When Foamstars was revealed during May's Playstation Showcase, the internet's judgment was swift and brutal--it's just a Splatoon rip-off. Case closed. But after playing four rounds of suds-fuelled multiplayer action at Gamescom 2023, the reality is a little bit more complicated.
Foamstars is a four-versus-four party shooter game pitched by Square Enix as "filling a gap" in the online multiplayer shooter market. In a sense, it is, if you are absolutely determined to ignore the gigantic ink-covered squid in the room. The basic gameplay sees two teams of four players fight across a map, spraying colored foam that sticks to surfaces and damages opposing players, with developers promising a suite of adversarial game modes.
Every player can surf across foam--fast if it's your team's color, and much slower if it's the opposing team's. If a player is coated with enough foam, they are immobilized in a giant foam ball. Surfing into an enemy in this state knocks them out, scoring a point for your team, and surfing into a foamed teammate breaks them free to fight again.
Players choose from a roster of characters with varied weapons and special moves, offering various playstyles from precise ranged combat to in-your-face anarchy. All four rounds we played featured a mode called Smash The Star, in which teams battle to knock out seven opposing players, after which that team's star player becomes marked. Knocking out the other team's star player wins the game.
With the game's fundamentals out of the way, it's absolutely impossible to believe that Foamstars isn't a very targeted, legally distinct variation on Splatoon, and an attempt to translate Nintendo's successful multiplayer franchise to a non-Nintendo audience. From its bubblegum color palette to its twee anime-adjacent character design, denying Splatoon's heavy influence on Foamstars would require committing to a frankly astonishing level of cognitive dissonance. However, there are a few nuanced differences that do make Foamstars feel unique.
While the contrasting colored foam that coats the maps during each battle initially seems to be only a minor variation on Splatoon's ink, the foam persists as a three dimensional asset on the map that can be built upon, changing the topography of the level as the match progresses. Across a three-minute round the map becomes a mountain range of technicolor bubbles, brought into relief by the chaotic battles playing out across the previously flat arena.
Though it was difficult to get to grips with in our short play time, it's easy to see how an organized team could create defensive structures or platforms to rain down foamy destruction on their adversaries. Even outside of expert play, seeing the map transform in three dimensions as the action played out was undeniably entertaining, and will surely add a significant level of tactical nuance for those who seek it.
Meanwhile, each of Foamstars' characters have bespoke weapons and special attacks, opening up distinct offensive and defensive possibilities when combined in a team of four. Characters' specialties vary from shotgun-style close-quarters action to foam rocket launchers and even heavy machine gun-style hoses that seem designed to embrace the anarchic spectacle of seemingly never-ending sprays of colored bubbles. It appears there is nothing to stop you from loading up your team with four identical characters, but a clever combination of roles and specialties seems fundamental to success on the battlefield.
Playing as four different characters across the four rounds, I was pleasantly surprised by how distinct each character felt, with movement speed, weapon selection, and special moves making for an interesting variety in gameplay style. Special attacks such as a foam grenade or a spiraling cartwheel complement the personality and playstyle of each character, who also have a spectacular hero shooter-style ultimate move that invariably results in a vast area of the map being covered in foam.
Are 3D morphing maps and hero shooter elements enough to entirely differentiate Foamstars from Splatoon? Maybe not. But having played a few rounds of Foamstars, the foamy chaos on display was undeniably endearing, and it'll be interesting to see how an audience responds to the tweaks Foamstars has made, however minor, to the tried and true Splatoon formula for different platforms.