There’s no doubt that shooters are super popular in gaming – just look at Fortnite and Call of Duty. It’s a surprise there haven’t been more attempts to rework the genre for a more family-friendly audience, or just for those who get turned off by headshots and kill streaks. On the surface, Foamstars does exactly that, taking inspiration from Nintendo’s Splatoon series.
Weapons in this team-based arena shooter don’t fire lethal projectiles. Instead of ink, it’s foam, but still colour-matched to your team with its own strengths and weaknesses. Square Enix has invented its own gameplay ideas, but the package is very different. Does Foamstars make a splash – or will it have you foaming at the mouth?
Foamstars is a 4v4 third person shooter which, while deathmatch-oriented, technically doesn’t count kills. This is set in the glitzy world of Bath Vegas, where glamorous contestants take part in the sport Foamsmash, where you’re foaming up opposing sides and eliminations are called ‘chills’.
Much like Splatoon, foam also has other functions besides dealing damage. Shoot your foam on the ground and you’ll be able to surf on it to move across the map faster, whereas you’ll get stuck in the opposing team’s coloured foam. Playing on PS5 you can even opt for aiming with motion controls, which feels the most natural for me after many hours put into Splatoon.
Where it stands out is the weird nature of foam being not quite liquid or solid. For instance, concentrate shooting at one spot and that foam builds up, creating a makeshift barricade against enemy players. It can also be surfed up to get a better vantage point. There’s also a twist on downing and reviving, as foamed-up opponents aren’t immediately knocked out until you slide-kick into them. You can also slide-kick into a fellow foamed up teammate to rescue them.
You could say that the gameplay is a mix of Splatoon and Fortnite. But there’s also an element of Overwatch. Each character has their own specific loadout including their weapon type, cooldown-based skills and an ultimate, which takes longer to charge up but can help turn the tide at pivotal moments. Foamstars even has its own payload-type mode where you’re competing to get a giant rubber duck over to the opposing team’s side.
Foamstars’ other main attraction is Smash the Star. It’s team deathmatch with a twist, where each side has seven lives. Once one side has been chilled seven times, their star player is revealed. It’s an interesting dynamic in that your strongest player suddenly has to be protected at all costs, as victory is given to the team that can knock out the star player.
Elimination is again the main draw with Happy Bath Survival, which takes place in a smaller arena in a 2v2 format. Your other two team members meanwhile are placed outside and overlooking the arena as support, though it’s up to you whether you spray foam to help your teammates get around quicker or bully the opposing team. It does however highlight an issue about foam: it just doesn’t feel like it’s got much substance.
While I don’t want to continuously compare with Splatoon, that game’s mechanics of being able to paint over another team’s ink is pretty clear. In Foamstars, that’s less clear, especially when some characters are literally blowing bubbles. The shooting just doesn’t feel very impactful, and that’s a problem when the game modes lean towards knocking out other players.
Besides the competitive modes (including a ranked mode that randomly picks one of the above modes but for some reason is only available as time-limited events), there’s also a single player option. But while it sets up a narrative threat where the city’s energy cores are being attacked by waves of bubble beasties, don’t go expecting a Splatoon-style campaign. It’s essentially a character tutorial set over some dull wave-based challenges, needlessly dragged out to flesh out the characters’ backstories. It does also have a co-op mode where the waves are at least more challenging.
Soap, rinse, repeat
As an online game, Foamstars is very expressive in how you can communicate with other players without the reliance of voice chat, which often run the risk of getting very toxic in this genre. There’s plenty of emote stamps and pose animations at the character select screen, while characters also shout out when they’re dropping an ultimate. It’s got that PG-friendly vibe where there’s no bad feelings at the end of a match and you can drop emotes to congratulate the MVP.
You can also get expressive by personalising your profile and characters, with different cosmetics unlocking as you complete challenges (such as how many times you’ve won a specific mode) or increase your player level. It’s however somewhat egregious how most of the cool rewards, notably character skins are locked behind some hefty microtransactions: we’re talking prices from £9 for a single skin to £37 for a full set, but still just for a single character.
You’ll still unlock things without paying, but this is basic stuff like a new profile banner, emote stamp, or a new skin for a character’s weapon. A lot of other things only unlock via the paid battle pass, including one of its characters, who also happens to be considered the strongest on the roster at launch. It’s only balanced to the extent that you’re restricted from playing duplicate characters in a competitive match. This live service model would feel icky if Foamstars was a free-to-play game, except you still have to buy it – unless you’re a PlayStation Plus subscriber, in which case it’s free for just this month.
The online shooter is already ruthlessly competitive. While Foamstars wants to provide a more chill and friendly alternative, it doesn’t really have the substance to back it up.
There’s a shallowness to the characters – when one of them is a ‘pro gamer’, that doesn’t bode well – which feels like a misguided attempt to get down with the TikTok generation. They’re not dislikable, but a far cry from the diverse heroes of Overwatch. I can’t see myself wanting to invest in customising them with new looks, if the prices for skins weren’t already off-putting to begin with.
Any live service game can evolve and improve over time, so of course there’s a roadmap of new modes, maps and characters that will expand Foamstars’ rather sparse offering at launch. If you’re a PlayStation Plus subscriber, it’s certainly inoffensive and has a couple of neat ideas that makes it worth a quick dip, but it’s also one that’s hard to stick around for and you’ll quickly wash your hands of.