Monday, June 4

Review: Just Shapes & Beats [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Music and rhythm games have always been a favorite of mine… at least when they’re good. A solid selection of funky tunes can really get me into the zone. I remember seeing Just Shapes and Beats in the Nindie Showcase video and then at PAX and not being quite sure what to make of it. The minimalistic graphics looked pretty cool, the music certainly pumped out with intensity, but watching the gameplay was a bit of a puzzle.

The reason for the confusion is tied to the fact that Just Shapes and Beats isn’t quite like anything you’ve played, at least not with this combination of elements. There’s no doubt that the music is vital and a central part of the overall gameplay experience. It absolutely drives the action and the generally trippy / unique visuals. That said this isn’t a rhythm game, though perhaps you’ll find yourself using your dodge on the beat it’s not terribly necessary. That’s because down at its core this is a bullet-hell dodging game, just without you being able to shoot back at anything. The result is something both familiar and new with style for days.

Initially you’ll most likely want to play through the Story Mode, which walks you through a sort of semi-interactive experience moving through an overworld-like map. Most of the time you’re just moving onto the next challenge but there are also action sequences tied to the map screen you’ll need to work through that add some flavor. Most levels have multiple checkpoints, a sort of visual theme to compliment the music, and will challenge you to keep out of colored areas or hit by anything that isn’t the background color. Fortunately most of the time zones that are about to light up will turn to a washed out shade before becoming fully activated but as things get crazier it won’t feel like much time at all. You can simply move with the joystick, tap the button while in-place to move over slightly, or press the button while moving in a direction to leap further. Nothing terribly complex, just a need to stay alive. Online and local multiplayer are also supported and considering the challenge the game throws at you it may be your best bet to learn, unlock some tunes, and get some command of effective strategies. The best part is that in multiplayer it’s a cooperative affair as players who lose health and get knocked out can be revived by anyone simply touching them. Scoring is individualized but if anyone on your team makes it through everyone at least gets some points.

If there’s a concern for the game it would be whether people who don’t usually play shooters will be able to get the hang of evading so many things so quickly. Playing in Story mode the pretty brutal boss battles early on may warrant a look at turning on Casual Mode if you’re finding them too demanding. This does nothing to make it inherently easier, you’ll just find your hit points are doubles. Though this is hardly any guarantee for success it does at least up your odds. A nice feature is that even if you turn on Casual Mode to get by a tough board you’ll always have the option to then turn it back off.

Overall, it’s extremely hard for me not to smile while playing Just Shapes and Beats, even when some of the boss battles are absolutely kicking my butt. With some experience under your belt or simply some practice through remembering the major patterns in general all levels can be conquered, just some are definitely harder than others. An absolutely game-changing revelation I had while playing in Online mode, and would watch players who were obviously much more experience than I was, is that in many cases life can be easier simply staying still if you know the right spot in the right map. If done successfully this can mean simply hitting the button to dodge periodically rather than trying to move and keep track of everything going on around you. It takes some practice and discipline but there’s no arguing with the results they got. If you enjoy great music, a load of surprises, and just a bit of craziness Just Shapes and Beats is a unique and very worthwhile experience on Switch!

Score: 9

  • An absolutely outstanding soundtrack
  • Both online and local multiplayer are cooperative and can be a fun challenge to be the best
  • A unique blend of bullet-hell dodging and often mesmerizing on-screen graphics
  • Casual mode, rather than giving anything away, doesn’t really penalize you but also doesn’t remove the challenging gameplay… it just doubles your health

  • Some people won’t be bullet-hell fans or may find it all overwhelming
  • There are definitely some steep hills and valleys in the overall challenge from level to level in places