. The challenges are easy to understand, but can be difficult to pull off amidst all of the action happening on screen. Something as simple as saving the big guy until last to defeat can be quickly messed up by some badly aimed throws of his henchmen. Completing challenges can unlock lucky charms which will give the player bonuses within the acts.
Dashforth’s streetwise assistant Scampwick can be controlled by a second player for some brawling co-op fun, which certainly adds to the games’ appeal and gives access to some nice co-op moves. However, the real appeal of Foul Play is the humour and visual style.
Right from the outset, with Baron Dashforth explaining to the audience what the play they are about to watch is all about, the humour is obvious. Much of the humour comes from the setting of the game, a play being performed on stage about the life of a demon hunter. Things like the enemies being played by mostly unimpressed extras, and sometimes having to be forcefully removed from the stage once they have been beaten, or the way the audience sometimes gets involved or over excited are the obvious jokes. But then there are the more subtle moments, such as in the dialogue between Dashforth and Scampwick, or the stage hands that can be seen occasionally at the side of the screen. It is a funny game, and much of that humour would have been lost had it just been about a demon hunter rather than being a play about a demon hunter. The idea of performing on the stage has been done before, but never in such an entertaining way.
And the visual style follows the theme perfectly. The set pieces look exactly like set pieces, the audience that can be seen at the bottom of the screen react animatedly to what is going on, and the cartoon-like cast, including Dashforth with his swagger, all move around wonderfully. It is a well polished game that plays as well as it looks.
Foul Play is a side-scrolling brawler with a unique premise and relatively simple gameplay. It both looks and plays great, but lacks the depth that many players will be looking for. The co-op gameplay is a definite plus point, as is the hilarious story and the interesting way the game deals with what would be damage in other brawlers. It may be nothing more than a curiosity in the world of brawling games, but it is certainly worth satisfying your curiosity and downloading Foul Play – The show must go on!