Foamstars doesn't deserve the hate. Hand-waving comparisons to Nintendo's Splatoon are shallow; beyond both games featuring weaponry that fires something other than bullets, they're two quite different experiences. Square Enix's new multiplayer game is more of a hero shooter than anything else, and while its launch content is fairly slim, there's a lot of potential in this off-beat offering.
As the name suggests, the game has four-player teams firing foam at each other, all with a glitzy, upbeat vibe. Kills are rebranded here as 'chills', and the already vibrant arenas will be filled with suds of various colours in seconds. While it sounds unusual, the use of foam here is quite clever. The substance can be built up, allowing everyone to create cover, block off pathways, make vantage points, reach higher platforms, and so on. This lends the gameplay a unique tactical edge.
The foam has other properties, too. Spraying your team's foam on the opposing team's will erase it, and you can surf along the suds of your colour to get around super quickly — but the other side's will slow you to a crawl. This means you have every reason to cover the arena in your team's foam as much as possible, minimising the manoeuvrability of your competitors.
kills chills is a little more involved than just reducing a health bar; doing so will turn your enemy into a ball of foam, and you need to slide into them while surfing to make the elimination. Furthermore, if your teammates have been foamed up, you can slide into them to save them, encouraging your squad to keep an eye on one another.
The main mode of play is Smash the Star, a spin on Team Deathmatch. You must score seven chills against the opposing team, at which point a Star Player emerges. Your job is to then eliminate them, but they have buffed health and power. It's a fast-paced mode and the simplest to understand of the three.
While Smash the Star is always available, the other two are rotated hourly. One is Happy Bath Survival; this divides your four-player team into two, with a pair in a central arena and another pair above it, offering support while the round lasts. The round ends when a team in the arena is eliminated. It's a unique mode that also moves quite quickly, but when you're in the supporting role it can be hard to discern whether you're making a meaningful difference to the action.
Rubber Duck Party is an escort-style mode in which your team needs to capture the large bath-time toy and help it reach your opponent's goal. The catch here is that the duck moves faster on your foam but slower on enemy foam, plus you can swing the momentum in your team's favour dramatically by performing a dance on the duck. It leaves you exposed for a while, but if you succeed, the duck gets a big boost. The push and pull of this mode is quite intense as the action has a singular focal point, and its silly nature just lends it a lot of charm.
Aside from the versus modes you have Mission mode, in which you defeat basic waves of cutesy baddies as they march towards you. Unfortunately, whether you play the solo or co-op missions, this portion of the game is quite bland compared to the zippy and less predictable PvP. However, the single-player challenges in particular are perfect for learning how each character plays, so they're not without value.
The eight characters at launch are pleasingly unique. They each have their primary weapon — ranging from rapid-fire dual pistols to guns that spray foam almost like a flamethrower — and on top of that, they have a pair of special abilities and an ultimate. These can really turn the tide of battle, whether it's simple foam grenades, turrets that shoot opponents within range, or a vacuum-style ability that ensnares enemies. The ultimate powers charge up over time, while the pair of abilities run on cooldowns. Each character plays quite differently from the next, but we found the balance to be well-judged — most matches we played were very close regardless of team composition.
It's a shame the designs of the characters themselves aren't as well conceived. They're pretty inconsistent — there's a reason Soa, the girl with the baseball cap and the pink and blue hair, is the frontrunner. We also quite like Tonix, but the rest of the launch roster is fairly forgettable.
Generally, though, the presentation reinforces Foamstars' refreshingly energetic and lighthearted feel. A plush high-rise lounge is your hub, where you can party up with friends, customise your characters and profile, practice all your foamy moves, and visit the shop. Alongside the music, which is surprisingly good, it's a pretty highly-polished, stylish game. Matchmaking can sometimes take some time, but generally it's technically strong too, with no discernible dip in frame rate and some solid use of the DualSense's haptics to boot.
Going back to that shop, though — it's hard to ignore just how extortionate the in-game purchases are. Granted, they're all totally optional cosmetic goods, but when it's asking you £8.99/$10.99 for a character skin, up to £4.49/$5.49 for an emote, and £36.99/$44.99 for a character-specific bundle pack, it's a bit much. Again, it's all stuff you can happily live without — it's just asking a lot for very little.
Foamstars is a colourful, unique, and entertaining shooter. The modes and characters on offer at launch are fun twists on genre staples, and the central foam mechanic is a playful addition with some potential for strategy. It's lighthearted, fast-paced fun with plenty of style. While the steep microtransactions and the so-so co-op missions keep it from being squeaky clean, there's a lot to like about this bubbly multiplayer title.