As far as developer studios go, the gaming industry is flooded with them. You have the giant, established studios such as your EA and Ubisoft, you have the smaller but still impressive studios such as CAPCOM and 2K, and then you have the Indies, of which there are too many nowadays. The main problem of such indie studios is exposure, since while the aforementioned companies can invest heavy sums of money in order to create one commercial and be known by the whole world in mere seconds, smaller studios lack the financial resources to do such a thing. Thankfully, there are studios who thanks to their hard work are making a name for themselves slowly, one of which is Devolver Digital.
Responsible for one of my favourite all time games in Hotline Miami, Devolver Digital has been racking up hit after hit for quite some time now, and it has gained enough exposure to ensure their games should break even fairly quickly. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that, although the game development cycle is not a long one, Devolver always seem to come up with an incredibly fun game which is miles away from the last in terms of gameplay or mechanics. Devolver’s latest game Foul Play, for example, is a huge leap in a completely different direction from last year’s Titan Souls, and Titan Souls itself was a totally different game from Hotline Miami.
Innovation is the name of the game, no pun intended, and Foul Play definitely has a lot of innovation. First of all, the game is a blend between 2D and 3D since the area where the characters can move is flat, yet they can go into the foreground and background, making it seem as if it is three dimensional. The game follows the adventures of Baron Dashfort and his trusty sidekick Mr. Scampwick as they traverse what appears to be an infinite theatre. This is what makes Foul Play such an amazing game; the setting. The game takes place inside a theatre and considers itself to be a play, from start to finish, complete with different acts and scenes to continue to immerge the player into the illusion. It must not have been an easy feat to pull off, but the developers managed to brilliantly.
Gameplay in Foul Play is nothing too complicated, but it still will take time to master. As mentioned before, the stage feels both 2D and 3D, meaning you may roam around the area upwards and downwards as well as forward and backwards. You attack with the square and the triangle button, and the circle serves for a counter, which has to be timed against an enemy attack. Thankfully, you are made aware of enemy attacks thanks to the HUD, so you are technically always one step ahead of your enemy, which in a brawling game like this is a life saver. The confusion of the game once the screen is littered by enemies will definitely make you skip one or two counters and also receive some punishment, but all it takes to regenerate your “health bar” is to whip up a couple of good or great combos and the acclaim of the crowd will do the rest. As explained before the stage really comes together amazingly, with every little aspect doing its very best to tie the whole experience together.
As mentioned before, the game features different acts and scenes which are always happening in the same stage. An act is the whole level, while a scene is an encounter with enemies. The game features charms, which are boosts that can be equipped to Baron Dashfort to increase your chances of beating a level, and are unlocked if you manage to beat the three challenges which belong to an act. These charms can then be equipped from the menu before the level, and provide a bonus to Dashfort in his quests.
As customary with Devolver Digital games, the soundtrack is a great one indeed. The music fits what is currently happening on screen at all times, and it is also a great accompaniment to the storytelling in general. Cutscenes between Dashfort and Scampwick could have been realised a little better by having actual spoken English, but the way conversations are done is still a cute and funny way to keep the player involved.
Foul Play is probably going to take up most of my spare time after work, due to how incredibly addicting it is. On the small screen of the Vita the game is a joy to watch in action, and being portable, performing a single scene in two or three minutes is definitely no hassle at all. Well then, time to raise the curtains and keep on playing! Bravo Devolver! Bravo!