Just Shapes & Beats Review

Action, arcade, Berzerk Studio, Berzerker Games, Just Shapes & Beats, Just Shapes & Beats Review, multiplayer, Music, PS4, PS4 Review, Rhythm

Just Shapes & Beats. An exquisite and perfectly suited title for this fantastic game, as it quite literally is, just shapes and beats. However, the creativity shown here around those two very simple concepts blew my mind.

At first glance it may look like an intricate, complicated rhythm game, or some type of quirky shmup/bullet-hell game, but it’s actually neither. Just Shapes and Beats works almost like a blend of those two aforementioned genres, but the lovable little square you control has no projectiles to protect itself with and you do not need a sense of rhythm to be able to progress. Every level has the same goal and concept. Survive. Which in truth sounds a little boring, but every level is so fresh, new and exciting, that you genuinely cannot wait to start up that next beat and see what’s waiting for you.

There is also a light platform sub-genre blended into this game’s story mode as well. The story mode is brilliant, telling a simple tale of good versus evil, but with no dialogue. Everything is told through musical tone and 2D pixel-art imagery, later into the game it even becomes emotional, which is a fantastic feat for a game with no dialogue and featuring just shapes and beats. But the story mode has an overworld which you traverse in a rhythmic side scrolling platformer kind of way, instead of just simply selecting a level. In this case, you have to actually make your way to the levels by making timed jumps with the rhythm of the overworld music, and each level you beat affects the overworld, allowing you to traverse even further. This addition was not needed or expected, and I absolutely love that the developers had the creative instinct to implement this into their game, rather than a simple level select screen.

Action, arcade, Berzerk Studio, Berzerker Games, Just Shapes & Beats, Just Shapes & Beats Review, multiplayer, Music, PS4, PS4 Review, Rhythm

So, now I’ve explained the premise and story mode, how exactly do the levels work? Well, every level is a track or beat and the player will control a small square that has two simple actions; move and dash. The level itself is presented on a blank black screen and as soon as the beat starts, get ready! The projectiles, obstacles and enemies all work using the track as a template for their movements. It’s as if everything you’re hearing from the beat, you can see in the form of something to avoid. So, if the track starts with just simple kicks and snares, expect to see something along the lines of area explosions from the kicks and a smaller rising projectile that explodes into smaller projectiles perfectly in time with the snares. If you start to hear the track build ready to drop into a big chorus, expect to see things along the lines of the screen shrinking towards the center, forcing you to move; Or the screen to be gradually filling with more and more things to avoid, affecting your starting position for when that chorus drops and you really need to stay on your toes as things start to fly at you from every angle. But it doesn’t stop there either, as the screen isn’t always stationary. Sometimes a level with have sections where it becomes a side-scroller and you have to avoid things whilst staying on the move, or maybe the screen will rotate and make the player feel disorientated as you have to keep track of your square whilst avoiding a vortex of dangers.

I’m sure reading this has made just shapes and beats sound quite difficult, even somewhat intimidating. But whilst the game certainly has its challenge factor, it is very fair and does a fantastic job of compelling the player to keep going. Every track/beat has a set pattern and clear prompts for the things being thrown at you, so you will constantly be learning on the go where it’s best to position yourself as you start to memorize where enemies and projectiles will be coming from. You also have a progress bar at the top of the screen so you can see how far you are making it through the stage, which also shows checkpoint markers which i personally found very motivating on the more difficult stages. But checkpoints aren’t simply a safe haven to return to when you take too many hits. This was a particular feature I absolutely loved about the game. Every level is a track/beat remember and with this kind of genre of music, it comes with climbs, layers, euphoric drops, etc. So, every checkpoint you reach adds layers to the music, which of course in this situation, makes the level more difficult as it has more sounds and cues to work with, allowing it to add more things for the player to avoid. Yes, again this makes the game sound difficult and intimidating, but the tracks/beats are so catchy that you find yourself wanting to get to that big chorus drop and start racing around the screen anxiously dodging everything that comes your way, as it all feels so satisfying! I don’t think I’ve played a level in this game where my head wasn’t bopping along to the music, even in those more intense levels. Plus if you do manage to take too many hits during a song, instead of it stopping and restarting, it has this rewind feature where you’re almost instantly pulled back to the last checkpoint you reached. Meaning that frustration you felt from dying, is gone before it takes root as the song kicks back in from the checkpoint marker and, before you know it, your head is bopping along again. There is also satisfaction to be found from losing a stage, something very few games manage, in my opinion. In Just Shapes and Beats, if you die three times on a level, you lose; bringing up an ‘it’s over’ screen, with a sad piano piece playing in the background as your square lays there in broken pieces. But you don’t simply press ‘x’ to start again, you have to mash ‘x’ to bring your square back to life, which replaces the ‘its over’ with ‘its NOT over’ and some light uplifting music plays instead of the sad piano, almost giving the player some renewed optimism to try again. There’s also no re-selecting the level either. It throws you straight back in, and it’s here in these moments of starting again that you realize you’re making progress, as you’ve memorized that entire first half of the song up to the checkpoint, and you’re suddenly playing ten times better than your first play through. This feature is absolutely flawless for this kind of game.

