Geek Preview: Square Enix’s ‘Foamstars’ Charms With Rubber Duck Party Mode, Shoots For Strategic Foamy Fun

Foam is the name of the game in Foamstars, Square Enix’s sudsy team-based shooter that oozes fun and style. It’s colourful, vibrant, and full of life, if undermined by comparisons to Nintendo’s highly popular and chaotic title Splatoon

Square Enix Foamstars

The upcoming adventure does pack its own brand of charm, however, as gathered from a demo session held during last year’s Tokyo Game Show. This sense of fun continued to flow through the veins of its final preview, even if not all of its launch modes managed to hit the mark. 

Instead of the signature Smash the Star mode, all attention was directed to Rubber Duck Party – an equally scintillating jaunt that makes it easy to get into the groove of things, quite literally. There’s the usual versus format, with players sorted into teams of four and battling to capture a giant rubber duck, then pushing it as close to their own spawn point as possible. But there’s a catch: climb onto the DJ’s (yes, it plays and mixes music) shiny yellow head and dance for a few seconds, and you’ll gain a temporary speed boost. 

For Overwatch 2 players, the closest comparison would be the Push mode, complete with the focus on team play and compositions. Unlike the hero shooter, Foamstars has opted to steer clear of a defined role system, preferring to give players the freedom and flexibility of choice.

Square Enix Foamstars Rubber Duck Party

“There are places where certain characters may perform better in, but there are no specific roles such as DPS or tank,” confirms producer Kosuke Okatani in an interview held for Southeast Asia media in Tokyo, Japan. 

“The reason why we made it as such is because we don’t want to limit the player’s gameplay style; we didn’t want to focus on one character being [too] specific.” 

Naturally, there are differences between the roster picks. Eight playable heroes will be available at launch, each with their own weapon type, abilities, and super star skills (otherwise known as Ultimates). Mel-T, for instance, uses a Missile Launcher Type that homes in on enemies and dishes out heavy damage, while the speedy Agito is ideal for flanking with his ability to dive into the foam and ambush opponents from above them. Newcomers may lean more into poster girl Soa’s all-rounded playstyle, which facilitates the spray-and-pray shooting style. 

The variety allows players to explore different synergies on the battlefield, similar to how meta (short for “most effective tactics available”) compositions work in other team-based titles. Adding another layer of strategy to gameplay is the foam – where Splatoon’s ink fits into a two-dimensional plane, the sudsy pile’s three-dimensional nature adds some mass to the mix, turning an offensive weapon into a defensive tool. 

Square Enix Foamstars Rubber Duck Party (2)

Translating into gameplay, this means players can use the foam to build soapy strongholds, either to block off the enemy team’s line of sight, or create a high vantage point. There’s no hiding behind the foam as well, since it can be shot through, and combatants will be able to surf on it with their hoverboards. 

The constant need for repositioning, coupled with the added verticality, brings a dynamic touch to an already frenetic, fast-paced gameplay. With balanced teams in the arena, fights can be intense right down to the wire, especially when a split-second decision has to be made between defending or pushing aggressively. It’s a high-risk-high-reward experience that pervades both the Smash the Star and Rubber Duck Party modes – the former requires teammates to pull back to defend the Star Player, whom the opposing team has to defeat to claim overall victory. 

Likewise, Rubber Duck Party also calls for a balance between attacking and defending. Filling the path with foam that belongs to the team colour (either blue or pink) slows it down, and the same goes for the reverse. Happy Bath Survival, the last multiplayer mode available in the latest hands-on preview, offers the dullest experience, devoid of the same tension and excitement found in the other two modes. 

Featuring two infields and outfields, who are stripped of their abilities, it grants victory to the team that covers more of the map in foam within an allocated time slot. The limited movement – both roles can only move within a fixed space – and removal of character abilities, however, does take a lot of fun out of the equation; it doesn’t help that the rounds are over all too quickly as well. 

TGS 2023: Foamstars Preview (2)

With the eight heroes breathing life into Foamstars, this sidelining takes away some of the liveliness exuded by their bright, colourful designs. The brainchild of Gurihiru, a freelance illustrator unit comprising artist Saski and colourist Kawano, these characters are also paired with an animal companion called a bubble beast, modelled after their respective personalities.

It may appear to be a small detail, but Okatani reveals how the development team was often engaged in heavy discussions over their appearance. Singling out specific examples, he highlights how the shark-loving Agito was assigned to, well, a shark, while the “pop and cute” Mel-T has a unicorn. Meanwhile, Soa proved to be a bit more unique.

“For Soa specifically, I really wanted her to have Spiky, which is a hedgehog,” says the producer. “She’s cute, but also very tough, so we wanted to incorporate these two concepts [together].” 

In fact, these characters will get their time to shine in Square Enix’s upcoming shooter. Despite  being a primarily player-versus-player (PvP) experience, Foamstars also features two PvE modes: Foamstar Missions, and squad missions. The first is a solo adventure, serving as an extension of the tutorial where players can try out the various heroes and learn more about their lore. Meanwhile, the latter allows players to team up with three other combatants, with a hard mode available for genre veterans. 

“We think there will be a lot of people playing since it’s on PlayStation Plus; besides, a lot of Square Enix fans are used to shooter games, so we thought it’d be a kind of a waste if these players didn’t enjoy Foamstars or aren’t used to this kind of shooting genre,” reveals Okatani on incorporating a PvE element, adding that the team has made sure to “create a game where core and casual players will have a fun time playing together”.

At launch, Foamstars will be available on PS Plus as a live-service title. The first year promises both free and premium season battle passes with new cosmetics, characters, maps, and modes, though details remain scarce. In its current state, the sudsy adventure packs a genuinely fun and enthralling time, with one of its biggest charms being that it doesn’t take itself seriously.

It’s something Okatani himself takes delight in. Responding to a question about his favourite game mode, he was quick to quip, “Rubber Duck Party, because you have to do a dance in the middle of an intense battle, which is a little bit silly.” 

Square Enix Foamstars Rubber Duck Party (3)

Still, there are lingering concerns about its long-term appeal and easy-to-stagnate nature – pitfalls that have long plagued the live-service landscape. Foamstars will likely never shake off the comparisons to Splatoon, but hopefully, it gets to stay long enough to build its own audience and incorporate more party chaos. 

Foamstars launches on 6 February for PlayStation platforms.