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Square Enix wants players to discover Foamstars is more than just a homage to Nintendo’s own arena-painter – and it plans to do it by giving the colourful 4v4 shooter to all PlayStation Plus subscribers at no additional cost.
“First of all, yes,” laughs producer Kosuke Okatani, when asked if he’s bored of comparisons to Nintendo’s arena-painting blaster Splatoon. “There have been many comparisons on the internet, but also, we saw on social media that the people who actually played it saw that it’s a completely different game and I hope you also agree.
“I feel like the mechanic of having the things you shoot stay on the field is very unique,” he added, joking that it would be “a great honour” if fans eventually give the genre a nickname akin to ‘Soulsborne’ or ‘Metroidvania’ (pressed, Square Enix said it refers to Foamstars as an “online party shooter”).
When we first played Square Enix’s surprising new IP at last year’s Summer Game Fest, we came away pleasantly surprised by its original ideas and irresistible presentation – including a thumping party soundtrack by Japan’s Monaca (NieR).
First of all, let’s state the obvious: the game’s first reveal trailer absolutely did look like Splatoon. At a glance, the two games have a lot in common: The characters in Foamstars cover an arena with a substance – foam here, paint in Splatoon – and use it to both benefit their team and hinder their opponents.
However, thankfully, there are clear differences when you actually play it for yourself: Foamstars has a suite of hero characters with their own unique skills and abilities, and the foam isn’t a simple recolouring of the environment like Nintendo’s game, but a 3D object you can use to build paths and reshape the battlefield.
Playing Foamstars feels unique, frantic and often tense, as the two squads of colourful heroes surf around the arena, attempting to eliminate their opponents by covering them in enough foam, then scrambling to physically smash them out of the arena, before an enemy teammate does the same to revive them instead.
However, from the start there was justified concern around whether Foamstars could survive in what is an ultra-competitive genre littered with short-lived flops – some of which came from Square Enix itself. That concern was heightened by the fact that the game is exclusive to PlayStation consoles – there is no PC version – which adds a further difficulty modifier to its chances of finding a sizable audience.
Thankfully, at a press event in London this month, Okatani-san and game director Chikara ‘Rickey’ Saito eased those concerns somewhat by revealing that Foamstars will launch directly into PlayStation Plus on February 6, giving subscribers access to the game at no additional cost.
What changes were made after the beta?
Okatani: We got tons of great feedback from the beta that made us feel like we’re creating a good thing and can continue. We haven’t made changes to the core mechanics of the game, but we have made some minor changes.
Saito: One of the things we changed, for example, was with the character Mel T. During the beta, she wasn’t very strong, so we simply made her stronger, and with the character Jet Justice, we made his skills easier to control. With all the other characters, we looked at every single skill and adjusted their timings, how they control etc, so that they all fit together in the game.
Okatani: We also saw on social media that there were some players who were having trouble matchmaking. We looked into the reason for that, and we’ve already fixed it. So, through the open beta, we were able to make minor adjustments and also identify the matchmaking issue.
For a month after release, everyone with a PS Plus membership will be able to download the game for free, after which it will be sold for $30. You need only glance at the history of failed service titles to see that this kind of arrangement is huge for an online game attempting to establish itself in a crowded market.
“Of course, with a PvP game like this, the biggest risk for us is that there aren’t enough people playing it,” explained Okatani. “So we negotiated with Sony to get the game included in PlayStation Plus.”
Rich Briggs, Square Enix’s executive director of publishing strategy, called the PS Plus deal “an easy win” for Foamstars, and said he hoped it would help the game quickly establish the network of players it will surely need to survive.
“It’s a big part of how we can build that Foamstars community right out of the gate – making sure that we can have the entire PS Plus install base have access to the game for free for a full month, and you can keep it as long as you’ve got a valid subscription,” he said. “When we get those players experiencing it, that becomes our community for the long-term. Having that really big launch just felt like an easy win.”
During our visit to Square Enix, Foamstars’ development team also reassured it would back the game with at least a year’s worth of content, with plans for both free and Premium Season Pass content (the latter of which will be reserved for non-gameplay items such as cosmetics).
Season Pass progression occurs by earning XP from PvP battling, completing missions, or achieving challenges. As has become standard in most online games, with each tier unlocked, players are rewarded with items.
“The system [we’ve adopted] has been used by many modern games, so it’s going to be very familiar to all the players enjoying the game,” Okatani explained.
Briggs added: “The key thing here is making sure that anything that’s tied to core gameplay – a new character, mode, or map – having the dual season pass structure means that every user will get those for free, so we’re not segmenting the players, and then for those who want to take it a step further with more cosmetic items, or the ability to unlock characters faster, we do offer that option.”
The game’s producer said that while there is an overall plan for Foamstars’ first year of content, the team wants to take into account feedback from players and make adjustments based on that.
Of course, any avid player of online games will also be wary of what could happen should the game not take off immediately. Briggs was noncommittal when asked whether could plans could change – positively or negatively – based on how launch goes.
“Right now we’ve announced that we have a year of support planned, but that obviously means that depending on what we see from players and the game’s success, we can be flexible on what that means in terms of moving beyond that year,” he said. “Other than that, today we’re focusing on the fact that we have a year’s worth of content out of the gate that’s going to be available.”
Square Enix held a Foamstars open beta last September and says it’s already acted on the feedback received, such as by tweaking the abilities of each character and improving network stability.
In our hands-on with the near-final game, we got to try a few new modes not featured in the beta, which you can see featured in the video embedded on this page. The first, Rubber Duck Party, quickly became a favourite. Here, teams must race to the centre of the stage and fight for possession of a giant, record-scratching rubber duck. A player must then claim the plastic idol by dancing on its head to make it move towards the opposition’s goal.
More pleasing to those who like Foamstars’ vibrant aesthetic, but can’t be dealing with competitive online play, is confirmation of single-player and co-op modes. These come in the form of familiar wave-based PvE combat, in which you (and if you choose, as squad) must protect Bath Vegas (which thankfully is based on Las Vegas, and not Bath) from an onslaught of Bubble Beasties in a series of randomized wave attacks.
“Square Enix held a Foamstars open beta last September and says it’s already acted on the feedback received, such as by tweaking the abilities of each character and improving network stability.”
Who made the soundtrack?
Okatani: The soundtrack was created by a company called Monaca, which worked with us on titles such as NieR. Because of the theme of this game, we wanted to make the music something you could dance to, and I personally have loved dancing since I was a student, so I told Rickey-san to leave that part to me. I wrote up the planning documents and dealt with Monaca.
Intriguingly, it does appear that the game’s development team intends to offer some form of story content here through a nightclub-like hub world in which you can have conversations with the game’s heroes.
Okatani suggested the team could add more single-player and co-op-focused content during the post-launch period, if it’s well received by players.
“First we wanted to establish this game as a new IP and focus on the PvP element,” he said. “On the other hand, we do expect fans of Square Enix RPGs to look at this game and want to try it out, and maybe find it’s too hard for them.
“So for players like that, so that they can get used to the game and the PvP side of the game, we introduced Mission Mode where they can play by themselves and see conversations between the characters.
“… Since this is a game we will continuously work on, if we see that introducing more single-player-focused elements would benefit the game, then we would definitely consider it.”
Who knows, if Square Enix’s game proves a hit with players, this could be just the beginning of a thriving Foamtoon genre.