Review: Foamstars

22 Feb 2024

Following its initial announcement in 2023, I was positively jonesing to get my hands on Foamstars. Here was a game that was not only tackling its own interpretation of an established big player in the competitive multiplayer scene, but also doing so with flashy character designs and an aesthetic all its own.

Fast-forward nine months later, and here we are. Foamstars launched on February 6th for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 from Square Enix. It promises friendly foamy fun in the form of a four-on-four fighting frenzy, but does it do enough to pop out from its contemporaries?

We Don’t Kill, We Chill

Being a title with a decidedly multiplayer focus, it should probably come as no surprise that Foamstars is a lighter on narrative elements. But it isn’t entirely without them either, and what is included in the game’s cooperative and single-player modes do a decent amount of heavy lifting to introduce players to the world.

Foamstars’ battles take place in the city of Bath Vegas (a bit of a stretch for the sake of the pun, but I’ll allow it), where our titular competitors duke it out for fame and glory on a grand stage. The non-competitive modes see the characters fighting against waves of bubble enemies as they attempt to attack the city’s energy cores in order to destroy it. It isn’t the meatiest premise, and the game doesn’t spend too much time diving into it in-depth, but it works as a baseline.

Unfortunately, the game’s execution of its story works less well. Humor is a big angle that Foamstars attempts to play up, and unfortunately it’s one that’s hit-and-miss at best. Naturally comedy will always be a highly subjective thing, but there are only so many puns, jokes, and thin character interactions that someone has the capacity to enjoy before things start to feel very predictable as things unfold. I found myself wishing the game would throw a curveball into the proceedings of some kind, or at the very least take itself more seriously just to shake up the atmosphere more.

Still, it’s hard to be too down on the vibes Foamstars is striving for. I’d much rather a game lean into silliness and go for more levity in its presentation and theming than the alternative, even if the execution is rocky. It’s hard to fault Foamstars too much in this regard when it’s a comparatively small part of the game, too.

It’s Bath Time

When I first booted up Foamstars, I was rather surprised to learn about its single-player and cooperative gameplay modes. There’s a set of three missions for each character that functions not just as a brief tutorial to let you know how they play, but also an introduction to the story, world, and how each one fits into it. The general gameplay loop of this mode sees you using your skills to take down invading waves of bubble beasties, which themselves sport a decent degree of variety for players to make best use of their skills and decide how they want to take each group down.

There’s even a basic progression system exclusive to these modes which lets you boost the performance of characters to better tackle the onslaught of bubble baddies. They’re pretty standard upgrades, but it’s still enough to keep you playing if the PvE side of things is able to hook you, though there isn’t a ton on offer right now prior to any substantial content additions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly though, competitive multiplayer is where the game feels at its best. Matches play out at a brisk pace, and though there are certainly many similarities to another game series that sees you covering the arena in a similar manner, Foamstars does bring a unique twist of its own: allowing you to stack up foam to the point where you can climb it and change the geometry of the stage in the middle of a battle. There are some interesting things that can happen when the foam gets piled high and causes your movement options to change, and it’s even more fun when an enemy player is using it as a platform and you get to knock them right on down.

It also helps that it’s an easy game to jump into. Each foamstar has two skills and an ultimate attack, which leaves just enough space for a larger emphasis on universal mechanics. Foaming up the battlefield to better take down enemies, surfing across said foam to get to where you need to go, and striving for the objective of a given game mode is what you’ll be spending most of your time doing. The more limited number of abilities and firing types makes each character’s idiosyncrasies stand out more. Using Tonix’s burst-fire rifle feels very different from using Rave Breaker’s flamethrower, and that’s before you even start to bring their skills into the equation.

It can take some experimenting to get there though, as it’s more difficult than it should be to know what’s happening as a new Foamstars player. Visual information is hard to come by, character skills are flashy and bright, and some maps are just a bit too cramped for their own good. The hecticness of these elements can add to the fun, but there are a lot of early engagements where you’ll be jumping back in without knowing what just chilled you. Thankfully you’re never out of the running for too long as respawn times are quick, but it can be frustrating when you’re still trying to get your bearings.

