Splatoon is currently the king of third-person area controlled shooting games. But there’s a new challenger on the horizon with Square Enix’s Foamstars.
In 2015, Nintendo revolutionized the third-person arena shooter genre by turning it into an area control game. Instead of eliminating players and trying to kill as many people in a match, players must control as much territory on the map as possible to win. It’s a new way to approach third-person arena shooters, making it kid-friendly. Nintendo has perfected it to the point where there are very few games like it. However, at Tokyo Game Show 2023, Square Enix introduced their new third-person arena shooter Foamstars. And it adds a whole new layer to what Splatoon has already established.
At first glance, Foamstars appears to be another third-person area control shooter. The demo features two four-person teams on a map fighting for control by spraying colored foam all over the map, and characters aren’t killed so much as eliminated within seconds. But when you look at the match a little closer, the outcome of the match has nothing to do with the amount of territory controlled at the end. Instead, there are two stages. The first is to increase your elimination by using your foam shooting weapon and becoming the “star player” of your team. The second is for players to protect their team’s “star player” while trying to eliminate their opponents to win the match.
This may seem confusing on paper but is an extremely fun experience in practice. For example, in the first phase, when players try to achieve elimination points, it’s not just about shooting your opponents. You also have to gain position on the field by spraying foam in your team’s color on the map. It’s similar to Splatoon but has two main differences. First, the demo map has few landmarks. It only has one central structure, two outcrops on opposite sides of the map, and some small hills. So how do you cover up? That’s the second important difference. You make it out of foam. Hills and barriers are both created by shooting too much foam in one spot and being eliminated by opponents shooting in the same area. This makes each match modular in the way it evolves over the course of play.
Of course, this is not a shooting game if you don’t shoot your opponents and eliminate. There was a lot of this throughout the match in Foamstars. You can shoot foam at opponents to slow and eliminate them. However, elimination isn’t strictly based on covering someone from head to toe in foam but by tapping the L2 shoulder button on the PS controller to knock them out. It’s a satisfying experience because there are clear visual cues as to when someone can be eliminated and teammates can save you. This is a welcome feature for the genre and allows players of all skill levels to be entertained.
But if the number of eliminations doesn’t decide the outcome of the match, what does? In a demo at Tokyo Game Show 2023, it eliminated the opposing team’s “star player.” When a team reaches seven cumulative eliminations, it adds a new level to the game. Especially since the “star player” is the best player on the team but not necessarily the player with the most eliminations. As far as I can tell, supporting removal and playing well are also factors in determining who becomes the “star player.” For example, in the third round I played, I was considered my team’s “star player” despite being at a severe disadvantage in terms of movement and camera control. I didn’t take any shots and I wasn’t eliminated. However, what I’m doing is creating cover and opportunities for other teammates to be eliminated. Again, this system allows players of all skill levels to be entertained.
Once the “star player” is determined, the match becomes a crazy race to see which team can eliminate the opponent’s “star player.” The great thing here is that the gameplay is uninterrupted. Instead, there is a small notice identifying the opponent’s “star” player. The only change in format is a novel idea for the genre as it forces a group to communicate with each other and plan tactics. Who is defending and attacking must be informed quickly and effectively to win or lose the match. Although the “star player” can go rogue and try to dodge every attack, that strategy is a race against time. I witnessed this strategy while waiting to play the demo of Foamstars and the “star” worked very well. He dodged all incoming attacks, avoided combat, and let his teammates focus on attacking. But in the end, he was cornered and eliminated.
Tactically, I can see teams doing something you might see in Fortnite. It is a tactic used with teams where all players look the same. In Foamstars, this would be all party members using the same character. The obvious benefit is that there is a 1 in 4 chance that the opponent will eliminate the “star player”. But it comes with the serious drawback of lack of roles between characters as each character has a different role. There are close-range, mid-range, and long-range shooters, all with different special abilities. So it will be interesting to see how players adjust their strategies when the game is released.
If there’s one shooting game I’ve wanted to play for the past decade, it’s Foamstars. It takes elements from various shooting games—generally Splatoon—and reworks them in new and interesting ways. While the game won’t be out for a while, Square Enix will only be running a short open beta from September 30 to October 1, 2023 on PlayStation 5. It’s a shame I don’t have that system because I will be the first to sign up for it. And if you’re a fan of third-person shooters, check out Foamstars.