Title Just Shapes & Beats: Hardcore Edition
Developer Berzerk Studio
Publisher Berzerk Studio
Release Date May 10th, 2019
Genre Rhythm
Platform PC, PS4, Switch
Age Rating E10+
Official Website

Just Shapes and Beats is a rhythm game with some minor shmup elements. Most rhythm games don’t have too much of a story, but this one does, small though it may be. Though it doesn’t have much or any real writing behind it, it expresses itself entirely through music. I really liked this, it was something different and a way to integrate the musical aspect of rhythm games into the narrative that I don’t think I’ve seen before. Its also a simple and pretty short game, so there’s not a whole lot to talk about.

The gameplay in Just Shapes and Beats is also fairly unique. When you start up a song, you control a tiny little square. You can move and dash, and that’s about it. The goal is to just survive, and basically anything that isn’t the background will damage you. Take too many hits, and you restart at the last checkpoint you cleared. Checkpoints come at pretty regular intervals in each song. The obstacles in which you dodge are another area where this game flexes its creativity. Each song has very distinct visuals and patterns, despite the narrow range of visuals. True to its name, most of the patterns just consist of geometric shapes. Some songs focus on circles, some on lines. Boss songs are the most unique, as they involve a distinct entity. One of them being a rather angry looking thing made up of circles. No two songs ever feel quite the same.

Just Shapes and Beats | Gameplay

It controls well enough, and seemed very responsive to me. Your dash has invincibility, which is very handy for getting out of sticky situations and is even required in some instances. The story mode even has boss fights, and these are where the shmup influences really make themselves apparent.

There are quite a few problems I have though, that eventually led to frustration. The first thing that was apparent to me is that everything you have to dodge during a song is one color. Everything is always pink. This doesn’t sound so bad, it contrasts very well with the mostly black background. The problem comes with trickier songs and so many things are happening at once that it can be legitimately hard to parse. Had they varied the colors up a little bit, maybe associate certain types of obstacles with certain colors, it could be easier to process everything.

Just Shapes and Beats | Gameplay

Another issue is that if you get hit, your little square gets sent flying in a seemingly random direction. If your ship happens to get sent flying into some obstacle you’re supposed to avoid, you just flat out won’t be able to see it. You’re almost guaranteed to take another hit. This becomes a huge problem in boss fights where a good majority of the screen can be obscured.

The last issue I had is that I just found the core gameplay to be a bit too passive. The various obstacles would be synchronized to the beat of the song, but your own movements and inputs are all just kinda incidental. They don’t match the song at all. Part of the appeal of rhythm games to me is the satisfaction that you’re kinda “playing along” to the song. Like in Dance Dance Revolution, your feet move with the beat of the song. In Guitar Hero, the notes you play match up to the actual guitar in the song. There’s a satisfaction in that sort of thing that doesn’t really exist here.

Just Shapes and Beats | Gameplay

I found the best way to play was to move as little as possible. So it was an odd contrast to have a song banging away while you’re just kinda flicking the analog stick back and forth every now and then. Bosses are a little more involved, but your actions still don’t really go along with the song at all. The songs are fantastic, it’s filled with EDM that perfectly suit a rhythm game. Its just I found myself disconnected from the excitement in the songs as I do little more than just move my little square around on a screen.

Just Shapes and Beats | Gameplay

I can’t say Just Shapes and Beats is a bad game, just is a game that’s not really for me. I prefer my rhythm games to be a bit more tactile in nature. If the core gameplay looks compelling to you, there’s certainly a lot to get out of this game here. A pretty sizable soundtrack, even a co-op mode with both local and network support. There’s a total of 39 songs, though you’ll have to unlock a good amount of them. There’s a challenge mode that tasks you with clearing two songs and a boss, and you earn in-game currency based on your performance used to unlock more songs. The playlist mode is basically just a free play, no string attached mode. This is the Hardcore Edition of the game, which also adds a Hardcore difficulty to both the Challenge and Playlist modes. This mode makes each song quite a bit harder, and changes up the experience quite a bit for each song. If the normal difficulty gets a bit too mundane for you, this should spice things up a bit. I don’t think I could personally recommend this game, but if the idea of it sounds appealing to you, it might be worth the $20 asking price. The story only takes a few hours to get through, but if you enjoy the gameplay, there’s tons of replayability to be had.

Review Score

Review copy was provided by the publisher.

Jason Quinn
Been playing video games since before I could form coherent sentences. I love a wide variety of games, from fast, technical action games to slow RPGs. Aside from video games, I have a love of music, film, and anime.