I’m not even quite sure how to begin to describe Berzerk Studio’s Just Shapes and Beats. The title does a pretty good job already as it is, pretty much, just a collection of simple shapes and thumping beats. But as I discovered after seeing some hot recs on Twitter, it’s much more than that.
It’s largely a bullet hell kind of game where you (and some buddies, if you have them) play as a non-pink shape while dodging all manner of pink shapes. All the while, the auto-scrolling stage progresses through bumping and twirling and streaking deformations all in pursuit of reaching the end of the song. In that way, it’s as much a rhythm game as it is a bullet hell one.
This means that it hits some of the most electrifying impacts this summer in video games. Through deft design and coordination with the soundtrack, Just Shapes has this terrific habit of culminating in body-shaking anxiety and jubilation. It’s like, I dunno, waiting for the beat to drop at EDC while dreading a punch to your soft, also pink tummy. It’s a sensation carried through to even when you reach the point of practicing to S-rank, playing the same level over and over again.
The game manages to do this by playing with the form and your expectations of it. It’s not just abstract squares and stars flying at you in rabid anticipation of your shape’s demise in music visualizer style. There are moments where it’s as if the game is warping just to change how you perceive the action. One choice moment involves an angry square uses its little pincers to lift the screen up before dropping it to send a shockwave your way.
This eclectic collision of what you think is going to happen, what you see happening, and what is actually going to happen is fantastic, forcing occupation of every discrete part of your brain. You feel the beat and you feel the spatial action and you feel the impending something that’s about to drop and it all happens at once. It’s a rare confluence that gobbles up your entire brain and body.
It even gets to emotional points, oddly enough. The game over screen is actually a joyous blast of encouragement. Your mind starts to paint little narratives onto the shapes you encounter. You stop looking at it as avoiding death and more as dancing with friends. It’s shocking how perfectly potent this little gem is, and it’s shocking that not more people are playing it.
But you can fix that. Just Shapes and Beats is out now on Nintendo Switch and PC for $19.99.