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Foamstars review - fun-ish bathtime Splatoon lacking commitment to the bit

Wash me outside, how 'bout dat.

Foamstars promo image showing several characters sitting on top of blue and pink bubbles
Image credit: Square Enix
Foamstars is a serviceable paintballer in the vein of Splatoon, lathered with some wild lore and underwhelming hero shooter elements.

When Square Enix announced its all-new multiplayer shooter Foamstars, the internet expectedly reacted with Splatoon comparisons and endless jokes about, err, bodily fluids, on account of all the frothy foam that you'll be pumping on opponents. Funnily enough, both sentiments are only kinda true. The game's foam actually does ooze out of at least one character's body, somehow, while the rest is sourced through nuclear-type factories. Oh, and the game only sort of resembles Splatoon in both fun and unflattering ways.

Foamstar's 4v4 competitive matches have you spraying the map with coloured foam, at which point you can surf across the bits that your team has foamed for an extra speed boost (like Splatoon), although marking the map in your team's colour isn't the goal here, in any game mode.

Foaming enemies slows them down until they're so drenched, they're trapped in one giant foam ball which you can then surf into for an elimination (unlike Splatoon), unless an enemy surfs there first and bashes them out, encouraging you to get close and aggressive. My favourite part of this whole idea is that saves/eliminations can also be countered if you surf into the foam balls before they hit terrain, which sometimes leads to soapy football chaos as giant balls fly back and forth across the arena.

Here's a Foamstars trailer.Watch on YouTube

Also unlike Splatoon, foam can be layered. Spraying enough of the stuff will build small candy-coloured mountains and crevices and speed bumps and walls. The obvious advantage to aiming at the floor as opposed to other players is that you can reach or create higher ground, and blocking foes from an objective or sliding off a player-made ramp is doubly satisfying.

Cutting across the foam clouds, hopping over enemy foam, and retaining momentum is genuinely tons of fun. Eventually, the warm bathtime tones lulled me into a flow state where I'd dive into a surf, jump into the air, aim down to cover more ground, rinse and repeat. There's an easygoing rhythm to Foamstars that sits comfortably with its casual party-based goals.

Bubbles jump up when you do a quick drift. Projectiles deliver an oomph when they land. It tickles a special, childlike part of my brain. That's probably why I filled up the entire lobby area with foam while mentally checking out of a boring phone call in the real world. (Also the ideal area for phallic foam art, for what it's worth.)

Tonix stands on clouds of pink foam in Foamstars’ practice area.
Screenshot from Foamstars, showing an animated cutscene where Gwyn deadlifts baby penguins
Screenshot from Foamstars, showing a PvE match with blue foam everywhere.
Soa aims an AoE ability in a screenshot from Foamstars.
Image credit: Square Enix / Eurogamer

Thinking about it a little deeper, Foamstars doesn't really commit to the bit in quite the same way Splatoon does. Splatoon is a game about paint, so it makes sense that your ammo sticks on stuff. Foamstars is a game about foam that acts like paint and solid gunk, without properly capitalising on a fun concept. Shouldn't the foam walls break open when you bash through them? Shouldn't the foam mountains pop when you ground pound them, fluttering bubbles into the air like feathers in a pillow fight?

What's even more of a shame - and what's partly responsible for the above digression - is just how homogenised the special abilities are. Rather than experimenting with loadouts, Foamstars opts for a hero shooter approach complete with big, flashy, sometimes game-changing ultimate abilities unique to each character - eight of which are available on day one.

Nothing much really separates our eight heroes, though. Some shoot slow-moving projectiles, some shoot gushing jets of foam that cover ground more efficiently, one can summon turrets. But most of the other abilities are split between ones that help with getting around the map and area-of-effect attacks. There are some exceptions - Gito can transform into a shark and swim inside the foam, effectively closing distances before dishing out damage with a close-range shotgun - but for the most part, this slim roster isn't distinct enough to encourage thoughtful synergies.

