Foul Play Review

by

Playing to the gallery…

There’s a lot to be said about the side-scrolling brawler; once a leading genre, now more of a home for the whimsically nostalgic and the arcade enthusiast. However, Brit studio Mediatonic’s Foul Play releases this week and raises the curtain on even more reasons why two dimensions is slowly becoming the new, old, vogue.

Game: Foul Play
Developer: Mediatonic
Publisher: Mastertronic
Reviewed on: Xbox 360

It’s nice to see such a flourishing indie scene, especially since it’s also recently become the labour of love for Sony and Microsoft’s next generation push. Some games we see are innovative, some retrospective and some can be a little of both –  Foul Play being a great example of the latter.

Baron Dashforth is the protagonist who’s retired from a life of daemon slaying and wants to portray his autobiographical adventures on the theatre stage. It turns out he really has been around the block a bit, too. Under the demanding gaze of the eager audience, you’ll set off through several different environments lovingly crafted by stagehands out of what could be boxes and tissue paper, whilst flimsily costumed extras playing the role of henchman and meanies enter from backstage. All the game’s charm and light-heartedness is only aided by the striking cartoon inspired visuals of the theatrical medley, that’s rehashed every time the curtain rises for another new local.

After a few minutes of gameplay, mainly because of past experience, you might feel like you’ve learned all there is to know about this side scrolling beat-em up. The truth is, Foul Play has as much in common with any of the many rhythm games available than it has with old school beat-em ups; these crowds are not appeased by any great thespian artistry, but by good ol’ fashion face-bashing in well timed sequences. You’ll hear the crowd noise rise to a rapture by putting together hits, throws, counter-moves and special techniques that fills a meter displayed at the top of the screen showing how entertaining your performance is.

It’s easy for any game in this particular genre to suffer from fatigue quite quickly. Button mashing and repetitive gameplay has always been a potential problem if the game isn’t crafted in a appealing and engaging enough way. Thankfully Mediatonic’s approach is successful for the most part thanks to the quaint setting and the idea of entertaining, rather than just merely bashing your way to an end point. Clever touches that bring the game to life also serve to keep things interesting; a boy might jump to the stage warning Dashforth in true pantomime style, or a bad guy might forget his lines forcing a stagehand to run out and remind him.

There is a hint of strategy involved, too. Choosing who to attack, when to slow down your frenzied stick-waving and when to invite opportunities to parry is crucial to building big combinations that will inevitably keep you alive – or not stinking as a performer as the case may be. Throughout you’ll also learn new fighting techniques to wow the gallery with and come the end of each act you’ll be rewarded with an evaluation of your performance, charms which act as modifiers and eventually a new stage play of Dashforth’s adventures to perform.

Foul Play is not without its annoyances, though. The flat paper-like nature of characters means you’ll need to be perfectly placed (and I mean perfectly) to hit your enemies – a tough and frustrating task at times, especially when you have a massive combo broken by swiping at thin air. Then there’s scenery that sits between the crowd and the stage which blocks the action off and really clogs the screen up at busy moments. The scenery does fade out when you’re behind it, but seeing as these particular stage props are only superficial it does beg the question, why add them at all?

Adding another dimension is the reliable Mr Scampwick, Dashforth’s side kick who acts as a plot device and as a co-op character for offline and online play. Playing through the twenty odd acts from deserts of Egypt to more dark, Vampire strewed levels with a friend accentuates the intensely frantic action even further. A host of moves to unlock, achievements to aim for and a good sense of jovial sensibilities also manage to keep this side-scroller entertaining where most might eventually fail.

VERDICT

At the very core of Foul Play lies a game that most would tire of quickly if not for some excellent presentation and novel ideas to keep things fresh and interesting. The innate annoyances from the genre still rear their head at times, but are masked by charm, eccentricity and a ton of visual humour that’ll make you want to keep those encores coming, if not only for the applause.

8/10

Began gaming on a hand-me-down Commodore Vic-20 back in the mid 80's and hasn't managed to shake the addiction yet. Genres of choice include anything that contains bullets and/or bouncy balls. Has been known to dabble in Destiny content.

@nickjh82

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