Just Shapes & Beats (http://www.justshapesandbeats.com/) is a bullet-hell genre title with a seemingly innocuous aesthetic: you control a small teal blue square avoiding a barrage of magenta colored obstacles, all of which move to the beat of the soundtrack. While the premise sounds insipid, the execution is layered, complex and positively gorgeous. Just Shapes & Beats is a title that’s easy to comprehend, intuitive to play and difficult to master. The bombastic soundtrack and pulsating visuals are sure to enamor even the most jaded of gamers looking for a genuine challenge in the bullet-hell genre.
The primary gameplay is easy to understand-evade the constant deluge of objects vying to collide with your square, pass checkpoints and play through an entire song. The checkpoints are handily denoted in the progress bar at the top of the screen and by a thin blue line in the main play area, however bossfights must be started over completely from the beginning. The onslaught of objects attempting to inhibit your progress move to the beat of whatever song is playing throughout the level, which allows the rhythmically inclined to anticipate attacks (and visual cues assist those who are not so inclined). Additionally, the primary story mode gameplay formula is broken up sporadically by some very light platforming throughout the menu. This slight mechanic variation-which is extremely forgiving and only requires some timing maneuvers-provides a stellar change of pace and allows the player to “breathe” while also building some light narrative aspects in the story mode. Although the gameplay is simplistic enough to understand, the variety of songs, obstacles and platforming moments make Just Shapes & Beats a deceptively deep title.
The primary aesthetic of Just Shapes & Beats is bright and vivacious. While the actual story mode levels and bossfights are primarily composed of teal and magenta, the geometric forms you engage vary wildly. One minute you may be avoiding a flowing, almost watery bar chart, the next attempting to outmaneuver a conglomeration of blocks which looks suspiciously like the “snake” game from archaic Nokia-branded cellphones, and not long after the player may be attempting to evade a large mass of sharply colored lasers. While the primary color palette of the core gamemode may be simplistic, do not allow this fact to lull you into believing the title is trite-each level feels completely unique and never did I feel as if I was simply playing recycled obstacles throughout the duration of the story mode.
That being said, the time spent traversing the story mode menu truly allows the stylish and vibrant animation of the title to shine. For lack of a more apt term, the animation and characters you encounter are decidedly “cute,” and while I understand this term is typically subjective, a quick Google search of the story mode should solidify this scientific assessment. Just Shapes & Beats is bright and bursting with personality, and the stellar soundtrack-which is the primary focus of the title and cannot be extolled enough-compliments the atmosphere perfectly. Obviously, a game entitled Just Shapes & Beats is going to include a heavy emphasis on the soundtrack, and while every song encountered in the UI, menus and story mode had a distinctly “video game” sound, each one felt unique and never does it feel as if you’re playing the same song twice. The intensity of the varied soundtrack contributes significantly to the frantic atmosphere of the core gameplay.
Just Shapes & Beats moves at a blistering pace during most songs and bossfights, and those unfamiliar with the bullet-hell genre may not be entirely at ease with the difficulty the title houses. Anecdotally, both times I saw the title demoed (PAX West 2017 and PAX South 2018), many players struggled with the difficulty the title presented. That being said, the game offers a “casual” mode to lower the difficulty, a “challenge” mode if you’re looking to push yourself from a skills perspective as well as multiplayer support for up to four players. If you’re interested in delving into this particular genre, Just Shapes & Beats is a fantastic title to do so with, considering the easy to pick up gameplay, the vibrant visuals and bombastic video game inspired soundtrack make it quite the attention grabbing game.
Just Shapes & Beats is a title I’d been looking forward to since first encountering it at PAX West 2017. Although I’ve only spent a few hours with the title and completed the story mode, the end result has already exceeded my rather lofty expectations. Just Shapes & Beats is an old school genre game music infused with vibrant colors, a striking and stylish geometric visual style and a slick and bumping soundtrack. Fans of quick thinking and sick beats can do no better than Just Shapes & Beats.