Sometimes in the bid to define what makes a good game, it’s easy to lose sight of the essence of gaming – to experience sheer, unrestrained joy in its purest form. A rich narrative, breathtaking visuals, and refined gameplay mechanics are undoubtedly important, but it’s the fun factor that forms the bedrock of the craft.
Square Enix’s Foamstars seeks to whip up a great time, and with a simple formula to boot. Taking a leaf out of Splatoon’s book, the third-person shooter pits players in a four-versus-four match-up, where they’ll have to hop on their skateboards, shoot their opponents (and the surroundings) with either blue or pink form, and claim victory.
There are some distinctions, however, that play into a different brand of enjoyment. For one, elimination isn’t secured by simply firing at members of the other team, but by surfing into them after they are pelted into a foam ball. Spraying foam on the map works more like a strategic benefit than an end objective – in addition to slowing down the opposing team (players surf faster on their own colour), it can be used to build soapy strongholds to block shots, a raised platform for snipers, or other similar structures.
More notably, individuals will be able to give their teammates a second lease of life. When the ‘help’ prompt pops up, they can surf into their felled comrades and bring them back to the lively, chaotic battlefield. There also are a total of eight different characters to choose from, with their unique kits allowing for varied play styles and tactical approaches. No switching of guns here, too: the type of equipped firearm depends on the chosen avatar, each boasting two abilities and a signature special move.
All of that culminated into a brief but delightful 20-minute preview at Tokyo Game Show 2023. Every session of Foamstars was a thrilling ride, often leading up to an intense climax and satisfying clutch moments, even if it can be difficult to follow the frantic on-screen activity. Almost immediately, it’s clear that learning the character’s range, utility, and skill set holds the key to victory, and it’d likely take a few rounds before one is able to hit the groove.
Playing as the cool-as-cucumber Rave Breaker and the stylish, athletic Soa yielded a sufficiently distinct experience. Where the former equips a wide-spray weapon (aka lots of foam) and can dive into the soapy terrain to hide from shots or ambush opponents, the latter shoots fast with dual pistols and has the ability to do a twirling jump through the air that emits bubbles. Meanwhile, the shotgun-wielding Jet Justice is most effective at close-range, so there’s never really a one-size-fits-all strategy that suits the whole roster.
Adding to the game’s dynamic nature is the feature to swap out characters mid-match, and the various multiplayer modes that help to keep things fresh. Smash The Star, the mode available in the hands-on demo, tasks both teams with seven eliminations; once that’s done, a member will be appointed as the Star Player, whom teammates have to protect. Knock out the opposing team’s Star Player, and it’s a win in a bag.
It all made for an exhilarating and fun time, bogged down slightly by some niggling issues. As mentioned earlier, the fast-paced shooting action – coupled with the sea of bright blue and pink and some of the character’s abilities – can lead to a busy, scattered visual interface, while the inability to reload when surfing along the foam or into a trapped enemy is a little unintuitive. Still, there are unique ideas here that could find favour with casual gamers.
Comparisons to Splatoon are inevitable, but don’t let that undersell the Foamstars experience. Despite facing stiff competition from its Nintendo counterpart, Square Enix’s unexpected gem is a heck load of fun that easily causes excitement to bubble over. In its current state, the party shooter may lack the allure to convince a switch from those already playing existing titles in the genre, though the chances will certainly be higher if more DLCs, modes, or special content are in the pipeline. For newcomers, the adrenaline rush is palpable, best experienced in the presence of good company.
Foamstars is releasing sometime in 2024, with open beta running from 29 September to 1 October.
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