Theatre puns is it? References to plays, actors, quotes from famous dramatic works? Ok, I think I've got it. The heart is capable of sacrifice. So is the vagina. The heart is able to forgive and repair. It can change its shape to let us in. It can expand to let us out. So can the vagina. This game on the other hand, has nothing to do with The Vagina Monologues, so I'll stop shamelessly quoting from it to get a cheap laugh.

Right, no, you're right. I'll try again. This game, it has a name. Foul Play. It's a good name. A double-meaning-y sort of name. But...what's in a name? Wouldn't a side-scrolling beat em up by another name still follow the same basic formula, include a great deal of button-bashing and be fairly repetitive? I believe it was the great Professor Shakespeare who posed this question, aboard his personal dirigible and finally, some fifty years later, we can answer that question. The answer is: sort of.

 photo Foul-Play_zps8fe35406.jpgThis particular side-scroller follows demonologist Baron Dashforth as he recounts his exciting exploits (with the help of his sidekick, chimney-sweep Scampwick) upon the stage to a captive audience. You take control of this doer of derring-do, this destroyer of demons, as he fights his way across the globe, (or rather, the stage) vanquishing evil-doers and likely giving the player a case of RSI. The game, ladies and gentlemen, is Foul Play (see, because you play it, and there's some foul play afoot, and it's A PLAY, like on the stage, AND it's a play on words. It's very clever.)

 photo Foul-Play-01_zps4d037c57.jpgIt's a nice twist on a genre which is either tired or classic depending on who you're arguing with. As you battle your way across various scenes, the audience responds appropriately. If you don't chain together any combos or do repeatedly allow yourself to be hit by the various baddies, your audience appreciation meter will fall and you'll start to hear boos. Let the meter drop to zero and it's lights out. Curtains. Your playthrough folds like a cheap turkey. This is unlikely however, as combos are fairly easy to pull off. As you unlock new types of attack you'll find yourself striking one foe with your cane as you deflect a projectile attack and throw the next attacker into a pile of other evil minions. It's fairly fast-paced, and has a lovely style to it, albeit somewhat reminiscent of the flash animation style of something like Weebl and Bob, for instance.

It's Foul Play's sense of humour and attention to detail which sets it apart. You might run on to the next scene (the set changes behind you as you progress from one screen to another) and pause for a second as the unwitting stagehand realises he shouldn't be there, before sneaking off as subtly as he can. You might also notice that the foes you face are actors, as they'll often be seen crawling off stage once defeated. Of course there are boss fights, following the traditional mould. Fight them in two forms, work out their patterns, vanquish them and their evil for all eternity, enjoy the rapturous applause.

One feels that the style might lend itself well to being played on a mobile device or tablet, but the option to play the game through with a friend is where a lot of the fun lies. Streets of Rage just wasn't Streets of Rage without a buddy. (Streets of STAGE, why did I not think of that before?)

 photo Foul-Play-02_zps69a34808.jpgOne look at a screenshot of Foul Play and you've got a good idea of what you're going to get: fun, fast-paced gameplay (if a little repetitive), with the button-bashing you'll remember from all those Sega and Nintendo games of your youth. (If you don't know what those things are, you're also probably too young/stupid to get that "Professor Shakespeare" was a joke)

If you want some fun, throwaway, co-op gameplay with a sense of humour and a lovely twist on the side-scrolling beat-em-up genre, you could do a lot worse than Foul Play. It won't get any standing ovations, but in the bar afterwards you'll probably say it was pretty good.

I'm afraid I have to go now. Is stage left your left or my left?

Exit reviewer, pursued by bear.