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Foul Play Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . With its great sense of humor, exciting narrative, cool art style and fun stage play antics, you would think that Foul Play would be a cherished classic. Unfortunately, poor scheduling prevented this delightful brawler from gaining traction. Now on the PlayStation 4, the developers hope a unique pay-what-you-want approach will help the game stand out. Unorthodox pricing aside, Foul Play is one performance you can't afford to miss. Rating: 78%
Foul Play
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  • Review Score:

  • B+
As the games industry has shifted from physical games to downloadable media, it has afforded developers a chance to revisit old school genres many of us thought were lost to time. This has given way to a renaissance of high-quality beat-em-ups that brings the spirit of Double Dragon and Streets of Rage into the 21st century. 2D brawlers are both trendy and popular with critics, something I never thought I would see again.

Of all the recent beat-em-ups to cross my desk, Foul Play is one of my favorites. Originally released in 2013, this quirky brawler went head-to-head with Grand Theft Auto V ... and lost. While most people forgot about Foul Play, I certainly didn't. I was hoping that it would eventually get a re-release that introduced a brand new audience to its wit and charm. The good news is that my wishes have been answered and this enjoyable action game is now available on the PlayStation 4. Unfortunately, it's going up against Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. This game can't catch a break.

Forget that guy in those Dos Equis commercials, because Baron Dashforth is the most interesting man in the world. Unable to keep the harrowing stories to himself, he's decided to reenact his many adventures to a sold out audience. He and his trusty chimney sweep buddy, Scampwick, fight vampires, mummies, robots and sea monsters through five very exciting stage plays.

Set at the turn of the 20th century, Foul Play sees Dashforth continuing his father's research into demons and the occult. When mummies invade the harsh deserts of Cairo, our heroes spring into action and come face-to-face with the walking dead. But these two adventurers quickly discover that things are not what they appear and Dashforth's father may still be alive in an alternate dimension.

This sets the two demon hunters on a quest to battle supernatural monsters and complete the elder Dashforth's research. Along the way they get mixed up with a bunch of pirates, the vampires in Victorian London and even go underwater for battle the robot scourge in Atlantis. Each level comes with its own unique set of enemies and a mutli-part boss fight. And with each level down, Baron Dashforth and Scampwick come closer to revealing the horrible truth.

All this takes place on stage and in front of a live audience. You'll see sets constructed in the background, stagehands placing objects, actors calling for lines, enemies dangling from strings and even a few extras who aren't fully dressed. And because these are reenactments, the enemies are played by real people. Sometimes the costumes are convincing, while other times they are comically bad.

Foul Play (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

The live audience also plays into our hero's well-being. Instead of using a normal life bar like so many other 2D beat-em-ups, Foul Play decided to go to Rock Band and Guitar Hero for inspiration. As Dashforth clobbers demons and mummies, the audience will hoot and holler to show their enjoyment. However, get hit too many times and the audience will lose interest and kick you out of the theater. They are a temperamental bunch.

Speaking of Rock Band, players will earn up to five stars in each stage. There's also a brief showstopper mode, which adds a multiplier to your score. And while hitting demons may not be the same as strumming a fake plastic guitar, Foul Play's easy controls allow for triple digit combos that are every bit as much fun. While I wouldn't go as far as calling this River City Rock Band, Foul Play's genre mixing creates a compelling experience.

But as interesting as the mechanics are, the real star here is the humor. Instead of skewering the genre or other games, Foul Play keeps us grounded with topical Vaudevillian humor and jokes about staging a play. The dialog is quick and often very witty; I found myself laughing throughout the five lengthy plays. What's more, I was genuinely surprised with the late game twist, leaving me completely satisfied with the writing.

It doesn't hurt that the game looks almost exactly like a South Park episode. Sure, the humor is much less vulgar and nobody looks like Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo, but it's hard to look at the live audience and not be immediately reminded of the long-running Comedy Central series. Similarities aside, I was constantly impressed with the attention to detail found in every part of this game.

Foul Play (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

While five plays may not sound like much, rest assured that the game will take several hours to complete. Each play is separated into selectable levels, each with their own set of goals. In total there are 22 stages, including five impressive boss battles and a bunch of short encore mini-games. Foul Play is much longer than old school beat-em-ups, through significantly shorter than Dragon's Crown.

If the humor isn't enough to make you come back for more, then the level-specific goals will. With the exception of boss battles, each stage has a set of three goals to complete. They aren't mandatory, but valuable items are given out to those who finish all three. Most of the goals are fairly simple, requiring little more than throwing enemies into breakable objects, piledriving mummies and completing perfect sections. However, there are a few that could have used a little more clarification. It was never clear how a cannonball combo was different from throwing a human cannonball.

Not only will completing the goals unlock new perks, but you'll also earn experience points and level up Baron Dashforth and Scampwick. This opens up a new world full of special moves, including one move that lets your thrown enemy bounce around like a pinball. By the end of the game I felt fully equipped to take on the demonic horde.

Foul Play (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

Even with the leveling system and stage-specific goals, Foul Play remains a tried and true 2D brawler, complete with button-mashing gameplay. This doesn't aspire to evolve the genre like Dragon's Crown, but also doesn't simply recycle what we've seen before in every other beat-em-up. What you get is an incredibly exciting story told in a very charming way. It's not especially difficult (I died only once, and it was in the final boss fight), making it perfect for just about anybody.

Foul Play has a unique pricing structure that sees players paying what they want on the PlayStation 4. The PSN store starts the price at a mere $2, with the proceeds going towards charity. Hopefully this unorthodox approach will finally be what it takes to get people to notice Foul Play, a delightful 2D beat-em-up with a great sense of humor and exciting story. This is one play I wish I could see live.
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