Baron Dashforth is a demon hunter, one who has led an extra-ordinary life. He is aided by his chimney sweep sidekick Scampwick, an urchin from the side of London that people from the rough areas avoid. Baron Dashforth’s life is so full of amazing events and escapades that he has produced a stage show to entertain Victorian England and reveal the various tales that make up his life.
In steps the player to control the action on the stage, not only trying to keep the story on track but also produce a show so entertaining the audience rise to their feet and praise the performance chanting the lead’s names. We, as gamers, have left certain genre’s behind, relegating them to our youth, or alternatively known as, the early 90’s. Side Scrolling Brawlers have stayed, on the most part, in the arcades and on the 16 bit consoles like the SNES and Megadrive, or Genesis if you’re a yank. Castle Crashers a few years ago reminded us that this genre is a blast and one that can tell a story, carry humour and be awesome with a buddy, Foul Play is the latest to remind us of all these things.
The first thing you notice when you boot up the game is that I wasn’t exaggerating about this being a play within a game, and this is where the majority of the humour comes from. You are treated throughout the entire game to the backs of the audiences heads, you don’t have a health bar exactly but you are instead assessed on how much the audience are enjoying the show, let their mood go too low and it’s game over. As you walk left to right you are greeted by many underpaid actors in costumes who you must beat seven shades out of, upon dying they’ll lay there for a second before checking the audience isn’t looking and crawling off the stage. The setting and basic concept of the game is so charming and original that you can’t help but fall in love and enjoy all the little touches; from the little boy rushing the stage and cheering you on or the spot lights indicating the location to stand to trigger a cut-scene.
The humour carries this game, the writing is classic ‘boy’s adventure’ or Victorian adventure equivalent mixed with a nod and a wink to all eras of demonology. The story and script are all done with small place-cards in the bottom of the screen, which at first I thought was a shame as voice acting may have upped the polish of the game, but after getting past the first few levels you realise that the voices you assign in your head to the writing is probably exactly the same as everyone else who is playing.
Combat is Castle Crashers, and although this is the second or third time I have compared the two at no point am I claiming this as derivative or copying, there are just well placed similarities. The fighting is mainly done with two buttons, light attack and strong attack, mix with that a counter/throw button and other abilities that are unlocked by levelling up you are treated to a game that on the surface is simple but the more you put into it the more you get out in terms of complication and satisfaction. The combat flows freely and the aims of producing high combos to entertain the crowd and gain their favour and rewards are tricky but also accessible.
The story takes place over 5 different plays, each containing 5 levels. The 5 plays all contain their own story but do require the last to be completed before continuing. The difficulty of the game is pitched just right, there is a challenge with the boss fights but other than that the task is manageable and fun. Bosses are presented at the end of each level and on the most part follow a pattern you can follow and manipulate, once or twice however there were cheap kills to be had.
Werewolves, Mummy’s and the Bar Brawlers (the Irish) are all there to stand in your way. Each play has its own theme and the art design in this game does a great job of presenting you each location. All of the characters are done in a simplistic cartoon style but have such a quality to them and their animation they will impress most. The ‘stage play’ theme carries throughout and with that motif in mind you are always fighting men in the costume of the monsters of choice, the werewolves and the scarab beetles in particular have a great design to them.
With such an original concept and clear inspiration from great and classic games Foul Play is joy to behold. The ‘stage play’ motif works to add a new level of humour that most games strive for but many miss today. The writing is strong and funny and the co-op is strong. Single player, whilst do-able, is a bit of a slog and nowhere near as much fun as being with a friend on the sofa playing through the game together. For under £10 you really are picking up a joy of a game and one that deserves a lot of attention. It’s not often I look beyond launch for a game but with this one I truly hope there is some fresh content in the not to distant future.