Berzerk Studios’ Just Shapes and Beats has been an interesting story within the gaming industry. The game has been in development for several years, appearing at a number of indie gaming conventions but without any sort of official release date. In fact, we’ve seen it so often at events that we began to theorize whether or not it would ever see a release date.
But last week, lo and behold, the game finally arrived, and after spending so much time in development over at Berzerk Studio, we can honestly say that it’s become far greater than what we’ve tried out so many times at demo stations. Just Shapes and Beats does a whole lot with so very little, and it’s a tour-de-force in indie gaming. Be prepared for a challenge, though.
The game combines bullet-hell type shooter action with music and rhythm games. You control little shaped orbs across a game board as you avoid attacks from all sides that play along to the beat of a song. Their patterns vary, from space worms making their way from the center of the screen to gigantic tidal waves of red water trying to crush you every chance they can get. Each stage is different from the next, making Just Shapes and Beats a virtual smorgasbord of creativity and invention.
Fortunately, you’re not screwed into just sitting there and taking hits. Your character, the nameless shape that they are, has the ability to dash, allowing them to skim through attacks unscathed. And there are a certain number of hits you can take. After that, if you run out, you can either start back at the last checkpoint or, if you’re playing with friends, get regenerated if there’s still one left standing.
I’ll just say it now; you’re going to “die” a lot in Just Shapes and Beats. That’s because each stage is more diabolical than the last, going all out to kill you with everything from kung fu warriors to gigantic creatures that try to crush you with their claws. But kudos to Berzerk Studio for keeping it interesting with its design, rather than leaning on the same old thing for each stage.
In fact, the Story mode actually says a lot without really saying anything. Your little hero character is responsible for reviving a world that’s been taken over by a demon force that’s managed to rip apart a tree that’s given life to it. By reassembling it, you have a chance to make up for its screw-ups, although you’ll eventually have to contend with it again while trying to stay in one piece.
This is the best way to unlock new challenges for the game in its own separate mode, and these are even more difficult than the main stages. But they add fundamental replay value to the game, as you find yourself continuing to go back for one more try if you get beaten by something, only to find something new stopping you in your tracks. It’s not impossible, and hardly frustrating. But you’ve got some work to do.
There’s also a Casual mode, so if you prefer to learn the basics of some songs without penalty you can do so. You won’t unlock anything here, but it’s nice to kick back with if you’re not necessarily in the mood for an uphill climb.
Just Shapes and Beats has simple yet highly accurate controls (just moving around and dashing) that work extraordinarily well as you make progress through it. Again, things can get difficult, particularly on your own, but it’s never to the point that you want to hurl the controller across the room. Berzerk Studio nailed the gameplay style by doing just a few things with it.
Not to mention the visual style. Just using shapes (as the title proclaims), this game manages to look dazzling. The art style is really something else and the way characters bounce around to life is nothing short of incredible. Plus the layout of the world in Story Mode is imaginative, to say the least.
But what will truly hook you is the music. There’s a sweet collection of 8-bit tunes here that will easily grow on you, especially during boss battles. A few EDM tunes are included for good measure, but none of them are to the point of annoyance. It’s all a worthwhile soundtrack that mixes in with the on-screen antics beautifully. There are hardly any sound effects outside of that (a bang here and there), but they aren’t really needed.
Playing solo is fun, but again, it has its fair share of difficulty if you bite the dust. Multiplayer is the way to go here. You can team up with four folks locally and have a blast; but the great option here is online. We were able to pair up with groups quite easily during our sessions; and even without voice chat, we coordinated movements and saving each other like pros. We can’t guarantee every session will be like this, but Just Shapes and Beats’ online play is highly accessible.
In conclusion, Just Shapes and Beats may have taken an eternity to come out of development, but it’s proven to be worth the wait. Its design is off the charts; its soundtrack is highly memorable; and its gameplay is kinetic and, at the same time, exciting. Not to mention that the game is a complete gas with multiplayer, whether you have local friends or are trying your luck online. For something so simple, it manages to pull out pure extravagance. This is easily one of the best indie releases for Nintendo Switch this year and it’s going to take an awful lot to top it.
And we don’t mean just shapes and beats.0comments
WWG’s Score: 4.5/5
Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.