Foamstars has the energy of a Sega Dreamcast game that was made specifically to look good on a quarterly earnings report. This third-person PvP shooter has a strong foundation with some creative twists on the winning formula coined by Splatoon, but its commitment to that bubbly theme feels like it has a false earnestness to it, soured in part by the inclusion of just about every multiplayer trend from the last 10 years. For every clever map design or killer song, there’s a bad voice performance or a cosmetic pack that literally costs more than the price of Foamstars itself. But while I still need to play a lot more before I put a final score on it, if you can wade past the red flags that surround Foamstars and march and deep into the sea of foam itself, there is a fun competitive shooter here I’m at least looking forward to diving back into.
As is upsettingly laid out in its brief single-player campaign, you play as a Foamstar: a person who uses their odd ability to excrete a foam-like bodily fluid to compete in the Foamsmash Tournament; a series of competitive events set in the Las Vegas-inspired city of Bath Vegas. This extremely gross fact is never really explained beyond that, but it does let you cover the ground with bubbly bullets that morph each arena’s topography, allowing you to do things like build mounds of foam to get the jump on your opponents or wall them off from an objective. Think Splatoon’s ink, just with the ability to stack it up. Also like Splatoon, your character can move more quickly in the foam by surfing on it, which adds a welcome sense of speed that lets you collaborate with teammates in creative ways.
Foamstars takes things a step further by weaponizing surfing; once you deal enough damage to chill (not kill) your opponent, they become covered in foam, rendering them nearly immobile before you surf into them to finish the job. On the other hand, if your teammate is foamed up and needs help, you can surf into them to revive them from the brink of death — or, from being put on ice, that is. This small mechanic makes a world of difference by both encouraging and rewarding aggressive play. Suddenly a foamed-up opponent or teammate becomes a chokepoint to strategize around, especially in the Star Player mode, which crowns one person on each team as a Star Player and requires you to take them out while protecting your own.
The roster at launch has a disappointingly slim eight unique characters to choose from, but each of them at least has distinct strengths and weaknesses that add diversity to the lineup and cater to different playstyles. Soa, Foamstars’ pop idol mascot, has some strong mobility thanks to an ability that lets her perform a jump that doubles as a dodge, allowing her to safely make aggressive plays. Tonix, on the other hand, isn’t as mobile but she can put down a lot of foam to help her teammates by creating better vantage points and even set turrets to back them up. My favorite so far is ΔGITO (yes, his name has a triangle in it), who is a shark-obsessed “Pro-Gamer” with a shotgun-like bubble blaster and a movement-friendly special ability that rewards you for going for chills.
No matter who you pick, surfing around Foamstars’ energetic fights can admittedly be a blast, and its foam mechanics add a fascinating level of variability to each map. It’s just hard to reconcile the good parts of that frantic, bubble-flinging fun with nearly everything happening outside of it. With its use of generative AI to make in-game album covers (the generic quality of which doesn’t live up to the awesome songs they hold), laughable “micro” transactions that can cost more than $40 for a single character skin pack, and small launch roster, its hard to just sit back and enjoy the fights.
To make matters worse, Foamstars has placed all its bets on a horse with bad odds. It’s no secret that it’s taken a few direct cues from Splatoon, but one of those is its multiplayer structure. Following in the footsteps of Nintendo’s famously confusing, unreliable online multiplayer is an eyebrow-raising decision for any game that’s trying to stay afloat in this highly competitive landscape. A majority of Foamstars’ modes are only available at certain times, obnoxiously rotating on a fixed schedule or tied to specific days of the week. If it had launched with more maps and/or modes to cycle through, this wouldn’t be an issue, but right now you can only play a handful of matches in a given mode before it pointlessly disappears into the Foamstars vault for a few hours. This could easily be fixed by adding specific queuing options – but instead, Foamstars has chosen to surf in the choppy wake of an almost 10-year-old game without hitting the same highs.
Because of these multiplayer restrictions, I need a lot more time with Foamstars before I can fully weigh in with a score. I’m excited to check out the rest of its modes, especially based on the three I’ve played so far. Frustrating monetization and structure aside, I’ve had a pretty good time with Foamstars whenever I’m in an actual match, so here’s hoping those issues don’t start to drag the whole thing down below the bubbles.