Foamstars shoots for Splatoon, but its style gets in the way

Square Enix’s new third-person shooter Foam starswhich pits teams of four players against each other in bubble battles, seems to be the company’s take on Nintendo’s popular ink-shooter series, Splatoon.

As part of Summer Game Fest, Polygon got some hands-on time with the game, and there’s some good news: the competition format introduces a fun twist that leads to some exciting competition. There’s some bad news, too: Bubble fighting doesn’t have the same power as slick ink – and the gameplay suffers.

The general premise of Foam stars is easy to understand and jump into. To win a match, your team must kill all members of the opposing team seven times. Once your team has seven kills, the best player of the opposing team becomes the ‘star player’ and you must kill them to win the game.

As with the Splatoon games, you can spray-paint the arena (locations include glittering Las Vegas-style clubs) with your team’s color foam and surf smoothly across it. Certain ability attacks and bubbles can be shot in the same spot to build up a pile of bubbles which then give you a higher vantage point to shoot (or get shot). Each character, a mix of cartoonish idols and influencers, has two different skill attacks; for example, the pink pigtailed Soa can throw a grenade and do a spinning jump through the air that releases bubbles. Different characters have different abilities, so a character like Pen Gwyn is more suited to long-distance sniping, while Rave Breaker can cover the map with loads of foam.

Image: Square Enix

A character in Foamstars walks through a barrel of foam into the air as they shoot bubbles at the enemy side.  There is a pink colored bubble side and a blue colored bubble side.  The setting looks like a shimmering golden cityscape and the field is mostly covered in blue bubbles.

Image: Square Enix

The match format is a welcome twist that will probably be most enjoyable for solo players looking for thrills in a tough match. The star player gets most of the pressure in the late game and can turn the tide of the battle in dramatic fashion. At one point, my team looked like an easy victory after seven consecutive skills, but eventually lost the game after a star player from the opposing team evaded us. As we pursued them, we lost focus on… staying alive.

For such a cute theme, I struggled Foam star‘s visuals when it came to the heat of battle. The bubbles bounced around a lot, making me unaware of the actual impact of my bubbles and weapons. Overall, shooting at close range felt easy, but anything further away felt like shooting in the dark. The thickness of the bubbles filled the screen as they piled up instead of just covering the map. Often bubbles seemed bigger than my character and obscured them.

A character in Foamstars jumps into the air as they unload a bunch of bubbles on the enemy's side.  There is a pink bubble side and a green colored bubble side.  The setting looks like a shimmering golden cityscape.

Image: Square Enix

A character in Foamstars performs an ultimate attack.  The entire field of view is filled with foam and bubbles.

Image: Square Enix

The game features a mechanic where if your character dies, they turn into a rolling foam ball. At this point, either your opponent has to surf into you to kill you, or your teammate can revive you. It’s a fun mechanic in theory, but once again created visual confusion in the chaos of a match. The down-but-not-out characters that look like foam balls are hard to make out among the visual noise, despite being highlighted by neon signs that say “coincidence”. The revive mechanic added another element to an otherwise busy screen and simply slowed down the fast pace of the battle. I ended up leaving several people in that foam ball state because I couldn’t find them.

Foam stars’ insane format should still make it a welcome addition for any player who doesn’t own a Nintendo Switch. The fast-paced and unpredictable nature of the matches led to exciting scenarios, and the game played without major issues or bugs – which was impressive considering you have to juggle spraying and navigate foam in fast-paced matches. However, as someone who regularly likes to play other popular shooters Splatoon 3 and zero build FortniteI don’t see myself making the switch to Foam stars shortly. The gameplay was just a bit too unwieldy and visually confusing to feel like a confident replacement for stronger shooters for now.

Foam stars coming to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. Square Enix has not yet announced a release date.