Foamstars – the character designs don’t have that Splatoon charm (Picture: Square Enix)
Square Enix splashes out on a Splatoon-inspired online shooter, where you shoot streams of foam instead of bullets.
Despite being monstrously popular in Japan, and one of the most original online shooters of the last decade, no other major studio has tried to replicate or iterate on Splatoon over the past nine years. It might be because this enthusiasm hasn’t quite translated worldwide, or because there’s been multiple sequels occupying the space since the original in 2015, but its slick traversal and novel, family-friendly design still feels refreshing in an industry dominated by realistic brown sludge shooters.
The countdown to a pretender, however, is over. Developer Square Enix might be bored of the Splatoon comparisons but clearly Foamstars would never exist without it, since it’s aiming for a similarly eccentric tone – but with bubbles instead of paint. Despite the similarities though, Foamstars does enough to justify its existence.
Crucially, and unlike Splatoon, this is primarily a straight-up deathmatch shooter – albeit where nobody ‘kills’ but instead ‘chills’. In the game’s main multiplayer mode, Smash The Star, players in 4v4 teams have to shoot foam at each other until they’re rendered incapacitated as a rolling ball of bubbles. You can then secure a knockout by sliding into your opponent on a surfboard, or allies can save foamed teammates by crashing into them first.
Like the majority of modes here, Smash The Star encourages aggressive play. After a certain number of knockouts, a star player is assigned on each team which, depending on who is taken out first in a last scramble, determines the overall winner.
Foamstars mirrors Splatoon in its traversal, where you blast and slide for extra speed or to escape from risky showdowns, but there isn’t the same flexibility in its design. You can act as support by foaming the landscape around conflicts, but you’re not rewarded for doing so in the same way. Everything here is geared around powering to the frontline and taking out opponents as effectively as possible, which is chaotic fun in itself, but it feels like a traditional shooter dressed in a Splatoon jacket.
There is some depth to mine from Foamstars though. Naturally, foam can rise vertically, allowing for some defensive strategies through the creation of wall blockades or towering pedestals from which to snipe. As such, we found some of the most enjoyable matches took place on an entirely flat map free from obstruction, where the bubbling chaos shapes the landscape with vantage points and accidental slip-throughs.
If it feels somewhat clumsily designed, Foamstars at least has some fun ideas up its sleeve. Along with an Overwatch-style Payload mode with a rubber duck, where you dance on its head to make the duck move faster, there’salso Happy Bath Survival. In this mode, your team is divided between two players inside an arena, and two on the upper exterior, who rain down support or obstruct the other team as those below fight for the chill.
By trimming down the main conflict into a 2v2 experience, Foamstars is more readable and compelling. If you’re the last player on your squad in the arena, your ally will be revived if you manage to stay alive long enough, which leads to tense switch-ups of strategy as you slide around the mess that your allies (and enemies) pour down from above. It’s the standout mode in the package, where Foamstars wields its freneticism in the most interesting way.
There’s a decent amount of variety in the eight playable characters at launch, who all have different weapons and special abilities. We had the most success with ‘pro gamer’ Agito, who has short range shotgun-style blasts and a throwable shark to create a runway. Others carry heavy-duty sprays to cover large areas, while Jet Justice can charge up rolling balls of foam to surprise enemies from afar.
It’s a varied roster so far, but you’re not allowed to have duplicate characters on the same team, which feels weirdly rigid in a party shooter where having a balanced team composition hardly seems important.
Foamstars – it’s worth playing for free (Picture: Square Enix)
Visually, Foamstars has the energy of a lost relic from the Sega Dreamcast, but its tone is so desperately upbeat it can be exhausting. Between the token disco music, anime style dramatics, and hammered in puns (Unstoppa-bubble!), there’s no room for anything beyond maximum optimism.
It’s at its most obnoxious during a handful of single-player missions designed to introduce each character, where you fight waves of ‘bubble beasties’ while conversations play out in the background, about the importance of defending power cores in Bath Vegas. If the repetitive mission design doesn’t put you off, the ‘poppin’ and ‘lit’ vibe certainly will.
Despite its desperation to please, Foamstars is hard to dislike – but it’s difficult to say whether it has any staying power. There’s the expected battle pass progression trees, unlockable perks, and skin microtransactions to make your eyes roll, but it’s not as egregious as other live service titles in the same mould. In a similar vein to other B-tier online games with fun ideas (Knockout City, Rumbleverse, etc.), Foamstars feels like it’s caught against the tide, no matter whether it manages to stir up a dedicated player base or not.
For Foamstars, the ideal scenario is that it scratches an alternative shooter itch for those who don’t have a Switch. This is perhaps what it’s banking on, but at the moment, it doesn’t feel like it’s built to be anything other than a fleeting, if likeable, diversion. As such, PS Plus subscribers can download it for free this month – just make sure to soak it up while it lasts.
Formats: PlayStation 5
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 2nd February 2024
Age Rating: 12
*Free on PS Plus until 5th March 2024
To submit Inbox letters and Reader’s Features more easily, without the need to send an email, just use our Submit Stuff page here.
For more stories like this, check our Gaming page.
Sign up to all the exclusive gaming content, latest releases before they’re seen on the site.