From the moment players first saw Foamstars it was compared to Nintendo’s iconic shooter, Splatoon. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Splatoon is one of the most interesting exclusives, and it’s great to see competition. Even if early buzz was low, Square Enix made a number of smart moves to help ensure its success. These include an eventful roadmap, along with making it a day one PlayStation Plus title. Now that we’ve seen what it has to offer, is Foamstars the next big thing, or does it fail to escape Splatoon’s shadow?
Foamstars starts with a brief introduction to its mechanics. If nothing else, the 5 or so minute long tutorial tries to help players understand the nuances of the game. Following this players can explore Missions (PVE), or Versus (PVP).
Certain Stories Have a Lot of Heart
Missions aren’t quite sure what it wants to be. On one hand they’re set up as a character specific tutorial, but on the other it’s much closer to story mode. I appreciate Foamstars trying to flesh out the characters besides simply having quirky characters like
Penguin Penny Gwyn for the sake of it.
The quality of each story varies wildly. Penny Gwyn involves concerns about her penguin family, and learning she isn’t actually a penguin; whereas Rave Breaker had a bad time at a party and now hates them. Surprisingly, that is far from the biggest concern with the mode.
Right off the bat players might notice The Baristador, and Mel T are not included. Based off the roadmap these two, plus the new Foamstar, will likely get their own stories next season. In the mean time Foamstars tries to mitigate some of this by integrating Mel T in a number of stories. It isn’t quite the same, but it is better than nothing.
From there the missions are a slog to play through. Not only do they take about 30 minutes to complete, they offer absolutely no challenge. Basically players need to defend a generator from the slowest/lightest hoard of enemies I think I’ve ever seen. Seriously, it’s so bad I finished all six characters without a single enemy damaging the generator.
Thankfully, the same can’t be said about the online multiplayer version, Squad Mission. While both normal and hard are far more engaging than the Foamstar version, they’re still far from perfect.
A big part of the problem is the Upgrade Energy Core system. Basically, finishing Squad Mission waves, or Foamstar Missions will give a resource used to purchase various attributes. The benefits are small, but they’re universal and add up. What makes them problematic is other players.
On a basic level there is no guarantee those you match with will have the Upgrade Energy Core required to win. Along with things being harder than they need to, the options you select might not match the character you pick. Since each team is limited to one of each hero, building for a specific play style that doesn’t match your character will also put you at a distinct disadvantage.
Along with this I don’t think Foamstars makes a compelling case to invest in the mode. Some might want the unique cosmetics, but even then once you have them there is no reason to return until something new is added. Thankfully, Versus handles this a bit better.
Instead of relying on traditional shooter modes like Team Deathmatch, every Foamstar mode offers a delightfully hectic twist. This is perhaps best understood by looking at its take on Team Deathmatch, Smash the Star.
In this mode players need to get seven chills (kill), followed by chilling their star player. This is whomever performed the “best” at that point in the game. Part of what makes this fun is the star player essentially dictates how the match plays out. It isn’t possible to win without defeating them, so it’s extremely common for the losing team to catch up. After this it’s a battle of who can get the other star first.
Is this the End?
The remaining two modes are Happy Bath Survival, and Rubber Duck Party. Despite having silly names they’re actually very different, and a lot of fun.
Happy Bath Survival takes two teams of four, breaks them up into duos, and has them compete in a best of three. One team will be on the lower level where they need to chill the opposing duo, with the other offering support from above. This can make things pretty intense as the top team can foam the area around you. Doing so decreases movement, and escape options, forcing players to make hard decisions. When one of the two teams is defeated players swap roles. In the event the opposing team wins the next round, the final round has the two winning teams face off.
While Happy Bath Survival is another form of Deathmatch, Rubber Duck Party is based around an objective. Here players need to capture and hold a giant stage that slowly moves to a capture point on the opposing team’s side. These matches tend to be the most intense as a single mistake can result in the opposing team taking control. In the event nether side completes the objective, and the losing team has control it will go into sudden death. At this point the winning team simply needs to recapture to win, whereas the losing team needs to progress further to come out ahead.
These two modes rotate every hour like Splatoon, which unfortunately does not seem to alternate. There is also a ranked mode that can be any of the three, along with Happy Friyay Party, and Extreme Party. The latter two modes happen twice a month, so I’d assume they simply alternate. Some might be put off by the limited nature, though I don’t think many of these modes can otherwise sustain themselves.
For example, take the two bimonthly events. With Happy Friyay Party players get to experience next seasons Foamstar before they’re added. Since we know Coiff Guy is the season two character he will be playable during this time. This is nice,
especially if it results in better long term balance.