I must admit though, the real highlight of Just Shapes and Beats are its boss fights. They work in the same way as the usual levels, but generally speaking they’re far more intense in both beat and difficulty wise, but seeing an enemy with facial expressions and personality that adds to the manipulation of things you need to avoid just gives these levels a bit more flavor, making them the stages you look forward to the most.

Action, arcade, Berzerk Studio, Berzerker Games, Just Shapes & Beats, Just Shapes & Beats Review, multiplayer, Music, PS4, PS4 Review, Rhythm

Once you are done with story mode and the bosses, don’t think this game has no more to offer. There is also challenge mode! Typically speaking, I tend to leave these kind of extra modes alone once I’m done with a game’s story. But here, this challenge mode will have me coming back to play Just Shapes and Beats for a long time to come yet. It’s such a simple, yet rewarding and compelling way to play this game. Challenge mode allows you to play with up to four players, either at home in couch play, online with strangers, or online with friends; all the modes you want to see for a multiplayer version of the game. Choose your mode and then it simply asks you to complete three tracks back to back, which will always be two normal tracks and a boss fight to end with. But it adds in a lot of extra content to keep you coming back. For starters, it’s where you will earn most of your trophies (for those that like to collect them) as the game prompts you to earn different achievements. For example, the first achievement to earn was ‘completing a level without dashing’. Not an easy challenge, but not too difficult either and doing this earned me a trophy and in-game points. The in-game points seemed like simple bragging rights to begin with, but they’re actually affected by how well you perform in levels, and earning a certain amount will unlock new tracks as you go, keeping the game fresh, and interesting. They also include a grading system on each track, based on your performance, and if you look at the track list menu, you will be able to see what the highest grade you’ve achieved is on every individual track. For those perfectionists out there looking to get the highest grade on everything, this is a great way to keep track of your progress and motivate you to keep going.

There is however one minor downside to Just Shapes and Beats, which is such a shame as it was almost a perfect game. There are some niggly issues with the online play. When selecting online play in challenge mode, you’re either thrown straight into a new challenge, or you will join midway through someone else’s challenge. Sometimes the waiting time can be a little lengthy as you have to wait for a track to finish before you can join, but it does give you an interactive loading screen where you can fly around and obtain small amounts of points for your score whilst listening to the track the other players are playing, which i thought was brilliant. The issue is, sometimes when dropping you in, the player will be unable to move and just stuck in one position, even if you’re killed and reload, the movement still doesn’t work, leading to you leaving and having to rejoin. Then if you rejoin and have to wait on another loading screen, it can become an annoyance. If this was a one off, I’d let it slide, but it happened every once in a while, so that leads me to believe it’s a bug the game has that needs patching.

Just Shapes and Beats is an almost flawless experience that can be used as a simple pick up and play game, or one you can spend hours on not realizing how much time has flown by with how much fun it is. Its catchy beats and addictive gameplay make it a game I can see many people enjoying, even the more casual gamers. A stellar indie title and one that I can’t recommend enough!

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Just Shapes & Beats Review
  • Gameplay - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Graphics - 9/10
    9/10
  • Sound - 10/10
    10/10
  • Replay Value - 10/10
    10/10
Overall
9/10

Summary

Just Shapes and Beats is an almost flawless experience that can be used as a simple pick up and play game, or one you can spend hours on not realizing how much time has flown by with how much fun it is. Its catchy beats and addictive gameplay make it a game I can see many people enjoying, even the more casual gamers. A stellar indie title and one that I can’t recommend enough!

Pros

  • Fantastic light game play.
  • Great story mode and level design.
  • Incredibly catchy tracks and beats throughout.

Cons

  • Some minor online issues.