Not every day do we get a protagonist who represents the distinct personality of an aristocratic gentleman. In fact the only one that springs to mind was the charming if utterly ridiculous tea swilling Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure. This game fused classic platforming with puzzle mechanics not dissimilar to Nintendo’s Pokémon: Puzzle League, but also featured more tea, Union Jacks and giant mechs to heavy metal than you could shake your cane at.
Perhaps in order to fill in this niche in the market, or more likely because they just can, British developers Mediatonic have taken this on a very similar character trope, given him a cockney chimneysweep companion, and thrown both of them into an arcade style brawler appropriately named Foul Play. But as we peer through the monocle onto the stage, this whimsical tale has a few surprises in store.
Clearly the developers are fans of the criminally underappreciated Terry Gilliam film – The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Foul Play adopts its style and class, changing the hero slightly by making titular character Baron Sebastian Dashforth a daemonologist. Each play stars the Baron and his trusty sidekick Scampwick as they romp across the world quipping about the occult they find along the way. Incidentally, these witticisms are the heart and soul of the game by using intentionally cheesy dialogue and some glorious English references – such as referring to a nefarious double-cross as a “classic Whitechapel tourist trap”. Barebones at best, but the sheer audacity of its dialogue is enjoyable.
Each act presents you with a gauntlet of costumed extras for you to unleash your vast knowledge of the Queensberry Rules. Across varied locales that house appropriately themed daemons for you to purge in the final act of each of the five plays, the aim is that age old maxim – “The show must go on!” To do this, you must build up a Rock Band like combo meter that includes multipliers for particularly decent pugilism prowess. Should you get hit, the audience will start to lose their enthusiasm before standing to boo the performance and the curtains close. That said, it was nigh on impossible to fail a performance because the game helpfully throws goons in the way when more difficult encounters occur.
To make things a little more interesting, there is a reasonably varied skill set that Baron Dashforth and Scampwick can learn as the game progresses – including parrying, throwing, charged attacks, so on and so forth. But it’s really easy to stick with two or three of the more versatile attacks like being able to throw small enemies at big enemies to stun them, then grabbing the big enemies while stunned to smack them about a bit. As for each of the levels’ three challenges, they add a nice level of challenge that allows for repeated playthroughs of completed acts to unlock Charms that grant perks. It is however possible to get by without needing one of these, so collection is entirely optional.
Foul Play isn’t a long game per-se, but the levels are certainly drawn out, signalling perhaps the game’s biggest drawback: Enemy variation. There are levels where you will fight waves upon waves of the same enemies, with some acting exactly the same as those in a previous world despite the costume change. Later on, some more attacks are executed by the more basic foes, but they’re seldom ever used. Mid-play bosses do freshen things up and the multi-staged finales of each play have the potential to be rather tense; but given that it is difficult to die the length of the game is stunted somewhat.
If the dialogue is the heart and soul of the game, the artistic style is the foundation on which it is built on. Seeing the little cameos by the stage-hand in a janitors outfit, combined with the ever changing set design is unlike any game of the genre is fantastic, working particularly well together as a result. It does look a little basic, but the clean colourful sprites aren’t an assault on the eyes. Music is quirky, but otherwise repetitive and mostly forgettable. Unlockable extras are nice, while the game is more fun with two players. You can pair up online, but this sadly wasn’t available prior to launch.
Foul Play never pulls the wool over your eyes. It knows what it is – a fun distraction that lasts as long as a theatrical production. The script and delivery from its actors is sublime, making one feel like an active participant of some grand scheme, even though the plot itself is a no-frills affair. The audience certainly enjoyed the action scenes on screen, but some acts did drag on a bit too long to have much meaning. It was as if I was watching gladiators in the coliseum. If anything, it was certainly worth the price of admission! An enjoyable romp to tip your top hat to, but unfortunately it’s not quite Shakespeare.