Update: I attended the very first Happy Friyay Party and have mixed feelings about the mode. On one hand, I love the idea of having an in-game event that hypes upcoming content, and allows players a taste of things to come; but on the other hand it’s a sizable investment for very little. In all the mode took about 10 minutes, had a lot of build up/dialogue, followed by a brief taste of the new character. Like maybe 2 minutes of playtime with Coiff Guy’s full kit. In all, I would not attend a second for this season. I don’t even know if I would attend another.
As for Extreme Party they’re novelty modes that have their own specific rules. For the first season, Starry Pop, there are two options. One where every player must play as the seasonal character, Mel T, and another where everyone is invisible. Odds are the first mode will be a mainstay that highlights newly added Foamstars. The latter has some charm, as you need to gauge positioning based off attacks/foam, though the novelty will likely wear off relatively fast for most players.
In addition to having fun modes, each Foamstar brings something different to the table. Jet Justice/Agito are close range, Soa/Penny Gwyn are rapid fire shooters, Rave Breaker/The Baristador effortlessly fill the stage with foam, and you get the point. Along with having a specific play style, each character has unique perks to aid them in combat.
Similar to other hero shooters, the best teams have a variety of characters that fulfill different roles. Jet Justice doubles as a tank, Penny Gwyn encourages players to overwhelm enemies, Agito has more of a stealth kit, with the rest having their own gimmick. Ultimately matches are won by understanding your role, and playing it effectively. Limiting movement can be as helpful as chilling enemies, just like preventing damage makes it easier to keep the pressure on.
A big part of why this works is due to the finisher system. Once someone loses all of their health they will be covered in foam. At this point one of three things will happen. An enemy will slideboard into you for a finish, an ally will do the same to save you, or enough time passes and you pop. Since this forces players to change positions, it isn’t uncommon for the tides to turn in an instant.
All it takes is a bad play for the other side to get the upper hand. This is especially true if they managed to save you after an enemy finishes (there is a brief period where you get launched and someone can counter to save). As a result there is a surprisingly high skill cap, not to mention there being more to winning Foamstars than being able to aim.
As nice as multiplayer can be, I genuinely think Foamstars is going to have issues with keeping players invested. This is perhaps best seen with the customization system.
Outside of the season pass only two costumes can be unlocked per character. One turns your character silver, with the other gold. Regardless of quality, asking players to complete a minimum of 333 matches as a single character to get one is insane. Now, I get that this is a long-term goal, the problem is the there isn’t much in way of short term goals.
There are no unlockable weapon skins besides those present in the season pass. Only six slideboards can be unlocked, though two require a different 333/777 match grind, and the last one asks for eight character clears on the hard version of Squad Mission. Finally, Bubble Beastie have zero non-paid options.
Most of the remaining unlocks are a small handful of chat icons, a couple emotes, plus some icons, banners, and titles. There is just such a large gap between the 40 or so matches needed to finish the season pass, 30 wins as a specific character for a banner, and 333 matches as them for a skin. Even the highest regular matches played award I could find was 980, compared to the 6,216 matches needed to gold everyone.
All this choice does is encourage apathy, as the paid side is already rather aggressive. There are limited time items that cost between $4 and $8. Standard items that start at $2, and go to $45, with the latter seeming to be the only place to actually get the Bubble Beastie skins. Even if the Premium Pass is a reasonable $6, a season lasts “every 5 weeks.” The already released roadmap says season five is set for late June.
At that point it’s basically just a $6 subscription, something hardcore players will likely consider since the new character presumably will follow Starry Pop, and unlock at the first paid level. For everyone else it’s level 31, so roughly 30 matches to unlock.
It’s unfortunate to see because these choices, along with little things like not including the pass to really hook PlayStation Plus subscribers, create apathy. Not only is there little in way of a chase, I didn’t notice fun challenges to keep players invested, or even a platinum trophy. There is just this seemingly never-ending grind that makes Foamstars less a casual Splatoon-esque game, and more a rather demanding GaaS experience that you need to be all in on.
Foamstars Review Verdict
Foamstars: To be completely honest, I think Foamstars is a fun game with a ton of potential. The problem is, I don't think it will ever reach it. Two days after release I'm already running into familiar names, queues that fail because four/eight people were not found in 5 minutes, and have all the reasonable to unlock cosmetics. Add in the lack of maps (each mode has three), limited characters, aggressive season pass model, questionable release timing, and Foamstars is essentially doomed to fail. It might not be today, tomorrow, or even season 10, but at this rate I don't see it lasting longer than Babylon's Fall. – Grant
Editor’s Note: Foamstars was reviewed on PlayStation 5, and a copy was obtained through PlayStation Plus at my own expense.