The Play's The Thing; Thoughts on Foul Play

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Foul Play, by developer Mediatonic, tells the ripping tale of Baron Dashforth, the secretive and mysterious daemonologist. Using a platform of the classic vaudevillian play, you act out portions of Dashforth's autobiographical tales, along with the assistance of his ever faithful sidekick Scampwick.

Foul Play is a delightful frolic of a brawling side-scroller, available on Steam and XBLA September 18th. It's polished, responsive, and incredibly well paced with an ending every bit as satisfying as the adventurous ride. I honestly can't say enough about Foul Play, I highly recommend it.

The game first won my heart after an all too brief preview at PAX Prime, it' s cheeky humor was engaging. Foul Play never takes it's self too seriously and shows an abundance of playful humor through out. The touch of HG. Wells, Kipling, and Verne are felt keenly and the tales of Dashforth & Scampwick offer a light-hearted, lovingly crafted tribute to these literary influences.

The game's focus is on the entertainment of the audience, rather than the traditional idea of sustaining your "life" to succeed. It makes sense given the context (you are fighting extras who should be pulling their punches, after all). Failing an 'Act' in Foul Play should feel very familiar to anyone who has ever played Rock Band or Guitar Hero. If the audience becomes dissatisfied with the performance, the curtains fall, then plenty of booing and feelings of inadequacy follow. You are encouraged to preform with great theatricality to keep the crowd happy, using tremendous chained strikes and flourishing finishing moves to bring the audience to their feet. A happy crowd will throw hats, do a wave, or even chant a characters name over the action.

Beat-em-up games always run the risk of getting boring through repetition; the deadly little gremlin that can make this game-type feel like a chore, rather than an entertainment. Foul Play deftly sidesteps this issue by offering varied levels (in the form of 'Acts'), visually distinctive sets, and myriad enemies. Though the stage performance puts forth Baron Dashforth's tales as reality, the levels aren't constructed to make you forget the London theatre that you occupy, the art openly embraces the setting. It emphasizes the stitches in a costume, or the flimsy construction of a scene's backdrop and the stage crew. The effect is endearing and gives a greater motivation to complete a level as part of a cooperative performance, rather than a strictly rote adventure brawl.

My only disappointment with Foul Play is that I want more. This isn't to say that Foul Play is too short, it's my own immature compulsion to demand more from a game that I enjoy so thoroughly. Hopefully Mediatonic can be coaxed into producing some DLC down the road. Perhaps in the form of some side acts or even intermission entertainment?

In the end I strongly encourage picking up a copy of Foul Play. It's art is imaginative, game-play thrilling, and story marvelous.