A very unassuming title, Just Shapes & Beats was one of my most anticipated titles after speaking a very brief time with it at PAX East 2017. Unlike most rhythm titles that follow a traditional style of playing along with musical tracks, you are merely trying to survive against an onslaught of pink shapes in the same vein of a bullet-hell shooter. Every musical note of each song is beautifully rendered through the use of shifting/exploding shapes of different sizes, requiring you to dodge and dash your way through the chaotic rhythmic action and boss battles. That’s right; the game features fully functional boss encounters that will have you cranking your speakers to 11 and banging your head along to the beats.
The title of the game truly represents the nature of what the game entails, namely shapes and beats. Through the story mode (which can be played with others locally), you navigate your rectangle through a maze of pink objects cluttering the screen, all in tune with the music. The visual style while simplistic is highly effective, evoking memories of Geometry Wars, which is an excellent company to be in. In fact, since you are dodging and dashing through the levels, it feels like attempting a pacifist mode run.
Most of the time you are given clues or tells on where the next pink shape of death will appear, either by flying across the screen or fading in from the background. These muted colors are safe zones and won’t harm you until they become the deep rich neo pink that will break your little shape apart. I was glad to see that you don’t die in a single hit, and instead, you’ll see chunks of your form fly off as you have four hitpoints and three lives to spare. If you get hit too many times, you’ll rewind to a previous checkpoint. Boss battles don’t include any checkpoints, so you’ll have to be precise with your dashes in order to survive. Sometimes it's quite easy to avoid the death zones, but when you are up against pink bullets and cannons repeatedly firing at the same time, you need to avoid large pink lines appearing in a set pattern across the screen, calling things chaotic is an understatement.
There is no other way to say it, but Just Shapes & Beats is a hard game to complete, even after thinking you know the pattern, it's not an easy task to survive. Berzerk also included a casual mode option to the story mode experience. Doubling the number of hitpoints you are provided, making it a bit easier in the process. There is also the inclusion of a challenge run mode, bumping up the difficulty and letting you play locally with others or even online. Over the course of three tracks, you’ll compete for the best score, although you are working in unison to complete the levels. As mentioned earlier, others can resurrect you by a simple touch if they reach you before you float off-screen. However, you only have a single hit point, making sure your precise and quick with your movements.
Just Shapes & Beats is an enjoyable rhythmic bullet-hell experience, best played with others either online or locally, but still a great deal of fun alone. It’s a different take on the genre and a refreshing experience that will have you up and moving with the beats. The developers have covered just about everything they could in the game, from a local and online multiplayer to a more straightforward easy/casual mode.
Note: Just Shapes & Beats was reviewed based on a digital PC copy of the game, provided by the publisher.