One of the joys of heading out to PAX East every spring has been seeing how the independent games industry has grown and evolved. Each year there seems to be a greater presence of indie titles being shown off on the PAX East show floor, and this year was no exception. Among the various projects on display, there were a fair number of music and rhythm games. Over the next few days I’ll be highlighting the music games that I tried out at PAX East, starting with the game Just Shapes & Beats.
Just Shapes & Beats by developer Berzerk Studio is a 2D bullet hell game that matches the attack patterns you dodge to various elements of the music. Each level of the game requires you to avoid lasers, bullets, explosions, and other shapes that fly across the screen. You’re given no abilities other than moving and dashing anywhere across the screen. Essentially, the goal is to survive until the end of the music track.
The obstacles do more than match their sequence to the basic beats of the music. As a music track reaches new sections, more waves and styles of attacks are launched at you. It creates an engaging sense of tension as you listen to the music build up, hinting that something big is coming up in the next part of the level. While often intense, the game is forgiving in that you can take multiple hits before losing a life. This gives the player more opportunities to learn the more complex patterns that the game throws at you and keeps the game from feeling too punishing.
The visuals have a very simple neon-retro graphic aesthetic. Most of the objects and areas you encounter have an early Atari simplicity in terms of their design, all while having a vibrant color pallet. Your avatar is given a color and shape that stands out from the rest of the chaos happening on screen, so it’s fairly easy to keep track of where you are throughout the gameplay session.
The music for the demo I played on the show floor came from artists Danimal Cannon & Zeff. Other music artists have been announced for the game including FamilyJules7x, Fantomenk, and Sabrepulse. This particular track was written in a chiptune style that matched the games aesthetics perfectly. The mix of square & triangle wave channels, synth drums, and 8-bit white noise written in a rock style made for an intense listening experience that matched the level’s wild obstacle course. It will be interesting to hear how the music of other artists like FamilyJules7x, who is known for his metal game arrangements, will work with the game’s visual style.
Part of the PAX East demo for Just Shapes & Beats included a local co-op multiplayer mode. In this mode the goal was the same, but you could revive fallen teammates if they took too many hits. Getting destroyed allows you to float around for some time before disappearing off screen, giving your teammates a limited time to save you. Given the difficulty of the level we were on, my teammates and I found ourselves frequently dashing and dodging our way across the level to revive each other. It all made for some hectic and fun gameplay that I didn’t experience when playing the game solo.
Just Shapes & Beats is aiming for a release sometime this summer. The demo offered a glimpse into a title with engaging gameplay that syncs perfectly with a rocking soundtrack. The inclusion of local and online co-op modes also makes for some amusing and exciting gameplay moments that add variety to the experience. For more information on Just Shapes & Beats, be sure to check out the game’s website.Tags: Berzerk Studio, Bullet Hell, Games, Just Shapes & Beats, PAX East 2017, PAX-East, Previews, VGM