Foamstars is to Splatoon what Fortnite was to Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds – a rip-off, yes, but also an admirably brazen one. And one that might actually take a single game and turn it into a whole genre. If it’s very lucky – and also very good.
Maybe unsurprisngyly to anyone who first clocked Square Enix’s Foamstars during last month’s PlayStation showcase, that one’s still debatable. I played a few rounds of it out at Summer Games Fest and can confidently tell you it is not terrible. Like anything competitive played in a room with nine other players it’s immediately engaging, at least, and it does also have quite a clever twist, just as Fortnite’s building was to PUBG’s one-on-one-hundred survival on a shrinking map.
Admittedly it’s a bit less revolutionary: the twist with Foamstars is that it’s purely a game of elimination, at least in the mode I played, and that in order to win you’ll not only need to eliminate more players, but once you do, then eliminate the other team’s best player, marked out with a star and then naturally, immediately surrounded by protective teammates.
It might not be a revolutionary take on competitive shooting, but it does make for a weirdly significant difference, the playground house-rules twist that takes a typical game and makes it kind of magic. The difference itself is that Foamstars’ rounds have a kind of gravity to them – suddenly, after a couple of minutes doing your own thing, both teams have a focal point, rather than the consuming personal battles over a single corner of turf you might find in Splatoon. It creates a very rudimentary kind of wordless, short-term teamwork that other PvP shooters have struggled with for an age.
That said, there is a special kind of naffness to Foamstars too. It’s a bit more hotel lobby than Splatoon’s weird, funky jazz-punk, the atmosphere feeling like the Monday night in Vegas after the annual Tupperware sales convention left town. Our matches were all set in a strange non-place of an anonymous resort city, full of broadly glitzy lights and Ferris wheels but with roughly the same character of a car park in Dubai.
Its characters themselves all blur into one – you shoot foam from a variety of guns that ultimately all feel like slightly limp water pistols that’d disappoint a nine-year-old, and their personalities are bizarre. One, a fairly typical ‘clean freak’ archetype in a sort of lime green hazmat suit, had a signature quip along the lines of “take that, you horrible, noisy germs!” What noises do germs make? In my head it’s sort of the same faintly disgusting one as those old adverts for Snap, Crackle and Pop. In Foamstars I have absolutely no idea what is happening.
That’s also a bit of a running theme with it. Why do you surf on foam? Why does some of the foam go solid, turning into large mounds that do at least add a bit of verticality, while other times it just dissipates on the ground? What is the actual point of the foam when it’s not really about painting the map, beyond just helping your characters move a bit faster and your opponents slower?
Most of all it’s just a bit hard to see what’s going on – a lot like an actual foam party, really, which in my teenage experience was more a case of keeping it out of your eyes and not catching an infection than any kind of fun frolic with friends. In Foamstars, between the mounds of foam, skatty movement and slightly haphazard visuals, there’s a bit of an issue with readability.
But it’s also sort of great? I had more fun with Foamstars widely nonsensical competition than I did a lot of other games at Summer Games Fest, and at this early stage its oddness and unreadability remains quite charming. Plus, I’d be quite happy if Splatoon’s distinctly non-violent idiosyncracies followed the battle royale route and ended up with an entire genre of their own.