Foul Play is a rather curious little side-scrolling brawler developed by the independent studio Mediatonic, originally released onto PC and Xbox 360 in 2013, but now freshly ported to PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. It’s a neat, value-for-money package with an ingenious concept, but sadly doesn’t quite hit the mark.The game centres around of a series of theatrical plays, starring daemon-hunter, Baron Dashforth, and his side-kick, Scampwick, as them embark on a number of crusades (or plays) with an interconnected story. There’s not much in the way of story, but honestly more than I expected. It was easy enough to follow – a rare achievement for games of its genre – and had me engaged, without ever being memorable.I found the game’s concept far more interesting. As your staging a play, an audience is always visible in the foreground of the game. Combos, chained attacks and varied stunts will excite the crowd and generate you additional points and power ups. There’s no health meter perse, just a bar indicating audience satisfaction. As it dips lower, there is greater pressure to string together some attacks and get them off their feet again.This concept felt fresh and original, bring with it a number of nifty presentation elements that brought a smile to my face. Scenes are constructed by panels and backdrops on pulleys replicating an authentic theatre scene transition. Ever enemy you fight is really an actor in a costume, meaning the sea monsters and androids you fight are clearly just people in a budget costume. Defeated enemies often scramble off stage, or gets the Vaudeville Hook. Frequently, a moustached Stagehand can be spotted out of position or supporting cast forget lines. It’s unique and enjoyable, guaranteeing a chuckle or two.
The HUD is rather well designed too with all the information in regards to combos and power-ups clearly visible in the heat of battle. Reminders of the challenges you are able to complete in any given area pop-up, ensuring you never miss an opportunity to score some extra points and complete all aspects of the level.Unfortunately that’s the extent to which I can praise the game’s presentation. Sound design is sub-par, there’s not voice acting which would be forgivable if there was a more diverse and interesting soundtrack, or more variety of sound effects. Animations seemed stunted and textures occasionally lost resolution. The art style itself didn’t quite to it for me; part of me feels like the game would have suited a hand-drawn approach that was a little rougher around the edges, rather than the more polished digital approach.
I’m so thankful to see cloud saves there in the cross-play game but rather strangely it has trouble downloading the saves. Updating the save each time I booted up the game took a few attempts before it worked, which had me nervous it was going to lose my save file.The brawler gameplay mechanics are relatively tight. There is sufficient variety to your attacks and combos feel tight. The parrying system, which is central to the game’s combat, sadly is not as tight. You must hit the parry button for every enemy launching an attack; a single press of the parry button will not block simultaneous attacks, or a successful parry will not make you impervious to an attack soon after.The combat is simple and enjoyable, you can comfortably button mash you way through the game and I honestly found this passivity translated to easy fun without much frustration. There is very little variety to enemy types (there are essentially only three) and hence you’re never really asked to change your approach to combat. However, harder difficulties, heaps of challenges and a decent trophy list ensure heaps of replay-ability. I greatly appreciate seeing co-op, both locally and online. It’s a game well suited for smashing through with friends.Foul Play has a lot to like. It’s different, a simple source of fun, playable on both your PS4 and Vita, has co-op and substantial amounts of replay-ability. Ultimately, that makes it a package well worth its $14.95 AUD price tag. It doesn’t quite go the extra mile to a memorable, must-play experience – there are brawlers out there that I’d recommend more so that this one – but its theatrical approach is inventive enough that I definitely got a kick out of the game.