Just Shapes & Beats (Switch eShop) Review
I recently attended a gig filled to the brim with electronic artists who each had their own flavour of synthesisers and beats – all the while I was thinking to myself how great their tracks would be for Just Shapes & Beats, the rhythm-based audiovisual assault on Switch.
Forming the crux of Just Shapes & Beats is its single-player story, following a small 2D square attempting to restore its world distorted by an aggressive monstrosity. Conjuring thoughts of the surrealist 2D adventure Pony Island, Just Shapes & Beats features a minimalist glitched-out art design comprised of mainly black backgrounds, with hints of colour used to illustrate the game’s environments and characters.
This story mode enlists players to encounter selections of standalone stages in order to progress to the big bad finale. Each stage is set to a single song, to which all of the action is synchronised. Controlling your cyan-coloured square, it is your goal to avoid every obstacle until reaching the stage’s end. As the title suggests, shapes of varying sizes appear on-screen in time with each song’s beats, and it is your job to avoid making contact with said shapes.
Sounds simple, yeah? Not in the slightest.
Just Shapes & Beats taps into the bullet-hell ideology of throwing many obstacles in your way at any given time, making for a hectic scramble to keep your eyes and ears open to see where the next shape will come from. To avoid taking damage, you are able to move your square all over the screen, but the only method of surviving is avoidance. Like many bullet-hell games, you have a dash ability which allows you to pass through shapes momentarily without taking damage, but the trick is precisely timing the dash and thinking ahead to gauge when and where your next dash will take place. Fortunately, Just Shapes & Beats does include an easier mode perfect for those who want to enjoy the music without the stress of getting absolutely obliterated by the bullet-hell mayhem.
Each stage is composed to slightly differing subgenres of electronic music; dubstep, house, and trap are among some of the sounds you will encounter in Just Shapes & Beats’ discography. It’s cool that every stage begins with the title of the song and artist, so you can look them up afterwards and support their work. Instead of creating music for the game, the developers created the game for the music, sourcing songs from various indie electronic artists.
In addition to the single-player experience, Just Shapes & Beats offers up to four-player local and online multiplayer, where you can buddy up to navigate through select stages while earning points to go towards new tracks and stages not seen in the single-player mode. It’s a great little concept, but I lost interest quickly because it felt like the number of points required to purchase further content was a bit steep. I wanted more stuff, now, dammit! However, I do believe the multiplayer mode would be ideal when having a few friends over who like heavy beats, cranking up the volume, and playing the night away.
The sound design for Just Shapes & Beats is impeccable. From interacting with the menu interface to the compilation of brutally heavy electronic tracks curated for your enjoyment, you’re regularly treated to all sorts of infectiously catchy sounds. It also goes without saying that the curated list of songs included in Just Shapes & Beats’ stages is brilliant. I was regularly hit with the most devastatingly filthy of bass drops in among the lighter synth and vocal-based tracks. I absolutely loved it. Electronic music non-fans’ mileage may vary, but those of you who are fans: hoo-boy, you are in for a treat!
Playing the pre-release version of Just Shapes & Beats, I did experience some frame rate drops on occasion in both handheld and docked, which makes things difficult in a game requiring precise button inputs. Fortunately, I did not encounter frame rate issues frequently enough to consider it a serious issue, but it made for some frustrating moments on the infrequent occasions I did.
I also wonder if Just Shapes & Beats would be playable for people with various colour-blind conditions. Players are required to quickly navigate between magenta and cyan obstacles, which would be near-impossible for those who struggle with differentiating between the two colours. The options menu does offer a setting to tone things down for people with photosensitivity conditions, but I do not know if this would help for people with colour-blind conditions.
Once the music dies down and your ears are still ringing after hours of the filthiest bass imaginable, Just Shapes & Beats is a great rhythm adventure on the Switch – especially for bullet-hell and electronic music aficionados.
+ Compelling single-player mode
+ Great level design
+ Brilliantly curated electronic music compilation
- Occasional frame rate drops
- Not colour-blind friendly
- Grinding for points to unlock more tracks in multiplayer is tedious