All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. In the case of Baron Dashforth this is truer than most. Foul Play is the dramatization of his real life adventures hunting daemons. With the help of Mr Swampwick, his trusty chimney sweep cum man-at-arms; Dashforth re-enacts his greatest feats to a live audience. The curtains part to reveal.
By now, the downloadable game market has matured to a level where a game has to have something special to stand out. Perhaps a new mechanic will be added, or it will redefine the genre in which it is set? Foul Play does neither of these things, but it does have something in abundance; charm. In a world of soulless first person shooters, a little charm can go a long way and this is certainly the case here.
Foul Play is a side scrolling beat ‘em up from the Double Dragon school of fighting. Another game that immediately springs to mind when starting to play is Castle Crashers, one of the bestselling download games this generation. You cannot deny that Foul Play is aimed towards the same demographic as Behemoth’s behemoth. The game opens on a stage as Dashforth and Swampwick begin to talk about their adventures. They leap from their seats straight into the action, the scenery of the stage changing to reflect the nature of their tale. At the front of the screen is an audience, they will become key to how successful you are in the game as you not only have to complete each level, but impress the theater audience as you do so.
This is a local carriage, for local people
Graphically the game looks great, both Dashforth and Swampwick are knowing takes on British stereotypes of the Victorian (and post Victorian era). Dashforth looks like the Monopoly Man after Hulking out, whilst Swampwick is the stoic working class hero. If you combine the cutesy character design, knowing humor and side scrolling fighting, you are constantly reminded of Castle Crashers, but in a good way. The fighting in Foul Play can be far deeper that than Behemoth’s game, if you wish to explore it. As you progress, you unlock new skills that can be used in combination for a wider set of moves, this means that the game is not all button bashing (but you can play that way if you wish).
Why would you bother to try all the different combos? It is vital to get the higher scores. The audience dictates how many points you earn and the higher your combinations, the more they are impressed and the better your end of level score. It is not unusual for you to hit 200 combinations towards the end of the game as your vision is obscured by whooping audience members throwing their hats into the air. Extra layers are added with in level challenges; can you get a 100 combo or save a hostage?
Two fight better than one
Foul Play is available to play in 2 player co-op throughout the campaign, either online or offline. Unfortunately, it is not drop in/drop out; instead you have to launch the level with both players ready to go. You can take two separate profiles into the game and they will unlock their own achievements. Creating or finding an online game is a simple interface that will match you with the next suitable game, or with a friend should you decide to go private.
Once you are into the game, the co-op works well. With two players fighting the daemon hordes, the game gets significantly easier to hit high combos – if you have a competent partner. The highest scores are achieved by combinations and avoiding being hit. One hit on either player makes the audience less impressed. Each player has their own combo meter, so you can still achieve individual impressive heights, but the overall level score may be affected if your co-op partner does not impress the locals as much as you.
An important thing to remember is that many players won’t care about the high score system until at least a second play thru. The first run should be based on enjoying yourselves and bashing as many buttons as possible to see what each new level brings. There is a joy to be had grabbing an enemy just before they strike and throwing them to your partner, only for your mate to catch the enemy and throw them back. You soon find yourselves passing cultists back and forth in a manner that would not look out of place on the tennis courts of Wimbledon.
A motley crew of enemies
There is a simple joy in playing a well-made game like Foul Play in co-op. Perhaps, there is not a huge difference between fighting solo and with a friend, but as all Co-Optimus readers are aware; more is indeed the merrier. Visual touches throughout the game make it a pleasure to play; the stagehand that is constantly getting caught in the action, or the fact that the levels are set up as 5 different dramas with different enemies. On the downside, the game is pretty simple and you can complete it by bashing the buttons, but this would be a disservice to a game that fleshes out to around 12 combination moves as you level up.
Is Foul Play the best side scrolling beat ‘em up available to download? Not quite, it may be charming and funny, but the gameplay does become repetitive and it is actually a little too easy in places. The king remains Castle Crashers, but if you are a fan of this seminal download title, Foul Play is a perfect accompaniment. It gives homage, but is also able to bring some new elements to the genre.