Foul Play makes a strong first impression but after that initial jolt, the game falls flat. You play as daemon-hunter Baron Dashforth, a legendary British figure who lives for all things supernatural and demonic. Dashforth has a very particular way of handling these creatures: beating them with his cane. Dashforth is joined by his sidekick, Scampwick, a chimney sweep character who is playable by a second player. Foul Play is very much a beat ‘em up in the most classical sense. Players move from left to right, stop to fight enemies, mash the attack buttons for a bit, and move left to right again.
Where Foul Play tries to differentiate itself is with its crowd system. All of Foul Play is actually being acted out in front of a live audience in perhaps the most gargantuan arena that has ever existed. As players increase their combos, avoid getting hit, and perform special moves, the crowd gets more and more excited. A more excited crowd makes for a higher score, simple as that. The audience feature and overall play aesthetic is interesting, and it makes for some of the game’s best moments.
Foul Play is a great looking game. Its bright, colorful art style is really enjoyable and never gets old despite the repetitive gameplay. Foul Play also takes advantage of its setting to make for some humorous moments like the set being wheeled in as you’re fighting, enemies that you beat getting up and walking off stage, and the ever-present custodian accidentally making his way on stage to clean up after you. These gags, while funny at first, happened a bit too often for my liking. Seeing the custodian get surprised by the actors and then run off stage wasn’t funny the third time, and the same goes for enemies getting up and walking off stage.
While I definitely found bits of the game's humor overdone, I enjoyed it overall. Dialogue between Dashforth and Scampwick is dry and humorous while enemies come off as daft and unknowing about what’s about to happen to them.
This sense of humor lends itself well to making the plot more interesting. As the daemon-hunting duo travels to exotic locales, their story unfolds with silly dialogue and more fisticuffs than you can shake Dashforth’s cane at. What’s most unfortunate about Foul Play is that the combat is incredibly repetitive and boring to boot. Combat revolves around three main buttons; light attack, heavy attack, and parry.
Light and heavy attacks do exactly what you think and while there is a juggling mechanic, it doesn’t do much to break up the button-mashing combat that plagues the game. Parries are used to diversify the combat but I often found them overpowered. In a nod to games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, characters have a small tell above their heads when they are about to attack. Pressing the circle button at the right time starts a parry that causes Dashforth to either block the attack on bigger enemies or grab smaller ones. After grabbing a smaller enemy, Dashforth can then perform maneuvers like a piledriver or throw. These moves do a lot of damage and often hit other enemies as well. I found myself relying heavily on parries to take down whole groups of enemies without being hit.
It’s a shame that the combat is such a drag because it’s the main part of a game that is overflowing with life and excitement. The music, art style, and writing all come together to make a fun, humorous world that I wanted to spend time in. Every time a new bit of dialogue came up I found myself smiling, if not laughing, and I was always enjoying whatever new set popped up on screen. But then I’d have to fight endless enemies that took any enjoyment I was having away from me. The combat isn’t bad or broken, it’s just not very fun. It’s a shame that the combat can’t live up to the rest of the enjoyable world that surrounds Foul Play. I found myself looking for the bits of the game that didn’t involve actually playing it, and that’s never how a game should be.