Just Shapes & Beats is a bullet hell game infused with electronic music and chiptunes. Developer Berzerk Games created a deceptively simplistic game with a surprising amount of depth. Players control a cube that must navigate its way to the end of the level while dodging obstacles such as lasers, other shapes, buzzsaws, and even enemy attacks in some stages.
The game is an intriguing genre blend. Usually, in bullet hell games, players can shoot down enemies while avoiding the projectiles flying their way. Just Shapes & Beats takes a pacifist approach. When you see another shape on the screen, the goal is to avoid it at all costs. You can move with the left stick and dash with the A button. Dashing is essential because not only can you travel across the playing field faster, it also gives you a short burst of invulnerability that will help you evade projectiles. Dashing is a strategic element because figuring the right time and direction to move your piece can mean the difference between survival and failure. If the cube touches another object, it’ll take damage. In normal levels, it’s three hits until death. Fortunately, there are checkpoints in individual sections. Dying will send you back to the most recent checkpoint. If you end up dying three times in a particular level, you’ll have to attempt it again.
Boss levels change up the formula. In these stages, you can get hit six times, but the kicker is that when battling a boss, there are no checkpoints. I spent two hours on one particular boss encounter. Between the difficulty of the song in itself and the precise maneuvers needed to dodge obstacles, I struggled on multiple occasions. Just Shapes & Beats is a challenging game, but it’s incredibly rewarding when you complete a level. Finishing the aforementioned boss fight, I literally screamed for joy while in the backseat of my car, startling the people in the front seats. The sense of satisfaction propelled me to continue my journey through the game’s story mode.
There is a story in Just Shapes & Beats told through cutscenes of no dialogue. Our blue cube is trying to purify its world from an entity that is turning everything red. It’s simplistic, but since the gameplay is so fun, I found it easy to forgive the narrative’s shortcomings. If you finish all of the levels on the first try, Just Shapes & Beats will take a few hours to complete. Since there are plenty of difficult levels, it took me 7-8 hours to get to the credits. Even with the frustration of continually failing during a few songs, I kept pushing forward. The game’s challenge is also fair. I never blamed what happened on the screen upon losing. Every failure was my own, and I understood why I lost. Improving after each attempt was satisfying. After a while, a lot of levels became muscle memory for me.
There are other modes in Just Shapes & Beats as well. You can participate in Challenge Mode, which puts players through three songs (two that players choose from a selection of three songs and a boss battle) to complete. In addition to finishing these levels, there are also side-challenges to complete like finishing a level without dashing, finish a level without getting hit, etc. Challenge Mode is also where the excellent multiplayer takes place. You can play Just Shapes & Beats through local multiplayer or with others online. I chose to play online and experienced a flawless experience. There were quite a lot of people playing; I was always able to find a game without a problem, and the connection never lagged. A cool twist in multiplayer is that others can revive your shape after taking too much damage. You’re playing with each other to complete levels, but it’s competitive in disguise because you want to get a higher performance score than your partners.
Visually, the game looks stellar. The vibrant and neon colors look flashy and eye-popping. Many levels have a unique color scheme, and it features visuals that always impress. From an audio aspect, Just Shapes & Beats is absolutely perfect. From the sound design to the electronic beats and chiptunes, the audio elements are masterful. There isn’t much wrong with Just Shapes & Beats, but there were minor instances when the game would freeze momentarily during a song. It happened two or three times throughout my time with Just Shapes & Beats, and I’m still unsure whether or not it’s a glitch or part of the song. Besides this issue, Just Shapes & Beats is a near-perfect experience.
Just Shapes & Beats combines two genres that I’ve grown up with–music and bullet hell games. From the opening moments, Berzerk Games sucked me in with an upbeat, pulse-pounding soundtrack, and intuitive gameplay that’s easy to pick up and difficult to master. After 11 hours with the game, I’m still thinking about Just Shapes & Beats. It’s something that I can see myself coming back to for the next few months. The game is perfect for the Switch due to its short songs and addicting gameplay. Just Shapes & Beats can be played on the go in short bursts or for long periods of time. Fans of the music genre will find a lot to love, and those who like fast action will be glued to the screen for hours. Switch owners looking for an entertaining indie game should pick up Just Shapes & Beats. Not only is it a fantastic game on the console, it’s one of the best indie games of the year.
Andrew Gonzalez is the Managing Editor of Xbox Enthusiast. When not writing about Xbox, he’s usually reading comics, watching Seinfeld, listening to Chvrches, and dreaming of the perfect Jet Force Gemini Reboot. You can follow him on Twitter. @AJGVulture89