If I had to describe my time with Foul Play from Mediatonic in a single phrase, it would be “delightfully British.” It makes sense; everyone in that booth at PAX Prime 2013 had a British accent since they’re from, you know, London, the land of phone numbers that look like code talker scraps. The game, though, also imbues you with a healthy sense of “wots all this then.”
Foul Play is a side-scrolling brawler that features a mustachioed, monocled, top hatted fellow named Baron Dashforth. Or at least his stage name is Baron Dashforth because the entire setting of Foul Play is a theatrical stage production of a strange, Victorian era supernatural caper. Dashforth is a Victorian demon hunter and finds himself in a worldwide race for treasure while fighting mummies and thugs and zombies and whatnot.
He also finds himself on the world’s loooongest stage. As part of the conceit of Foul Play, the entire game is set between a stage’s proscenium arch. As such, the goal is to entertain the audience as much as possible, so the better you are with your brawling, the more excited and happy they get. You don’t have health in this game; you just have to keep the crowd entertained. At the end of the act (there are five, each one with an absolutely fantastic title), you get a star rating.
It seems like Foul Play is mostly a game about managing your spacing. It was, in fact, described to me as a button masher, which seems entirely accurate, though not necessarily in a bad way. You can attack, jump, parry/grab, and launch, one action for each face button. Not much nuance lies in the attacking, but once you grab someone from a parry, you can switch up your followup attack with further inputs. And launching guys and then dodge rolling away to launch more guys is pretty fun.
You also get a co-op buddy. You can team up with your partner to double parry foes, which results in manic button mashing to get a hit counter up as high as possible before one of you unleashes a pretty wicked finisher. And if you both activate your individual special meters (which function essentially like the star power meters in Guitar Hero and Rock Band), you can double up your 2x crowd bonuses into a 4x bonus and really lock up that five-star rating.
To keep you mentally engaged in the slaphappy proceedings, there are achievements that come and go in the moment. For example, you might have to get a 50x combo at some point or defeat all the smaller guys first and save the big guy for last in an encounter. None of them are required, but they certainly mix up the experience of otherwise moving your guy around and smashing the X button.
Moving your guy around, though, does feel pretty good. Everything in Foul Play moves at a quick but deliberate pace. Locked in at a smooth 60 frames per second, it’s not hard to see that every control is responsive and keeps you feeling like you’re really involved in the action. Moments like attacking one guy and then rolling over to another to double parry him feels incredibly good. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the art is just fantastic to look at.
The encounters start in a rather interesting way. Most of them begin with you and your partner maneuvering yourselves over to two spotlight circles on the stage. Once you get there, the encounter (or scene) progresses and then you begin to fight bad guys. It makes sense in the milieu, but it also tends to put a damper on the otherwise flowing scroll to the right. I preferred the battles that seemed to just come up and immediately launched us into more fighting.
Foul Play is, at its core, a very simple game. You have four actions that feed into a smooth and fluid-looking brawler with a rather original setting laid on over the top like icing on a cake (or mustache on a gentleman, I suppose). So far, it seems like it’s exactly what you’d want for the genre. It’s quick and responsive and adds in enough to make it unique like the on-the-fly achievements and the crowd entertainment system. Foul Play is definitely one to keep an eye out for.
Look for Foul Play on Windows PC and Xbox Live Arcade on September 18.