Foul Play

A game by Mediatonic for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita, and Xbox 360, originally released in 2013.
Foul Play stars Baron Dashforth, playing himself in a stage production telling the tale of his own (possibly exaggerated) life, a decades-long adventure spanning the world, the underworld, and even the ocean depths as he repeatedly saves humanity from the assault of daemons. Joining him in this stage show is his faithful companion and chimneysweep, Scampwick Steerpike. The duo puts on a spectacularly large-scale show to delight and amaze their audience.

The aesthetics are what set Foul Play apart from other brawlers, and even other games employing a stage/audience theme, such as Nin2-Jump and Black Knight Sword. The entire game plays out on a (unrealistically large) stage, with each play beginning in Dashforth’s study before the backdrops are folded down and moved away to reveal a new setting.

New scenery is brought in by the use of ropes and pulleys, and even the occasional not-supposed-to-be-onstage stagehand moving things about. Since this is a play recounting Dashforth’s adventures, you are not actually fighting pirates and monsters, but rather actors dressed as these characters. In a humorous nod to this, most of the more elaborate costumes feature openings that allow you to view the actor within, further selling the theatrical aesthetic. On larger objects like horses and moving machines, you can see the feet of the actors protruding from beneath the props.

Unlike most brawlers, defeated enemies can’t simply blink out of existence, but rather must wait until the scene changes or the performers move away before leaving the stage. However, they don’t always wait, as performers are often seen lifting their heads from their prone positions to check on the onstage antics, and even going so far as sneaking offstage while the scene continues… or being dragged off with a long hook.

The aesthetics do occasionally interfere with gameplay, however, as bits of scenery can block the action. These set pieces turn semitransparent when you walk behind them, but are solid otherwise, often blocking the presence of an enemy, which can put you in danger if you are standing nearby. Also, flying enemies can be somewhat difficult to line yourself up with, although they have a shadow to indicate their location on the plane. However, these shadows are obscured by props and the bodies of fallen enemies, often making them imperceptible.

Regular nods to the theatrical production appear throughout, the most frequent of which is the stagehand being caught onstage or otherwise appearing in the background during the performance of his duties. He is even called on at one point to help an actor remember his lines. The dialogue is humorously written as well, with Dashforth and Scampwick regularly pausing to comment on the situation, while mostly staying in character. Like Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure, the game also prides itself on being British to the point of excess, further adding to the humor.

More than just an aesthetic, the theater setting actually impacts gameplay… Rather than having a health meter – which would make little sense given the fictional nature of the proceedings – the duo is fighting for the approval of the audience. After all, no one is going to return for the continued telling of Dashforth’s tale if he doesn’t put on an impressive show, and this is where much of the story’s exaggeration comes in. Dashforth is a daemonologist and has hunted and defeated many a daemon, but the recounting of even such a grand tale lends itself to a bit of embellishment.

If you take too many hits without returning a few of your own, the audience will begin to turn on you, eventually booing your performance. If you don’t rally, the play will abruptly end, and you will need to begin the act from the start. However, the game is actually quite easy, so this turn of events is not incredibly likely. Most of the time, you will be impressing the audience – or at least holding their attention – while you rack up larger and larger combos. With the number of enemies taking the stage in later levels, and the ease of building combos, most fights will see you well into double digit combo numbers, and even triple digit scores are not that difficult to attain.

Building your combo causes the audience to applaud and cheer, and raises your score as a result. Keeping the rhythm action-style meter running high keeps your multiplier high as well, allowing you to achieve greater scores and up to a 5-star ranking at the end of each act. Building your combo gives you access to a "showstopper" move as well, which temporarily grants you double the combo points (or quadruple in multiplayer) to really wow the audience and drive your combo meter upward. Further borrowing from the rhythm action genre, many of the levels end with an encore performance, giving you chance to raise your score a bit higher during an onslaught of 1-hit enemy attacks.

Occasionally, a member of the audience calls out suggestions, asking that Dashforth alter the story a bit for the sake of winning over the crowd. In fact, each of the acts (except boss fights) have three optional challenges associated with them. Most of these challenges require that you reach a certain combo count, complete waves with a single unbroken combo (a “perfect scene”), or defeat a major enemy at the end of the scene. A useful indicator gives you a heads-up when you are in a situation with an associated challenge.

Completing all three challenges unlocks a charm which can be equipped to provide a passive buff in future levels. It is not required that challenges be completed in a single playthrough; rather, levels can be replayed to go after a specific challenge if it was missed on the first time through.

However, cutscenes cannot be skipped on repeat plays, adding some tedium to those who return to previous levels for the sake of challenge completion or a higher score. Even so, charms can only be equipped two at a time, and most have minor effects. Furthermore, the low difficulty of the game makes these charms largely unnecessary, as the game can be played from start to finish with little challenge even without the use these supplements, and often without the use of advanced techniques…

You begin the game with a quick/light attack as well as a strong attack that can be strung into a 4-hit combo. You can dodge enemy attacks by rolling out of the way, and you can parry as well. Early on, you gain the ability to parry enemy attacks and then grab them to perform a follow-up attack. This can be used to hit them repeatedly with your basic attack – allowing you to quickly build up a combo – or even smash them into the ground or toss them into other enemies.

All regular enemies have a long telegraph prior to attacking which shows when they are vulnerable to this parry-and-grab attack. In fact, minor enemies are often great enough in number that you can simply move from one parry to the next, hurling enemy after enemy around the stage. Thrown enemies can be used to stun larger enemies as well, which can then be picked up and tossed about in the same way. It is possible to complete most encounters with nothing other than the parry and a follow-up technique. This can be used to build combos, deal with crowds, and even defeat a number of bosses.

Button mashing will see you to victory in most instances, even when the stage is filled with enemies. In fact, the presence of more enemies simply increases the likelihood that your combo meter will soar. Further simplifying things is the fact that the entire game has only three enemy types (not including bosses). There is the human-sized enemy, the flying human-sized enemy, and the large enemy. The technique for defeating each remains the same from the start of the game to the finish. And so, the stage aesthetic comes full circle… The enemies you are fighting in each stage literally are the same actors in different costumes.

Once you’ve encountered each of these enemy types in your first play, you can simply repeat the same techniques for defeating them all the way until the end of the game. Even the bosses are not terribly more complex, and these can be defeated by tossing smaller enemies as well, or by attacking and retreating. As long as you continue to amuse the audience, you cannot be defeated, and boss battles wear on a bit as a result.

As your fame grows, you will continue to unlock new moves, but none of them are necessary to complete the game, and they are arguably less effective than your basic attacks and parry technique. With unneeded charms and fighting moves as a reward, combined with the simple button mashing gameplay, there is little reason to return to the game once it is completed.

The game is presented as a series of five plays, offering more than 20 levels in total. Each play presents a different part of Dashforth’s adventure and is set in a different locale, complete with its own set of (differently costumed) enemies. The game offers 2P local and online co-op.

Foul Play was developed by Mediatonic, the developers behind the equally charming Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess. The company primarily produces licensed mobile games, although they have a number of original works as well, including Must.Eat.Birds and Who’s That Flying?!.

The game was published by Devolver Digital, which also published Broforce, Hotline Miami, Luftrausers, Serious Sam: Double D XXL, Luftrausers, Fork Parker's Holiday Profit Hike, Titan Souls, Not a Hero, Ronin, Downwell, Enter the Gungeon, Mother Russia Bleeds, The Swords of Ditto, and Minit, The Messenger, Crossing Souls, Gato Roboto, Katana ZERO, Carrion, GRIS, and Witcheye.