“If music is the food of love, play on”, once said a young playwright from the West Midlands, UK. He had a point, but I don’t think he was referring to the new musical bullet-hell experience of Just Shapes & Beats.
It’s all about the music in this game and it will determine not just whether you love it or not, but whether you will live, die, or at times, lose your mind. But one thing is true from the quote – you will want to play on even though your eyeballs are dry and you are dreaming about the electronic beats at night. Just Shapes & Beats is one of those games that captures your heart and soul. It’s addictive, difficult, and great.
Some of the best concepts in gaming history are the simplest ones. Just Shapes & Beats puts you in charge of a small cube in a 2D world and your job is not to get hit across the various levels, dodging other coloured shapes that are spread across the world. You have no attack against the shapes that are bombarding you in legion across the levels. All you have is a dodge button that can be used to propel yourself quickly away in any direction. Your job is to stay alive for a certain amount of time, keeping a close eye on the progression bar at the top of the screen. Simple yes? NO. YOU WILL DIE. A LOT.
Dying is not as frustrating as you would think in Just Shapes & Beats. Maybe I’ve spent too long in the Elden Ring world, but this game is enjoyable and addictive; death is just a part of it. Every time your little cube gets hit, its shape gets knocked down until it’s a little dot on the screen – one more hit, it’s game over and you start the level again.
Just Shapes & Beats borrows musically from the great rhythm games like Rez, but is completely its own thing. The music is integral to the game, when the attacks and rhythm of the chaos on screen are choreographed by the music itself. You will have to make an early decision whether to evade the enemies, utilising sound or visuals or both. By the time I repeated certain levels I could almost guess the attacks by the beats and variations in the soundtrack.
The enemies are so varied, from exploding fireworks with shrapnel flying out in all directions, to laser beams crossing up and down across the screen. There are chainsaws or all types of evil coming at you. Then there are the boss levels where monsters with huge arms are formed, looking to knock you out. You need your wits and brains to be working overtime to counter the attacks and avoid trouble. There are checkpoints on each level across the progress bar at the top which makes life a little easier, but too many deaths and you have to start again from the beginning. You will need to constantly be on guard.
There are a few modes to take in throughout Just Shapes & Beats. First is the story mode which takes you through all the levels in a linear journey with boss battles and different locations. Then there is challenge mode which has a local couch option thrown in across normal and hardcore. A public mode will let you connect online with others to play with. Finally, there is party mode where you can just play on an endless mode with no challenge and it’s easy as pie. The choice is yours.
The visuals of the game are breathtakingly simple, with just a collection of shapes on a 2D screen. It’s the way they are used, in terms of colour, placement, and how they coincide with the music, which makes it so complex and fun. You’ll need to note the photosensitive warming at the beginning and an option to turn some of the strobe effects off, but accessibility is high. The level design is excellent too, as are the UI and menus.
And then we get to the audio and as you might expect, this is If you are not a huge fan of electronic dance/trance music then you might be in trouble, but even though, each and every track will have you hooked, as you feel the vibe and work perfectly in tandem with the gameplay.
Just Shapes & Beats is extremely difficult to master and the later levels will make you cry, laugh, and then cry again. But it is extremely well crafted and superbly developed. It’s a shame that the multiplayer side of things is quiet, but whether you play on your own, or with friends locally, this is a blast of a game that is as addictive as hell.
Just Shapes & Beats is on the Xbox Store