The more I played Foamstars, the more I would sigh deeply and think about how it should be a better game than it is. There's a foundation for something great in this 4v4 competitive third-person bubble-blasting shooter. It's dripping in personality and there's a clear sense of what it wants to be. Unfortunately, some fundamental quirks, limited game modes, and borderline-predatory microtransactions wash away a lot of this game's positives.
Mr. Bubble (or Ms. Bubble)
The premise for Foamstars is delightfully silly. The game is set in the bombastic party central known as Bath Vegas. The aesthetic is basically, "What if every day is New Year's Eve?" There's a lot that can be said about this game (and we'll get to it, trust me), but I can't say the setting is boring, even if the main hub is mostly lifeless.
The disappointment, unfortunately, starts with the game's roster of titular Foamstars. While the setting feels novel, the individual characters feel like they're written straight out of notes from a focus group. Competitive esports gamer? Check. Influencer? Check. Faux superhero? Check. And on and on it goes. The only thing that stands out about any of these characters is their outfits, which at least seem to fit the Bath Vegas party atmosphere.
Foamstars is mainly centered on its online multiplayer modes, but before discussing those, it's worth noting that there is a single-player component. Foamstar Missions are meant to introduce players to the game's main mechanics, but they sadly do so in the most underwhelming manner possible. Solo missions involve taking each character out for individual tower defense-style horde runs against waves of Bubble Beasties. While the multiplayer can be brutally unbalanced, solo Foamstar Missions go so far in the other direction that they feel boring. It's just the same waves of dull enemies with the same attacks, slowly approaching with the same movement patterns. Before long, I was launching attacks before they even spawned in and winning waves in seconds.
Worse, when the missions get that boring, it draws attention to the game's horrendous dialogue and uninspired soundtrack. The script gets outright atrocious with dumb jokes and forced banter, and the voice acting doesn't make it any better with awful delivery that sounds like people are reading straight off a teleprompter. Combine this with music that feels like it's straight off an office building elevator, and I was ready to put the TV on mute at several points.
There's already been way too much focus given to Foamstars' single-player component, but let's leave off on this note. The game notes that Foamstar Missions are meant to help players learn the game and learn each character in order to prepare them for multiplayer. Well, they don't really do that well either. All the single-player missions do is teach individual character attacks, but they don't go the extra mile to teach players how to apply those attacks in more advanced scenarios. Nor do the missions adequately teach different techniques like building bubble walls for cover or adjusting to ever-changing terrain. As a preparation tool for multiplayer, Foamstar Missions come up way short.
Let's finally discuss Foamstars' main online multiplayer. There have been many comparisons to Splatoon leading up to this game's release. Going back to the times I've previewed the game and tried it out for myself, I was adamant that it was no Splatoon clone. I stand by that. Foamstars is its own thing and, to Square Enix's credit, the game tries several different ideas. To score eliminations (or "chills" as the game puts it), players must cover opponents in foam and then surf into them to essentially pop them. While the object isn't to cover the arena in friendly foam, it reduces the opposing team's speed. Plus, the idea that players can build layers of bubbles in order to put up traversable walls and create cover from enemy fire is genuinely interesting. Foamstars feels different because of that and it grew on me the longer I played it.
I can even appreciate what Square brought to the table with its game modes. Smash the Star is a fun idea that tinkers with elements of a standard Team Deathmatch and later mixes in a victory condition centered on a VIP-type objective. That's not something that's done every day. Plus, the game does attempt to add a few extra bells and whistles to standard survival and payload modes so that they don't feel so run-of-the-mill. I can appreciate the effort there.
All that sounds positive, which makes the negatives I'm about to dive into hurt that much more.
The gunplay in Foamstars is painfully subpar. Each of the game's characters uses a different type of blaster, which taps into the foam that they naturally generate from their bodies. Don't... ask...! Anyway, most of the game's guns fire in different patterns or arcs and it's often hard to tell if you're having any tangible impact on enemies. It's made so much worse by slow-as-molasses reloading speed. Character speed isn't any better, which the game notes can be alleviated by using their surfboards, but there usually isn't enough friendly foam around for surfing to be very effective.
While the multiplayer modes show some strong design choices, there aren't enough of them to maintain a sense of engagement. The fun of Smash the Star does start to wane after a while, especially as sessions can feel unbalanced over time. The other two game modes (Happy Bath Survival and Rubber Duck Party) are on rotating schedules. There's a PvE horde mode that works much better as a co-op activity than the half-baked single-player, but even that fun doesn't last very long. That doesn't leave a lot else to do aside from a few seasonal events. Plus, regardless of the game mode, there isn't enough variety in maps to keep sessions feeling fresh.
On the subject of seasons, that leaves one more aspect of Foamstars to talk about and it's the game's microtransactions. While the game did launch as a free PlayStation Plus title, this is not a free product. It will eventually go back to a regular $29.99 USD, which makes the multitude of microtransactions, some of which sell for more than the actual price of the game itself, especially egregious. That's already on top of premium battle passes. Square doesn't try to shove these down anyone's throats the way that some of live service gaming's worst offenders will, but the sheer number of microtransactions and their price tags are worth mentioning and it is hard not to cringe over them.
I like to think that I've played enough Quietest Lobby candidates over the years to know one when I see it. Foamstars is already fighting an uphill battle on several fronts with a lot of stiff competition. Limited game modes, some iffy mechanics, unmemorable characters, and an underwhelming single-player mode do not do it any favors, nor do the jaw-dropping microtransactions.
It's a shame because I truly believe there's potential in this game. I had fun with Smash the Star. I think the faux Vegas presentation works. Also, this game goes out of its way to be positive, encouraging players to be good sports, cheer each other on, and give postgame kudos in an effort to create a friendly atmosphere. There are a lot of negatives that can be levied on Foamstars, most of it merited, but I can't say this game doesn't have an identity. It tries. It has an idea of what it wants to be, but the execution is ultimately lacking.
Foamstars is a lot of unrealized potential. It's like getting excited about a bubble bath only for the bubbles to quickly dissipate and leave behind only some filthy bath water.
This review is based on a PlayStation copy purchased by the reviewer. Foamstars is free for the month of February for PlayStation Plus members, after which it will be available on PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 for $29.99 USD. The game is rated T.
- Creative idea with some fun gameplay
- Fun setting
- Positive atmosphere
- Subpar gunplay
- Limited game modes
- Unmemorable characters
- Lifeless hub area
- Underwhelming single-player
- Cringeworthy voice acting
- Egregious microtransactions
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Foamstars review: Sorry to burst your bubble
Ooof, I was interested to see where this game landed but I don't think I saw this review coming.
Dang. I saw that come up on PlayStation Plus, but it seems like a waste of time even for free.
Seemed that way even when it was first announced
I agree with everything in this review, I found it very disappointing.
I didn't make it past the intro missions. It's terrible