Foamstars Open Beta Party Review

Contributed by DJMMT

Foamstars feels like what happens when a Japanese studio wants to recreate the success of Splatoon for an XBOX/PlayStation audience in the era of Fortnite. That’s not meant to be a criticism. It’s an observation. The game gets some things right. As I was playing it, I found myself saying I wish some of these things were implemented into Splatoon. But it also gets things wrong, leading me to want to go out and buy Splatoon 3 to get this bad taste out of my mouth. That’s the taste of foam by the way.

Visually, I guess I like Foamstars. I’m not in love with the characters designs and limited clothing customization options. You can unlock skins to change color palettes, but you can’t alter the clothing itself outside of preset costumes as part of the skins list. This works fine for some characters, but it’s a major detriment to others. Like there’s a character that’s a barista. I like his design, and his gun is OK, but I hate his clothing. Specifically, his apron. If given the option, I’d absolutely change his apron to a set of dress slacks, which I presume he’s wearing under the apron anyway. Along with costumes, there are tiny cosmetic options as well, such as your player card, stickers, a floating animal familiar, a floating logo for some reason, and your surfboard. Cosmetics are character specific. Meaning you have to manually unlock and set them for each character in the roster.

In general, I like the aesthetic of Foamstars. It’s themed after a Las Vegas nighttime party. The colors are loud, and the map designs are pretty cool. It reminds me of the casino level in Sonic the Hedgehog games. Massive champagne bottles, roulette wheels, and other such Vegas nightlife objects litter the maps to create a fun atmosphere for a party themed game. I appreciate the art style in much the way I appreciate Splatoon’s. It’s friendly and fun rather than realistic and violent. While I did encounter a number of bugs and network errors, I didn’t have any graphics problems while playing the beta.

The audio was fine. I wouldn’t call it particularly memorable, especially considering that it’s a Vegas party themed game, but I didn’t have any complaints about it. The effects are what they need to be. The music isn’t off putting or distracting. I actually really like the announcer’s voice, so kudos to that voice actor. But in general the audio experience was probably the least noteworthy thing about the beta for me. To be fair, that’s often the case with games these days.

I’ll say a little about the writing, but there’s not really much going on in the beta story wise. The gist of it is that the game is actually a party, in Las Vegas, where the foam stars can come together and have a good time. The foam stars are the playable characters, if that wasn’t obvious. I actually really appreciated that the tutorial took the time to clarify what is going on in the world of the game. The character giving you the tutorial plainly states that when you knock out opponents they call them “chills” instead of kills, because you are not killing opponents. You’re just giving them a break from the fun. This is a bunch of people having a good time. They are not enemies having a war against each other. There are a few little tidbits of writing sprinkled throughout the beta, such as an ending video from one of the mascot playable characters thanking you for playing the beta. It’s as much writing as I could have hoped for from a competitive third person shooter with no single player mode. Now, let’s get to the gameplay.

Foamstars feels like a much more technical version of Splatoon with a focus on kills. There are a number of key differences to the general gameplay. For starters, this is a hero-based game. What that means is that there are a limited number (8 in the beta with 4 additional hidden) of playable characters, each with their own weapon and skills. These are not, as far as I can tell, customizable outside of cosmetics. Each team can only use one of any specific hero in a match. Meaning that each side can have Tonix (as shown in the picture) on their team, but neither side can have two Tonix players at the same time on their team. As with most hero-based games, you will like some, hate some, and tolerate some of the playable characters. While I’m fine with the fact that weapon types are hero-locked, I personally wish you could customize their skills.

General movement is the same for all players. You can walk and jump. There is no running and the jump isn’t that great. Meaning that the game is much more about cover and strategic movement than aerial combat. You can make use of high ground though. Interestingly, the foam can pile up and be used as both cover and high ground. That said, manipulating the foam intentionally is not very consistent, which is realistic but annoying for a competitive shooter. Rather than swimming through ink like in Splatoon, you surf over the foam with your surfboard. You move faster over your own foam compared to the enemy foam or no foam at all. You can surf over foam of any height and shape. It’s smooth and easy to control while surfing, but you can’t surf and shoot at the same time. Reloading is done manually, or automatically when you run out of ammo. It has nothing to do with the foam around you. You just reload whenever you want.

As one would expect, different heroes have different types of weapons ranging from dual rapid-fire pistols to a grenade launcher. Skills can vary significantly, but some of them are much more effective than others. There are turrets, grenades, power attacks, and so on. Each hero also has a super skill. It’s basically a big special. Again, some are much better than others. As far as damage ratios and healing, it’s kind of all over the place. Sometimes you feel like you’re dying way too easily and other times you seem to weather everything. There is a way to restore your HP, but it wasn’t clear to me how to make that happen while playing.

While you do have a life bar, hitting zero HP isn’t death. It’s the opportunity to be killed. This is actually a pretty interesting mechanic for a shooter. As the characters aren’t shooting bullets, they’re not actually removing each other’s HP. You’re shooting foam in Foamstars. Losing all your HP doesn’t mean dying. It means getting covered with so much foam that you can no longer move your arms and legs. When you hit this state, you aren’t dead yet. You’re vulnerable to dying, or getting “chilled” as the game calls it. When in this state, you are a ball of foam. You can control your movement slightly, but you move quite slowly and can’t really do anything. While in this state, one of two things can happen. An enemy can finish you off, or an ally can rescue you. The controls to do either are the same. You just ride your surfboard into the vulnerable player. If the vulnerable player is on the enemy team when you surf into them, they get chilled and then respawn after a few seconds, depending on the gameplay mode. If the vulnerable player is on your team when you surf into them, they lose the foam, regain some of their HP, and get launched into the air.

