Shapeshooter has been our nemesis for some time now. It’s been squatting on our game queue for months, demanding a review. But every time we boot it up and give it one more level, we find ourselves losing the will to live. We deeply want to enjoy it – it’s colourful and original, trying something that should, by all accounts, work – but Holy Moly is Shapeshooter a tough game to love.
Shapeshooter may not look like it from screenshots, but it is a tank game. You control that tank, and that means the traditional tank mechanics: independent movement and firing controls. You don’t have to spend long killing Russians in World of Tanks to know that this is often a winner. Moving one way while firing the other is a skill that comes with time, and can be the recipe for some cracking games.
But they can get extraordinarily complicated, so Shapeshooter is also an exercise in minimalism. That’s not only in the sense of the graphics, which reduces the enemies to geometric shapes with googly eyes on them, like they’ve been spawned out of Everything Everywhere All At Once. It’s also in terms of how you move. Because movement is on tracks. So, rather than manipulate the caterpillar tracks of a tank, you are on rails. This is a tank shooter as a rollercoaster.
That focuses you on the shooting, which is welcome, as there are blooming loads of bug-eyed shapes to shoot. Shapeshooter has no chill, tossing wave after wave of them, with little in the way of pacing and occasional slower moments. Which is the first of many criticisms we have of the game.
You do have some control over how you progress. Jabbing the right-trigger sends you forwards, while left-trigger sends you back, all on that same rail. It’s enough agency that Shapeshooter can shove in some obstacles. Spinning blades need to be navigated, as well as intermittent laser walls.
If we are being honest, that would have been enough. There’s enough in that cocktail to keep us constantly bewildered and just about keeping on top of events. But Shapeshooter keeps adding stuff.
Enemies come in two different colours: orange and a delightful fuchsia. Orange enemies are killed with the B button, Pink enemies with the A. So, you’re now moving back and forth, holding back waves of enemies and ensuring that you match their colour.
Their shape makes a difference too. The shapes behave differently, so plectrum-looking shapes move back and forth and can be mostly ignored, while small circles rush you when you’re close. Arrowheads rush you even when you’re not. Bigger shapes just dopily sit there, acutely aware that they can’t fit through most corridors. What the different shapes do is prioritise the action; if you’re not clearing out arrowheads first, then you’re dead.
We will admit that it’s not necessarily complicated, at least not in the comparative sense. Most first-person shooters ask you to memorise and handle more than that. But it’s the combination of a lot to think about, alongside a complete lack of exit strategies, a slow speed, and some awkward button mapping. Often, we were holding onto our pad like a vulture’s foot, awkwardly trying to press multiple buttons at once while sweat trickled down our forehead.
Why do we dislike it so much? Part of it is the speed of everything. As a tank, you are supremely slow in Shapeshooter. Of course, there’s no manouverability either, so you’re a sitting duck that can occasionally waddle backwards and forwards. When a metric duck-ton of shapes start swarming towards you, that lack of mobility really stings. You’re left slowly ambling backwards and trying to hit as many shapes as possible. We always felt like we were on the back-foot, rather than powerful.
That speed is true, too, of the firing rate. Shells fire out of the tank about as fast as we could pick up and throw them ourselves. We never felt like a killing machine. You often feel like only one-hundred percent accuracy would be acceptable. Miss, and you’re in a compounding spiral of mistakes that will send you back to the last checkpoint.
The punishing failure hurts too. There’s the feeling of failure that comes mid-level, as death means you are rewound to a checkpoint with a large number of enemies still to fight. But the real killer, for us, is that you need star coins to access later levels, and those star coins need failure-free and fast completion of levels. You are gated from progressing by replaying the levels, and they were so slow and punishing that – most of the time – we didn’t want to repeat them. We had exhausted them, excruciatingly so, and the idea of grinding them on the off-chance of achieving a higher score didn’t feel great.
It’s the control mapping too. It never feels right. All of the pad is needed at all times, which is an odd fit for a game that felt like it was aiming to strip things back. You’re not actually doing all that much: moving backwards and forwards, plus firing, mostly. So why are there so many awkward interactions? We would have happily tossed away the colour-matching for a start.
If you vibe with Shapeshooter, however, it will treat you well. There’s a lot of content for your £3.29, with multiple worlds and levels, and obstacles steadily introduced. Each level demands replay as mentioned, and those levels aren’t short. Even if you keep a steady pace, they are at least five minutes back to front.
But we can’t muster any enthusiasm to tackle more Shapeshooter levels. That’s down to the movement, mostly. The Shapeshooter tank is a huge, cumbersome beast, and it never feels like it’s enough to deal with the hordes of shapes that come fluttering its way. We felt constantly pegged back, slowly firing volley after volley in the hope that we might move forward, for once, rather than backward.
Strip some of the excess fat off of Shapeshooter, cutting it down from an awkward polyhedron to something more elegant and powerful, and there would be a good game here. But it’s overburdened, and we found ourselves dreading playing at its slow, ambling speed for too long.
You can buy Shapeshooter from the Xbox Store
- Neon, amusement arcade visuals
- Loads of levels to master
- Encourages replay
- Slow to control
- Slow to fire
- Grindy levels
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Purchased by TXH
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
- Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
- Release date - 22 October 2022
- Launch price from - £3.29