Screenshot from Foamstars, showing the Battle Gem Set menu with a “Unable To Generate More Gems” pop-up message.
Jet Justice surfs on foam in a multiplayer battle from a Foamstars screenshot.
Soa dances on the rubber duck objective in a screenshot from Foamstars multiplayer.
Screenshot from Foamstars, showing a city submerged in foam clouds and text that reads, “the world is foamed up.”
Image credit: Square Enix / Eurogamer

The colours and the bubbles and the splashy moves and the zooming foam balls also create so much visual noise that it's near impossible to see much beyond all the stuff. So my strategy mainly boiled down to getting as close to an enemy as possible, using my abilities, and then unloading a clip full of foam. That main loop is, again, fun but doesn't change depending on who you're playing as.

Hero shooters don't thrive on solo plays, in fairness; they truly sing when a band comes together to combine skills, compounding each other's strengths and negating weaknesses. Foamstars sadly fumbles that bag as well, since samey abilities mean thoughtful party composition is a non-factor. Altogether the movesets don't quite leave enough room for creative experimentation, nor does the, for now, limited number of game modes.

In isolation, that's also fine because maybe Foamstars is chasing the lapsed Overwatchers who want to dominate alone. My worry is just that, from three days of playtime, the game might have already exhausted its possibilities. I don't think I can achieve many more victories in new, unexpected ways, nervously leaning into the screen and biting my bottom lip as I did the first time I saw a D.Va self-destruct on top of a frozen enemy team in Overwatch.

Soa uses her ultimate ability to roll around in a green gooey ball in a screenshot from Foamstars.
Four players give a victory pose in a screenshot from Foamstars.
Screenshot from Foamstars, showing a multiplayer battle with blue foam filling up the screen.
Image credit: Square Enix / Eurogamer

Ranked modes haven't been released just yet, so who knows!? Maybe Square Enix is hiding an unexpectedly moreish progression system to keep me submerged. For now, with this roster of characters, I wouldn't willy-nilly fork over £37 on skin packs for a game that might not have the legs to surf for much longer.

I should also mention the aggressively weird gacha progression. Each character has three "Bubble Gem Sets," containing three slots for various stat buffs like shorter skill cooldowns or faster reloads. Crafting these requires a resource that you can only get via challenges or paid season passes, and you can't choose which stat buff to make or how powerful it is. All of which makes me concerned about future pay-to-win possibilities.

Putting out a paint-the-map-in-coloured-goo alternative that's not relegated to Nintendo systems is actually a great idea. One I was excited about. And Foamstars does put its best racing foot forward with an energetic J-Pop soundtrack and vibes that channel an excited Labrador. The in-fiction televised competition Foamsmash and the lux setting of Bath Vegas mix with the game's anime-infused style really nicely, separating it in my head from the drab military tones or space-warlock sims that usually dominate the genre.

Gito plays games on his phone while chilling in the lounge in a screenshot from Foamstars.
Image credit: Square Enix / Eurogamer

Bathtime Splatoon is an inherently silly concept, but you'd need to be half asleep to not crack a sly smile at its bad (secretly good) puns that even give some Eurogamer straplines a run for their money. Unstop-bubble had me shaking my head like a disappointed parent seeing their kid come home from university/college a full-fledged smoker. I'm just generally a fan of the way Foamstars leans into the goofy, nonsensical parts of its bubbly universe.

Wave-based horde modes that you can play alone or in four-player co-op add to that zany attitude by diving deeper into our heroes. Gwyn, for instance, is only competing in Foamsmash to save her family in Antarctica from climate change - sure, that works! - but she's also convinced that she's a penguin despite definitely being a human. Okay?

Foamstars is funny, intentionally or otherwise, but what does it say about this shooter if the above character details are more entertaining than the 10-minute shooting galleries that precede them? Like with the rest of the game, the PvE mode doesn't leave me wanting more.

Cool movement still makes this well worth a try while it's free on PS Plus, and Foamstars does have surprisingly solid bones for a game about air pockets congregating into a big mass. But I'm not sure how motivated I might be to come back without some more defined character kits, dynamic party synergies, or interesting objectives beyond "foam as many people as possible." Once you give it a good poke and burst its bubble, what you'll find is a bath-themed paintballer with maybe not enough staying power.

A key to Foamstars' first season was provided for review by Square Enix.

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