Foul Play is a side-scrolling co-op brawler originally released on the PC back in 2013 and it has finally made it’s way over to the PS Vita. You get to play as renowned Victorian daemon-hunter Baron Sebastian Dashforth and a friend can join in on the action as sidekick Scampwick.
Dashforth is a well educated chap who looks rather suspiciously like the gentleman from Monopoly, it really wouldn’t surprise me if they were cousins or some other relation. Dashforth has a sad past, his mother died when he was very young, killed after an incident with a daemon. Dashforth was raised by his father Horatio, also a daemon hunter, unfortunately he mysteriously disappeared long ago.
Dashforth is continuing his father’s legacy, he has a study filled with books and research on daemonology and travels the globe in order to bind and banish unspeakable monsters. I think Horatio wants Dashforth to pick up where he left off. You know, saving people, hunting things. The family business. It’s all very supernatural…
Dashforth has an apprentice. Instead of recruiting from the pampered snivelling ranks of London’s high society Dashforth saw potential in a common chimney sweep called Scampwick and so has been training him up in the art of Daemonology. Although Scampwick does have some pretty nifty tricks of his own, like the one with the sock and a couple of billiard balls.
It’s in Dashforth’s study that the adventure begins….kind of anyway…the game actually plays out on a grand theatre stage. For one night only Dashforth and Scampwick are recounting details of their great adventures in front of an audience. They are of course starring as themselves as they say that they are the only ones who could do full justice to the roles.
I really enjoyed the theatre theme, it’s a unique setting which creates a fantastic atmosphere and brings a great sense of humour to the game. Although Scampwick and Dashforth are playing as themselves in the performance the enemies are just actors; normal guys dressed up in costumes to look like monsters. Once defeated they have to crawl or run off stage. Sometimes they’ll even forget their lines and a stage hand will have to show them a script to get the performance back on track.
The game is a bit of a button masher but it does reward performance and style. You don’t actually have a health bar, instead it’s all about the audience. If they get bored then the Mood-o-Meter starts dropping, if the meter drops to zero then the curtains will fall on the evening’s performance. The audience will start booing if you get hit too often but you can make the show more exciting by performing special attacks or by keeping a combo going. If you finish a wave of enemies without losing your combo and without getting hit then you’ll achieve a ‘perfect scene’, which of course the audience just loves. If they get excited enough they’ll even throw their top hats up in the air as a show of approval.
The evening’s special performance consists of five acts to fight your way through. The backdrops of the levels are varied, in one act you’ll be in the harsh deserts of Cairo, the next a small village in Somerset, then the lost city of Atlantis and even the dangerous streets of Victorian London. Backdrops change just like they would in a real theatre and you can see various mechanisms at work to change the scene. All the backdrops and enemy costumes are vibrant and fun to look at. I do however think that the edges of things are a little jagged and fuzzy which can be quite noticeable when looking at something light coloured against a dark backdrop it’s a pity that the graphics aren’t a little bit crisper.
The game is fairly short as there are only 22 levels. Most of the levels have three challenges to complete, consisting of things like achieving a high combo against a certain enemy, performing certain moves or defeating enemies within a time limit. Even with the various different types of challenges they all feel fairly samey. The combat in general is fairly repetitive. You’ll level up and learn new moves as you play but you’ll probably reach the maximum level only halfway through the game. I mostly found myself just sticking with one particular combo move and repeating it over and over in order to get a five star performance rating in each level.
It just feels like there isn’t much depth or skill required in Foul Play’s combat system. The ability to parry and counter an enemy’s attacks could have added some much needed spice to the system but unfortunately there’s a huge window of time between an enemy preparing to attack and the actual moment that they strike. What this means is that it’s far too easy to interrupt an enemies attack and rack up a huge combo without really needing to try. Actually the most challenging thing I found was trying to work out where you needed to be in order to hit a flying enemy. There were far too many times that I tried to hit a flying enemy but couldn’t work out exactly where I needed to be standing to actually hit the damn thing.
There is a co-op mode where a second player can join in on the action as Scampwick. I tried to host while allowing a PS4 player to join my game but unfortunately I couldn’t seem to get this to work. Using the PS4 to host however worked straight away. The game is great fun when playing with a partner and it is especially fun seeing who’s got the highest score at the end of each level (usually me of course!).
I loved the style and plot of Foul Play and in small doses it’s a fun and charming game. It’s unfortunate then that the combat system is so shallow and repetitive. Combat is pretty much all there is in this game so it’s a shame that there wasn’t a more in-depth system. Although all the various backdrops, characters and costumes are brilliant overall the performance falls a little flat.