Monday, September 30, 2013

Foul Play (XBLA) Review

The premise of Foul Play is solid and unique.  You play as Sebastian Dashforth, the renowned demonologist, and his assistant Scampwick, while he is performing a play about his life.  As such, the only real danger you are in is from the audience growing bored.  In a new and interesting twist, you and your partner do not have a health bar- instead you have the audience's mood meter.  Performing high hitting combos, parrying attacks and fulfilling requests will make the crowd love your performance and allow you to continue the play.  This makes it harder to lose as long as you are fighting guys and trying not to get hit.  The payoff here is mastery, not completion.

The art and style of this game is really cool.  Since you are performing a play, all the action takes place on a stage.  There is an audience in the foreground and curtains on the sides.  The floor, background and props all change from scene to scene, further driving the theme.  Finally, the enemies are actors as well.  This is my favorite part, because when you get the more outlandish villains, like the squids and werewolves, you can see the person in the costume.  It's a great little touch that completes the whole idea of this being a play.  There's also a fair amount of comedy, like the stagehand/ janitor appearing in various capacities, vanquished enemies crawling off of the stages or being dragged off for their next scene... there's even one poor guy who forgot his line.  The music is fitting as well, but the visual elements are the high point for me.

Combat is basically a side-scrolling beat-em-up game like Final Fight or Castle Crashers.  You have a normal attack and a launch attack.  Combos can and will extend into the air.  There is a bit of tracking on the attacks, so you will move toward an enemy while attacking.  When an enemy attacks, they will have 3 little lightning bolts above their head.  Pressing the B Button will allow you to parry their attack.  For the small enemies, this will cause Dashforth or Scampwick to grab them and perform some special moves to the hapless victim.  You can increase your combo easily with the flurry attack, throw the enemy into breakable stage props or other enemies, or finally piledrive them into the stage, damaging other enemies nearby.  These are easily the best moves the characters can perform, as they give you easy combos and crowd control.

By gaining levels, you will get even more special moves.  There's a powerful vertical attack, a higher launch attack, a non-parry air piledriver, ground pound and a baton twirl.  I tried out these moves, but found them to be very limited in their usefulness.  The baton twirl and ground pound would be the most useful, but the charge time lessens their usefulness.  A charm exists that reduces the charge time, but there are better charms to use and more useful attacks.  As it stands, the parry flurry, throw and piledriver are easily the most useful attacks in your arsenal.  They will also be necessary to completing some of the challenges.  The dodge maneuver is also useful for the times when the parry won't cut it.  Overall, the combat is really fun.  You get to smash lots of enemies, and the parry allows you look good while doing it.  There's payoff for being both defensive and offensive, which I really appreciate.  Thankfully the controls are really responsive too.

Wait a minute, that's not a REAL werewolf...

Besides the satisfaction of being good at the game, playing well will help you perform certain "challenges" in most of the acts.  There are ones for getting a certain combo amount, performing perfect scenes (your combo doesn't drop the whole fight), rescuing the extras, and more.  These are fairly fun and add something else to shoot for while playing.  A few of them are pretty hard, depending on the enemies during the act.  Besides the satisfaction of performing well, completing all three challenges in the act will reward you with a charm.  Up to two charms can be equipped, each with different effects.  They are basically the game's form of equipment, and they can make some of the challenges easier.  Note that they charms are unlocked in the order listed, not for completing the challenges for the corresponding act.  So to get the final charm, you will have to do them all, not just do the challenges for the final stage.  Thankfully, the challenges do not have to all be completed in one run through the stage, so do what you can and come back for the ones you missed.

Foul Play has 22 acts spread across 5 plays.  The first run through the game takes about 6 hours or so.  If you are aiming for full completion (all stars and charms), it would likely double that.  As mentioned before, the game isn't that hard to complete.  The only time I actually had trouble was the final boss, and that was until I figured out what to do to beat him.  As long as you are defeating enemies and trying not to get hit, you can make your way through the game.  The hard part is getting all the stars and completing all of the challenges to get the charms.  For the most fun, I'd recommend playing the game co-op, as it will also make some of the requests easier.

I did have a few problems with the game, though.  Flying enemies (gargoyles, mermen, etc.) were sometimes annoying to hit, since they can float around the fighting plane and make it difficult to land an attack.  Their movement also made jump attacks just as hard to land.  If you are surrounded by a lot of enemies, or a few larger ones, it can be hard to know where you are.  This can make it difficult to avoid hits, since you don't know if you are facing the right way, or out of the way of an attack.  There are some boss attacks that are hard to avoid with all the action on-screen, too.  Finally, when multiple enemies are attacking at once, the game decides which one you parry when you hit the button, not the enemy you are facing or the direction you are pressing.  This lead to times where I intended to parry the smaller enemy for the safety of the flurry, or to throw them into the larger one, but would end up blocking the large enemy's attack and then get hit by the others.  In the end, these were not enough to keep me from having fun with the game.

Foul Play is all about putting on a show.  Showing off fancy moves for the crowd and remaining untouched throughout a whole scene is fun and rewarding.  For me, the concept is well thought out and executed.  Combat is fun, even if I had a few problems.  If you are a fan of side scrolling brawlers, give Foul Play a try, especially if you can bring a friend or find one online.  It might be pretty short to run through it, but mastery will take time and make it even more fun.

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