I will admit to having tempered expectations for Square Enix’s Foamstars. Aside from the glaring comparisons to a certain paint-flinging shooter, the publisher’s multiplayer games often tend to range from the disappointing (Babylon’s Fall) to the short-lived (First Soldier).
And yet, after playing four rounds of Foamstars, I feel it’s the closest thing to a multiplayer hit that the company has had in years (Final Fantasy XIV notwithstanding), with a very fun base to build off.
Smash the Star
Players launch themselves onto a map via surfboard, and in my demo, we arrived on a circular battleground set within a casino in the game’s Bath Vegas setting (yes, really) Each team of 4 was tasked with defeating seven opponents to reveal a ‘Star Player’ – once they’re out, it’s game over.
The secret sauce of Foamstars is that while it always looks like pure anarchy, it’s actually remarkably simple to pick up the basics.
Players pick from a variety of characters to fire their coloured foam at opponents. Hit an enemy enough, and they’ll be ‘Foamed Up’, entering a vulnerable state. Once that’s done, the challenge is sliding into them via surfboard, knocking them out after sending them rolling along into walls.
Similarly to Nintendo’s Splatoon, your coloured foam offers movement bonuses, meaning taking out an enemy while surrounded when your colour bubble bath is around means you can more easily surf into opponents. Similarly, if an ally is Foamed Up, you’ll need to slide into them to break them loose.
What separates Foamstars from Nintendo’s easily identifiable comparison point is the foam itself. Because it doesn’t just cover surfaces but has more of a tangible effect on the battlefield.
Aside from coating players to allow for a knockout, foam can adjust the verticality of the map from moment to moment, creating temporary platforms, walls, and chokepoints for smart players to exploit.
While my squad lost every round, in an early skirmish, I launched onto the map and got behind the enemy team to coat their escape in foam. Doing so meant they struggled to regroup once Foamed Up, and I’m interested to see how many strategies emerge once Foamstars launch.
There are more modes to be revealed, as well as some kind of single-player component, but by focusing on PvP in this early demo, Square Enix has further set itself apart from the core Turf War mode in Splatoon 3 – while covering the battlefield in your own foam is a key to success, the focus (in Smash the Star, at least) is aggressively cornering opponents.
My biggest criticism of Foamstars at this early stage, though, is that its characters aren’t as memorable as I’d have liked, and while each brings something unique in terms of abilities, it’s hard to discern between them within the confines of a match.
Each falls into a particular role, built for speed, health, support, or just being able to pump out more foam than others, but they lack personality. As a hero shooter, that may cause it to lack sticking power – something Nintendo managed by offering a customisable Inkling avatar and plenty of goofy additional characters.
That feeds into readability issues, too, because it can be tricky to locate a weakened enemy while they’re rolling through the foam at pace, or while you’re walled in by it. There are indicators, but with more foam flying and players constantly leaping around, it’s tough to follow – something that may require tuning before launch.
The similarities with Splatoon are obvious, but if Foamstars can deliver on its shifting maps, more aggressive play, and easy-to-grasp basics, it may be a surprise hit.
Time will tell, but after four rounds I’m itching to get back in the foam.
Foamstars will launch on PS4 & PS5. No release date has been given.
For more from Gamescom, check out our preview of Nightingale.