Just shapes & beats & deaths & potential ragequits.
You know the Sans fight in Undertale? At this point, chances are you do. Guiding that tiny little icon around as enormous beams of energy blast around you, making life a living nightmare at the pace of a chase scene in the third act of a monster movie.
You know that? Well, the team at Berserk Games decided to take that level, find a bunch of talented chiptune musicians, and create multiplayer rhythm-o-thon spectacular Just Shapes & Beats.
As Just Shapes & Beats is inherently multiplayer-ready, I sat down with three other players, including new Hey Poor Player writer Derek McCurry, to check it out. We assumed the forms of four colorful little shapes onscreen, and set off on a set of levels backed by music by electronica talents Zef and Danimal Cannon. We were only given a couple simple tools to work with: move around, press A to dash, and try to stay alive. I immediately got reminded of the flow of a Bit.Trip game, coupled with a bullet-hell type of tension painted on a purely musical canvas.
A black background and reddish-pink objects floating around leave it pretty clear where the hazards are. Different columns and rings show as dark red a couple beats before bursting with lethality, creating a multi-stage sense of flow where I was looking for both where not to be in the moment, and where not to be next. And yes, we were all bopping our heads along reflexively the whole time.
Just Shapes & Beats was quite mean to us, but not unforgiving. Players can take a few hits before getting blasted into oblivion, and even then can be saved if another player manages to get close enough to their drifting light-corpse. Stages all have checkpoints as well, with the exception of the bass-pumpingly destructive boss stage. Here, instead of particle blasts and beams of rhythmic energy, we were faced with the musically-inclined whims of a huge boss monster whose talents included growing more arms, and killing us often. The whole demo up until this point flexed its muscles plenty, but the boss was like it came up in front of us and straight-up started showing us how much it could deadlift in one go. And it could deadlift a lot. After that, we got to jam with a Street Fighter-themed bonus level that sent volleys of fighter silhouettes at us faster than we could avoid them. Together, these last two stages easily took up the majority of our time.
Essentially, gameplay is as simple as letting the musical and visual cues guide you when to dip and swerve where, and when to tap that handy A button to dodge projectiles. The dash should be used carefully though, and only when the offensive is right on your heels, because good lord was that dash a bit erratic to keep track of.
After we were done increasing our heart rates to a solid 180 BPM, we had a chance to talk to a member of this beat-blaster’s development team, who said that all in all the game would feature tracks from around 35 artists, mostly staying within the chiptune genre. From what I saw in my time with the game, I very much look forward to seeing what other talents provide audio for different levels, and what the developers are able to do with what they are given. Just Shapes & Beats certainly delivers on its titular promises, and after multiple years of development and convention appearances, I’m excited to snap on a pair of headphones and enter the grooviest place in bullet hell when the game launches on PC and consoles later in 2017.