Imagine if the Streets of Rage video games were actually a play based in 1950s featuring a dapper gentleman and his street-wise side-kick. That’s exactly what Foul Play is: a side-scrolling beat ’em up with a touch of class, good writing and a genuinely unique setting. That said, it currently has some problems that I can’t overlook given how long the game has been out. This is our full Foul Play Review.

Look and Feel

Welcome, one and all, to one of the greatest shows on Earth!

I love the setting of this game. In an interesting twist on the standard side-scrolling beat ’em up, Foul Play literally sets the stage for a play to be performed in front of an active audience. The art style is reminiscent of fleshed out stick figure characters, akin to the Ska Studios games and Newgrounds videos, and I’m a big fan of that too.

There are a load of little things that make up my enjoyment of the game from the look and feel perspective. For instance, as the scenes change, you see the backdrops being carried off by little legs. Some actors that play the foes you’ve defeated will slowly crawl off stage in a hilariously awkward fashion. Occasionally an audience member will climb on stage to shout their wants at you for the next scene. It’s all so unique in its execution in my experience. I’ve never seen a game embrace the setting of an early 1900’s play-house and take itself so lightly without compromising itself. Frankly, I thought the idea was genius. Fighting “daemons”? Here’s a bunch of actors obviously in costume. An actor has forgotten a line? Enter the stage-hand to deliver the line to them. It’s just great.

To top it off, the soundtrack is excellent too. Dashforth’s main theme is epic with triumphant brass accompanying his heroic escapades. Granted, it’s not that varied, but there’s enough to depict different scenes and that main theme in particular will ring in my ears for quite some time.

Story

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Oh Mr Scampwick, you’re such a scamp. Wick. OH!

Baron Dashforth is a daemon-hunter. Following in the footsteps of his father, Dashforth knows a great deal about the occult and works to prevent it from negatively impacting the world. Along with his fellow (and possibly apprentice?) hunter, Mr Scampwick, the two are dragged in to a mystery that revolves around a missing relative and a daemon threat.

The twist is that none of this is real. I mean, obviously it’s not really “real”, but it’s not real even with the fiction that is the game. The “Foul Play” is an actual play, being performed by actors on a stage, and that works very much to its benefit. In this setting, I felt like I didn’t demand too much of the plot in general as it felt as if I were enjoying a show.

The writing is well done. Dashforth gives the impression of a stereotypical English gentleman. Top hate, cane, monocle and moustache all in tow. Baron Dashforth practically screams “Tally Ho!”. He may literally do that, actually. I don’t fully recall. Mr Scampwick is a street-wise young man from the mean streets of Whitechapel it seems. I imagine a cockney accent, something akin to the terrible impression I performed in our Mess About Let’s Play of Foul Play.

The two main characters aside, there’s not much to the story in general. The forces of good battle the forces of evil to uncover the mystery that delivered conclusively in the finale. It handles the idea of a play very well, even if the story on its own merits isn’t exactly a work of great genius. I’d love to see the return of Baron Dashforth and Mr Scampwick some time soon.

Gameplay

At its core, Foul Play is a standard Streets of Rage-like side-scrolling beat ’em up, featuring waves of enemies that you can bash with your cane to the point of defeat. Occasionally you’ll face larger, more resilient enemies and bosses, but for the most part it’s standard fare.

Where the game gets interesting is in its handling of “Health”. You don’t have any. Instead, there’s a Mood Meter. This represents how much the audience is enjoying the show. In order to increase this and maintain it, you must keep your combo meter going. By completing a scene without being hit or dropping the combo meter, you’ll be awarded a “perfect scene” bonus, as well as providing yourself with more room to make some mistakes. If you get hit more than you’re able to counter or take to long to perform any actions, the Mood Meter will fall and, eventually, people will leave the show. This results in failure. The game’s equivalent of “dying”. I guess, your career dies? Either way, I love it.

Good performance rewards you with “fame”. Fame is the game’s experience point equivalent and will be awarded to you after you complete a stage. As Baron Dashforth levels up, he’ll learn new techniques. From pile-drivers to spinning cane combo crushers, Dashforth caps out at level 12 – a little early for my tastes – but the skills you learn make it much easier to return to levels and get the coveted five-star rating in each one.

Many levels in each of the acts (outside of boss battles) come with “challenges”. Achieving these goals will net you a new “Charm”. These charms provide various bonuses, such as a higher combo counter increase upon successful counter attacks and less reduction in Mood Meter upon being hit. You can only equip two at a time, but equipping the most useful charms to your goals can be crucial to gaining the best ranking.

In reference to the actual moment to moment gameplay, the way that the enemies telegraph their moves with an obvious counter prompt makes it fairly easy to keep the combo counter climbing. That said, there were times I’d lose track in a group of enemies because the outline of the counter indicator can blend in to the chaos of jolly fisticuffs.

There are 5 full acts and the game can easily be completed within a day, but the game is so much fun that it’s likely you’ll want to go back and get the highest rankings, complete the challenges and collect all of the charms as a result. It’s the perfect game for trophy hunting, and those trophies are simple enough too.

However, it’s not all encores and bouquets in Foul Play. The game’s co-op function is unplayable as it stands. In my attempts at local co-operative play, I was met with a “connection dropped” message. Every time. What connection? The dude’s right next to me. I thought to myself “Fine. I’ll at least have an online co-op game”. No luck. No Quick Matches could be found and creating a match had me waiting 20 minutes before I gave up. As a result, I tweeted at Mediatonic (the industry standard for information gathering in the modern day) and they responded promptly, informing me that they’re working on the fix. The issue is that this game isn’t new. It’s been out for a while.  As a result, if you’re looking for a fun co-op experience, I can’t recommend this game specifically on the Playstation 4 despite my love for it. You’ll have a good time solo, but if you want more, it’s not here yet.

Overall

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This move description seems appropriate for our review’s end.

Co-operative issues aside, this game oozes creativity. Its moment-to-moment gameplay is simple but fun and keeping that combo meter high is a joyous challenge. The characters, setting and music are all lovable, memorable and a genuine treat. I cannot say enough good about this game, but I’ll admit there’s not a lot to it. You can be done with this experience pretty quickly and, though there are collectibles and rankings to be achieved, a weekend would be more than enough to sort this out. Nevertheless, I do recommend Foul Play for all that it does well. It’s fun to play within a play. It’s also on sale at the point of this being written on the Playstation store.

Game: Foul Play
Review Format: Playstation 4
PEGI: 12

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