When Foamstars first splashed onto screens earlier this year, the initial reaction was that it desperately wants to be Splatoon. Now, having played a handful of matches, I can confirm that, although it tries a few new things, the comparisons with Nintendo’s inky shooter are completely valid.
Truthfully, playing four matches of a single mode during gamescom is nowhere near enough to get a proper feel of the game. It’s barely long enough to familiarise yourself with the controls. But having played a bunch of Splatoon 3 recently, the very same mechanics of shooting brightly-coloured goop and moving quickly around the arena is at the centre of what Foamstars does. Naturally, there are subtle differences: the foam you fire has a much more three-dimensional effect on the match – so much so it’s possible to lay down a wall of bubbles that provide a barrier between you and the enemy – but the way it impacts movement is identical to Splatoon’s paint. You can move quickly and freely across your team’s colour, but scooting through the opposition’s foam is like wading through treacle. Similarly, you don’t dive into the foam like Splatoon’s Inklings but surf across the surface instead, but the combination of laying down fire and then zipping towards your target is very familiar.
The mode I played was a four-vs-four battle called Smash the Star and the aim was simple enough: ‘kill’ players on the opposing team seven times, at which point their best player becomes the ‘star’; knock them out and it’s game over. There were eight characters on offer, split into four types: some carry rapid-firing blasters that offer a good balance between firepower and speed, while heavies carry shotguns that fire bubbles capable of pushing the opposition back. There are precision characters who rely on laser-guided shots to increase hit rate, and lastly Foamstars who carry huge cannons capable of laying down a ton of foam. Each also has two unique special attacks too, like grenades that send a burst of foam on impact to a giant shark torpedo the launches at the opposition.
There’s obviously a sweet spot in terms of team set-up, using support characters to cover as much of the arena in foam to allow the faster players to move more easily, but understanding the meta of each character takes time – something that wasn’t afforded for this demo. Instead it felt chaotic, even when we tried working together as a team. This is partly due to the presentation: there’s a lot going on on-screen and quickly it becomes a sea of pastel blue and pink, with little contrast between your team-mates and the opposition.
I found this the most challenging when you or your team-mates are covered in a ball of foam, which happens when you take too many hits. It’s Foamstars’ equivalent of being downed and you’re left to slowly roll around in a big ball of bubbles until either an opposing player surfs into you – which knocks you out entirely, costing one of the seven lives and forcing you to restart from the edge of the arena – or one of your team-mates gets to you first, putting you straight back into the fight. But downed enemies are covered in the same-coloured foam as what covers the battlefield so they’re hard to pick out in the frenzy of a firefight, and getting into the rhythm of attacking and keeping your team-mates up and running was more challenging than it should be.
Undoubtedly this is something that will likely get easier over time, and there’s also the possibility it might be adjusted during the remainder of development, but it’s definitely a drawback in the demo I played. That said, Foamstars does have the foundation to be a fun game. The gunplay feels tight and the movement is fluid, and the idea of dramatically changing the battlefield by making bubble mountains that need to be clambered over is one that has huge potential.
Visually it has plenty of flair, mixing the style of Persona with the speed of Jet Set Radio, and it ran smoothly with no stutters, despite the arenas being swamped with foam that constantly changes the shape and surface of the battlefield.
There are more modes to be revealed too, including a single-player game I’m hoping will help players get familiar with the intricacies of Foamstar’s mechanics. Will it be enough to pull players away from Splatoon? I think that’s unlikely, but if it can fulfil its potential in the run-up to release, it might catch the eye of those who don’t have a Switch.
Alex is IGN’s Features Director and Head of UK Studio, and has an unhealthy obsession with LEGO. He used to have a Twitter account before it was shut down.