There have been many shoot-em-ups that have come and gone over the long arch of video game history, which makes it truly difficult to disrupt the genre. The folks at Berzerk Studio have done just that with Just Shapes and Beats. The name sounds minimal, but the game is one of the most intense shmups to be released in recent history. One very important wrinkle is that the game removes the shooting from the shmup. Players must dash, dodge, dip, duck, dive and dance their way through what is best described as a modern playable interactive Winamp visualization plugin.
Getting the Most out of Minimal Design
Berzerk Studio has done a masterful job of creating a two-dimensional world out of music. There is an attention to detail in the level design that is super immersive and incredibly difficult. Much like a rhythm game, practice will make perfect and Just Shapes and Beats rewards players who learn the levels.
Various shapes will appear to the beats as players navigate their onscreen rectangular character through the onslaught of levels. There are checkpoints, and a progress bar at the top of the screen to inform the player of their progress and just how close they came to clearing the level before dying. Players get three chances to clear a level before they have to restart from the beginning.
The way that Just Shapes and Beats handles failure is very encouraging. The first two times players die, the screen displays an "It's Over" message, which changes to "It's Not Over" as players mash the A button. This is a nice departure from other games that make players feel bad every time they die.
The Dopest Beats
Just Shapes and Beats doesn't just have great music. Each level is designed from the ground up with a focus on a specific song. This attention to detail shines when a song's buildup coincides with something cool on screen or when the level transitions flawlessly with the music. Players have to learn the way levels react to songs, much like gamers have to memorize turns in a racing game. This leads to a ton of replay value, and also some controller breaking moments of frustration.
Music goes beyond individual levels in Just Shapes and Beats. The overworld, which is similar to Super Mario Bros. 3, features environmental music as well as some more immersive beats that kick in during traversal. One of my favorite moments in the game involved sailing to the next area with my new buddy the sailboat.
Berzerk Studio has done an amazing job of using music to heighten the story being told in Just Shapes and Beats. Music is an emotional artform and the game turns that up to eleven with some very heartfelt moments. One particular level that pulled on my heart strings was the song "Close to Me" when my square-shaped pal tried to resist fighting me to the death.
The music in Just Shapes and Beats is a celebration of all electronic music. Fans of House, Techno, Trance, Dubstep, Industrial, and Drum & Bass will have a fun time playing this game. There are very few games that keep my head bobbing the whole time, and this game does a fine job of that. Kudos to all of the artists who contributed their music to this project as the playlist comes together as a crucial element to telling the game's story.
It Really Whips the Llama's Ass
Just Shapes and Beats is a hidden gem in this year's long list of video game releases. Its appeal transcends fans of specific genres as it borrows inspiration from various iconic game franchises. There is a familiarity that exists in the game as players try to take down the evil pink energy that has infected the world. The game's story and music are masterfully intertwined in a surprising and delightful campaign that challenges players while remaining fun. There is even a new game + that challenges the player to complete levels without dashing once and a Playlist mode that lets players go back to their favorite levels. If that wasn't enough, there is also online and local multiplayer that allows players to go head-to-head with their friends. Berzerk Studio has create a truly fantastic game that will have players coming back for more.
This review is based on a download code provided by the publisher. Just Shapes and Beats is available on digital stores now, for $19.99. The game is rated E for Everyone.