I like the vulnerability chance system. It adds a layer of strategy to the gameplay that most shooters don’t have. Just because you take a player out doesn’t mean you’ve gotten the kill. You, or a teammate, still need to reach them and kick them to finish the job. That comes with risk, depending on where your victim is relative to their own teammates and yours. My only real complaint about this system is that you don’t actually have to finish the job. After a certain amount of time in the vulnerable state, the player dies automatically. Meaning that if you knock a character out and their teammates never help them, you will eventually get the kill automatically. I’m sure some people prefer this, and it definitely shortens the length of matches, but I think it should go the other direction. If you don’t finish an enemy off, they should eventually heal on their own. That would also be more in line with the plot. Over time, the foam would fall off of you. So no finisher shouldn’t automatically lead to death. That said, this is almost certainly a means to keep matches shorter and faster paced.

The beta had two game modes: ‘Smash the Star’ and ‘Happy Bath Survival.’ For one reason or another, the former was clearly favored by the players. I was literally only able to play Happy Bath Survival one time, because I couldn’t get another match. Smash the Star was quick. I could find a new match every time in seconds, so it definitely wasn’t a lack of overall players. The beta implied a total of at least six gameplay modes, but only two were available during the test. Personally, I really liked both game modes from a mechanical level and would love to see them implemented into Splatoon.

Smash the Star is a very creative way to do a kill mode. Two teams of four race to get eight kills first. However, only the first seven kills for either team can be random. Once a team has gotten seven deaths, a ‘Star Player’ is chosen. I’m not exactly sure how the game chooses who the star player is on a team, but it was never me in all the rounds I played. Once the star player has emerged, the opposing team must kill that player to win. The other three teammates can spawn an unlimited number of times. The game doesn’t end until a star player is killed. What this means is that team A can quickly get seven kills and summon a star player before team B gets a single kill. But if team B can protect their star player and proceed to get seven kills, they can turn the entire game around. During my matches, I saw multiple games flip flop for advantage drastically. As players, myself included, started to better understand the mechanics, the game became less about killing and more about protecting your star player. The first match I played ended before I even knew what was really going on. In like three minutes, the other team killed us seven times and took out our star player. But in later matches I saw games go into over time more than once. It’s much more about teamwork and strategy than just going for kills. It’s also important to note that foam is not a factor in winning. While the game does show you the foam distribution at the end of every match, this isn’t Splatoon. A team with a ton of foam on the board has a mobility advantage with their surf boards, but moving through foam on foot is restricting for all players, regardless of what color it is; and foam has no bearing on which team actually wins the match. Only killing the star player determines the winner. While the beta had it where a match would end after just one star player was killed, I assume players will be able to customize this.

Happy Bath Survival was an equally interesting mode, in my opinion, but it was also very different from traditional competitive shooter game modes. This mode also had 4v4 teams, but the gameplay splits teams into pairs. One pair plays on the field against the other team’s pair while the other two pairs of players are on the sidelines. The sidelined players can move around the arena and fire foam while the arena players duke it out for dominance. Sidelined players cannot be killed. The arena players have unlimited lives, but the first team to lose both players simultaneously loses the round. Each match is first to two rounds won. It’s a more complicated, slower-paced mode, but I actually found it refreshingly new.

As this was a beta, I will forgive a lot of the issues I encountered, but this test was riddled with network errors and bugs. I got disconnected in the middle of a match that left all the players stuck on screen in foam vulnerability for more than a minute. My several attempts to play Happy Bath Survival would tell me a match had been found, take me to a loading screen, and then end up giving me a disconnected error every time, other than the one time I got to play it. The game also has a lot of dumb design issues between matches. For instance, to start a match, you have to walk to the opposite side of the lobby training ground and access a helicopter to begin the match making process. There’s no reason for this. Just let me start matmaking from the front of the lobby. The character customization menus could be easier to navigate. It’s not a broken game, but it’s certainly not a polished one either. But again, this was a beta.

Ultimately, playing Foamstars made me miss Splatoon rather than want to play Foamstars, but it also showed me that Splatoon could be better. I really enjoyed the more technical, strategic approach to gameplay I got from this beta. But God do I prefer ink to foam. It’s very clear that Square Enix used foam so they wouldn’t have to contend with getting sued by Nintendo. But foam just doesn’t work as well. It slows down the gameplay, makes it harder to see what’s going on, makes aiming a nightmare, and the projectiles don’t operate the way you’d expect. They did a lot to make sure that it didn’t feel like Splatoon while you are playing. But really it just feels like a broken, less fluid version of Splatoon coupled with limited character and weapons options. To be clear, I don’t hate Foamstars. I think it has a lot of potential. But modeling it after League of Legends and Overwatch as opposed to Splatoon and COD works against it. It really does need to be a Splatoon clone to get me to consider taking it seriously. I do look forward to seeing how the game progresses though.

XPG Terrence

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