During the PlayStation Showcase back in May, Square Enix surprised the gaming world with its announcement of Foamstars. A 4v4 online party shooter, the title drew immediate comparisons to Nintendo’s Splatoon, with its focus on littering the environment with your own team’s colors (this time, using foam instead of ink). I decided to preview two Foamstars matches at the Square Enix booth during PAX West 2023 to see if the game does enough to separate itself from Splatoon, or if it was just a clone.
Getting Squeaky Clean in Foamstars
The Foamstars demo had eight characters on offer. There were a total of four classes, two characters per class. You could choose to be nimble but weak, slow but strong, or a general allrounder. I chose Pen Gwyn for my first match due to her assault rifle. Jet Justice was my second because of his shotgun. Matches were played out between the Red Team and the Blue team, with four players on each side. The mode on offer was called Smash the Star. In Smash the Star, your team tries to rack up seven kills of the opposing team. Once that happens, one of their members is marked as the “star” and gets buffs, like having more powerful weapons and defense. If your team can knock out their star before their team can knock out yours, then your team wins.
Playing matches was a little bit like Splatoon, but also a tad different. It was still important to douse the course with your foam, as you could easily surf across it and your enemies would get sluggish when traversing it. Where Foamstars differed, though, was in its kill mechanic. Instead of vanquishing opponents with your foam, pelting them with it causes them to roll up into a foam ball. You then have to surf into them to actually dispatch them. This fact was constantly brought up by the demo handlers, as players so familiar with Splatoon were thinking they had confirmed kills just by foaming up adversaries.
Play to Your Strengths
Each character has access to two unique abilities that charge pretty quickly and help foam up foes fast. They each have a distinct special move, as well, but it takes a while to charge and is mostly used as a way to turn the tide of battle. For example, Jet Justice jumps high in the air before slamming the ground. This attack creates a wall of foam in front of him and shoots some of it forward in front of the wall, too. Learning to utilize your character’s range, abilities, and specials is key to winning matches.
Some Room for Improvement
I managed to get some kills during my matches but ultimately lost both of them. I think it was a combination of everyone getting adjusted to the mechanics and the opposing group having played the demo more during other days at PAX West. Still, I had a good time, though there were some things I wish were different. For starters, your foam seems to run out quite quickly, necessitating a button press to reload your gun. In addition, you cannot bust out your board and surf along the foam or into a trapped enemy while reloading. I thought you’d be able to cancel the animation, but you have to let it play out before you can ride the waves. Time will tell if Square Enix will listen to feedback on this or chalk it up to strategy and leave it untouched.
Foamstars will launch sometime in 2024 for the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4. Hopefully, Square Enix will continue to try to differentiate the title from Splatoon in that period. While I do think Foamstars has some unique ideas, Splatoon has had a three-game head-start. However, if Square Enix gives Foamstars a multitude of modes, DLC, and single-player content, it could give the squid game a run for its money.