The confusion also isn’t helped by the lack of visual variety in the maps. The layouts are different between them, but for a game that’s all about vibrant characters and soundscapes, most of the areas themselves are far too dark for reasons I can’t discern. Most of the floor will be pitch black while the foam and characters are on the fully opposite side of the spectrum. With these two shades constantly clashing, it makes it even more of a challenge to figure out everything that’s going on at a glance.

Movement is also pretty slow—not ludicrously so, but more than you’d expect for a game of this ilk. It can cause some fights to feel sluggish and simultaneously oversensitive with character movement. The slideboard, which you use to travel through foam at high speeds and also eliminate your opposition after bringing their health to zero, is the biggest culprit for these control issues as it causes you to feel like you’re suddenly using a different movement system rather than speeding up your character.

Foamstars’ biggest barrier, however, is its struggle to combat fatigue. It’s absolutely fun for a time, and different matches between the various game modes all play out pretty differently, but the above elements make it difficult to really get stuck into, particularly when it feels like there’s a shortage of things to be doing or working toward outside of the current battle pass. The game does make an effort to offer more, such as customizing your base of operations, but its tertiary elements don’t have enough depth to be gripping.

I would be remiss to not bring up the game’s monetization as well, as it casts something of a pall over the whole experience. Outside of the modestly-priced battle pass, the cost of cosmetics and the like in the in-game shop can be exorbitant, a fact that’s made all the more uncomfortable given that Foamstars itself is going to have a $30 price tag after it leaves the PlayStation Plus offerings for February.

I’m On A Gameshow

While not perfect, Foamstars’ presentation is its greatest success. While I’ve discussed the shortcomings of the visuals with regard to visual clutter and how it impedes map awareness, I have mostly positive things to say about the other presentation elements on offer.

The aesthetic design is appealing in many respects on the surface level, but it’s particularly impressive with the way the game fully embraces its Las Vegas inspirations through more than just the name of its setting. Everything from music to dialogue to character design are based on excess as a rule, and Foamstars is happy to throw you headfirst into its neon-tinged cityscape.

On the subject of character designs, they have the tendency to range from simply serviceable to downright decent. They won’t be turning your head for their originality, but characters like Tonix, Jet Justice, and Penny Gwyn are particular standouts, while a few of the others are less exciting and more familiar. Regardless, their characteristics are thoroughly brought out through smooth animation work as well. When I would time a skill at just the right moment, the fluidity of its execution added a lot to the experience.

Would that I could say the same for the voiceover work, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. When your game is relying heavily on humor and character interaction as part of its appeal it’s hard to stick the landing, and that’s unfortunately the case here. There’s nothing outright bad, but it just doesn’t click sometimes.

Conversely, the soundtrack accompanying the action is immaculate. Lots of elements of swing and jazz infused with electronica, funk, and even disco stylings thrown in for good measure. It’s probably the most instrumental aspect of welcoming the player into the game’s atmosphere, and it really is impressive. You should absolutely hop onto your favorite streaming service and queue up Break, Ring-a-Ding-Ding, or A Small Wonder when you get the chance. You can thank me later.

Bubble Celebrities

Will Foamstars stand the test of time? There are certainly points in its favor: it’s fun to pick up and play, offers up an endearingly lighthearted atmosphere with both neat character designs and slick animations, and even backs itself up with a stellar soundtrack to tie everything together.

But with things as they are now, there are a few too many issues that come to the fore once you try to settle in for a longer player session. Visual clutter causes unnecessary confusion, movement feels unrefined, playing it in longer sessions borders on monotony, and its monetization leaves much to be desired.

And despite it all, I’d like to see Foamstars succeed. There are good bones here, and ones that could easily lead to a strong title were they to get beefed up over the course of balancing and patching the game. With things as they are, however, Foamstars just doesn’t make as large of a splash as it needs to.

~ Final Score: 6/10 ~

Game reviewed on PS5. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Square Enix.