Square Enix’s new third-person shooter Foamstars, which pits teams of four players against each other in bubble-slathered battles, appears to be the company’s take on Nintendo’s popular ink-shooter series, Splatoon.
As part of Summer Game Fest, Polygon got hands-on time with the game, and there’s good news: The format of matches introduces an enjoyable twist that leads to an exciting competition. There’s also bad news: Fighting with bubbles doesn’t pack the same punch as gloppy ink — and the gameplay suffers because of it.
The general premise of Foamstars is easy to understand and jump into. To win a match, your team must kill any members of the opposing team seven times. Once your team gets seven kills, the best player on the other team becomes the “star player,” and you need to kill them to win the game.
Similar to the Splatoon games, you can spray the arena — venues include glittery, Las Vegas-style clubs — with foam of your team’s color and surf smoothly across it. Certain skill attacks and bubbles can be shot in the same spot to build up a pile of bubbles that will then give you a higher vantage point to shoot (or be shot). Each character, a mix of cartoony idols and influencers, has two different skill attacks; for example, the pink-pigtailed Soa can throw a grenade and do a twirling jump through the air that emits bubbles. Different characters have varying skills, so a character like Pen Gwyn is more suited for long-distance sniping whereas Rave Breaker can cover the map with loads of foam.
The match format is a welcome twist that will likely be most enjoyable for solo players who seek a thrill from hard-carrying a match. The star player gets the brunt of the pressure in the late-game and can turn the tide of battle in dramatic fashion. At one point, my team seemed to clinch an easy victory after snagging seven consecutive skills but ended up losing the match after a star player on the other team evaded us. Upon chasing them down, we lost focus on... staying alive.
For such a cute theme, I struggled with Foamstar’s visuals when it came to the heat of the battle. The bubbles bounced around a lot, leaving me oblivious to the actual impact of my bubbles and weapons. Generally, close-range shooting felt easy to pull off, but anything with more distance felt like shooting in the dark. The thickness of the bubbles crowded the screen since they pile up rather than just simply covering the map. Oftentimes, bubbles appeared to be taller than my character and obscured them.
The game features a mechanic where, if your character dies, they turn into a rolling ball of foam. At this point, either your opponent needs to surf into you to kill you off, or your teammate can revive you. It’s a fun mechanic in theory, but in the chaos of a match, once again caused visual confusion. The down-but-not-out characters that look like balls of foam are hard to pick out amid the visual noise, despite being marked by neon signs that say “chance.” The revive mechanic added yet another element to an otherwise crowded screen and just slowed down the rapid pace of battle. In the end, I ended up leaving behind several people in that foam-ball state because I couldn’t find them.
Foamstars’ frenzied format should still make it a welcome addition to any player who doesn’t have a Nintendo Switch. The fast-paced and unpredictable nature of the matches led to thrilling scenarios, and the game played without any major difficulty or bugs — which was impressive given you have to juggle spraying and navigating foam in quick-turnaround matches. However, as someone who regularly plays other popular shooters like Splatoon 3 and zero-build Fortnite, I can’t see myself making the switch to Foamstars anytime soon. The gameplay was just a bit too unwieldy and visually confusing to feel like a confident replacement to stronger shooters, for now.
Foamstars is coming to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. Square Enix has not announced a release date yet.