Review: Fashion Police Squad

13 Feb 2023
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The interesting thing about the retro FPS revival that’s been happening over the past few years is that in many ways, it has already reached a point wherein you need to have a really strong hook to justify your place in the field. At first, it was just enough to offer a throwback from regenerating health, limited loadouts, and the like, but we quickly reached a saturation point of games offering the same basic things that, arguably, never really went away. The FPS genre is and always has been saturated with titles, and you need to do something novel to stand out.

Into this field comes Fashion Police Squad, a title that is available on almost every platform under the sun – Nintendo Switch, Steam, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and X|S, you get the idea. The Switch version was played for this review, a point that I will get into later because it does inform my experiences. And make no mistake, Fashion Police Squad is entirely falling into the retro shooter style. But it also has a unique gameplay element even beyond the game’s sense of humor.

Which, you know, is the first thing that everyone will notice.

Style Guide

In true retro FPS style, you take to the streets because crime is gripping the city… fashion crime. Trendopolis is a city beset by crimes of people who have suits that are too bland, too baggy, too colorful… some hideous monsters have even taken to wearing socks with sandals. You take to the streets as Des, an immaculately gorgeous man in a perfectly tailored coat, ready to bring aesthetic justice to those who would pollute the streets with hideous, tacky fashion.

Backing you up is your level-headed partner, Haley, and the mysterious informant Deep Coat (who Des immediately trusts because he’s wearing a brand-name tailored trenchcoat, he must be a good guy). As they realize that there is a larger-scale threat to the fashion of Trendopolis, you get drawn into a seedy underbelly of… fashion crimes, basically.

Look, this is silly. You know this is silly. Like the premise suggests, this is what amounts to one joke told over and over with slight variations on a theme, wherein fashion is treated as a Very Serious Thing and people act like there’s nothing more dangerous than a bunch of businessmen wearing boring grey suits. It’s silly, yes, but it never starts pretending it isn’t silly. You are either going to grin along with the joke or you’re going to find it tedious, hopefully the former.

If you don’t find the joke to be at least smirk-worthy, you will run into some problems, because the story is not a mild sideline you can ignore if you want to. Fortunately, I did find it amusing enough that it didn’t bother me. Your mileage may vary, however.

Sewing Kit

The core of the game is not about a compelling story, though; it’s about gameplay. And it’s here that Fashion Police Squad has its main innovation, because it plays with classic FPS weapon swapping in a fun way. Your goal is not to gun down the people who you deem insufficiently fashionable, after all; your goal is to rehabilitate them. And you do that with your multi-purpose fashion arsenal.

Your first firearm, for example, is the 2DYE4 carbine. This is a shotgun by another name, but what it shoots is pigment. Your first enemies are people in drab suits that need some color. Light them up and watch them gaze in bliss as your actions produce a colorful delight. But wait, here come some idiots with neon outfits that are way too colorful; better swap to your alternate fire and drain their color so they remain fashionable. Oh, and that man is in a suit that’s far too baggy; better break out your Tailormade sewing gun to get that cut just right.

The whole thing works well as a result because instead of being a matter of choosing your best weapon, each weapon solves different problems and puzzles. Moreover, it allows each combat encounter to be a bespoke thing that has to be dealt with accordingly. The starting shotgun is close-range, but your bland suits have a long-range throw attack; meanwhile, the slow color drain of your alternate fire requires careful work to keep locked on the dopes in bright shirts skating around. While many FPS games will have optimal weapons for certain enemies, this mixes up the formula by forcing you to pay attention; you can’t just lob explosives at groups, you have to pick out which particular enemies are dealt with in which particular way.

Health is more about composure, lost as things hit you and restored by grabbing mocktails littering the streets; you can also gain armor from picking up swag accessories. In a nice touch, you can actually pick up health boosts that bring you above your normal maximum, but the health bonus is slowly lost as time goes by even if nothing hits you. This incentivizes you to pick up health boosts while also keeping you moving along the way.

You also have a melee option, a belt that fixes people with too-baggy pants and which you can use as a grappling hook to move from place to place. This is one of the few cases where a weapon is useful even on enemies not normally vulnerable to it. The belt just stuns enemies who aren’t specifically disabled by it, but that can be useful in frantic sections in and of itself.

Last but not least, Des can power up and bring out his full-powered ability to simply smack people into fashion; you press a button and your weapon is replaced with a slap, letting you dash right to your target and deal out a mighty smack to the cheek. It only lasts a short time, but it’s a fun area-clearing tool when you get it.

By making every specific enemy a puzzle to be figured out, the game manages to have a surprising amount of gameplay depth for what is at its heart a pretty rote formula, and it makes things mechanically more interesting. It’s not quite a puzzle game, but it’s definitely puzzle game adjacent.

Accessorize

The game’s art style is immediately distinctive and nice, not too colorful but very vibrant and a nicely animated set of sprite enemies against a 3D blocky backdrop. Everything moves cleanly, powerups and items are easy to pick out against the scenery, and while secrets are frequently hidden they’re well-guided along the way. This is also helped by the game’s sound design; your carbine sounds chunky and fun even though it’s just firing color, and the various voice clips from the enemies overlap without being repetitive.

Music is… well, I don’t want to say bad, but it’s on the forgettable side. Like, you hear it and it’s energetic enough, but it didn’t make me want to rush out and buy the soundtrack. It’s got a good hustle, though, and it keeps up the energy while playing.

But what took the energy down, unfortunately, was… well, I played the game on the Switch. And the problem here is that not only do I hate playing FPS games on a controller anyway (I’m sorry, I don’t want to aim precisely without a mouse), but the Switch controller feels particularly awkward for me with this game. It’s a game that needs snappy reflexes, and the “grapple across damaging floors with your belt” section was basically a nightmare of the belt not landing, or landing and then disconnecting because it decided I’d tapped the button twice, not aiming right… it was not fun.

Maybe you really like FPS games on the Switch and are used to the controls. But I feel it’s something that does need to be brought up. (And if your first response is to say that FPS games control like a dream if you just have [INSERT CONTROLLER X], that’s not a rejoinder, that’s an admission that the game isn’t built for the Switch’s natural controller.)

Chic It Out

Despite the issues I have with the controller scheme – the all-consuming, rage-inducing issues that severely marred my time with the game – I don’t really feel like that’s something to ding Fashion Police Squad for. For one thing, there are clearly a lot of people who do like FPS games on a console with a controller, so whatever floats your boat. For another… I mean, the game is available on other platforms, you know? If you really hate FPS on a controller, you can play it there.

At the end of the day, Fashion Police Squad is a cute, rather lightweight game with a strong sense of humor, telling a simple joke over and over… but it’s a joke that makes me smile, and isn’t that what really matters? I had fun with it and I enjoy its approach to things. Control issues might be there, but that’s really about choice of interface, and if you’re looking for a solid retro FPS on the Switch, it’s a strong candidate. One might even call it… vivacious.


~ Final Score: 7/10 ~


Review copy provided by No More Robots for Switch. All screenshots courtesy of No More Robots.