E3 2016: Dance and Die in Just Shapes and Beats

Every year, E3 has been hosting IndieCade, showcasing many indie games without regards to genre or even marketability. And every year, I scope out the selection to see what's worth looking at. This time around, probably the best game in that whole setup was Just Shapes and Beats. It was an exhilarating mix of frenetic action and electronica that got under my skin and made me crave more.

The title, though clearly simplifying, is quite accurate. You and up to three friends can control little colored squares through multiple challenging levels where the goal is simply to survive. Each level throws fuchsia shapes at your squares, and you need to dodge them. Besides basic movement, you can also dash, making you briefly invincible and ideally getting you to safety. You can withstand damage about four times, and if you die, your teammates can revive you with one health point once.

Although this sounds easy on the surface, the actual experience was anything but. All the shape generation is syncopated with the electronic music, and depending on the intensity of the beat, they will come at you faster, larger, and more often. Please restrain your surprise, but that intensity just increases continually, occasionally being surprisingly sinister.

When I played, I had two teammates to descend into hell with. After the smattering of bullet-hell-like squares coming at us, suddenly the game painted giant stripes across our view, followed by massive circular explosions, then both! These were certainly challenging, but for the most part, we were able to trudge through it fairly well. However, it was the last stage of the demo where the game exhibited just how malevolent it really was.

It began with a fuchsia circle near the center of the screen shooting simple square projectiles at us, which escalated into bombs, and as the music rose to a fever pitch, lasers radiated from it. Then, the beat dropped, and that asshole grew a face and arms. To an aggressive dubstep track, it grew an arm and spun around while occasionally launching an explosive shot at each wall. This was followed by growing another arm and more stripes and bombs. At the bottom of the screen, during a brief respite in the music, the words, “Is it over?” displayed.

“Nope!”

The boss then started jumping to the top of the screen, shooting out large rectangles to each side while dropping down to the ground. This was so intense that it ultimately decimated my team. Worse, there were no checkpoints in the level, so every time we perished, the stage would actually rewind to the beginning of the level. Despite this extreme challenge, I’m seriously looking forward to when Just Shapes and Beats comes out. According to Mike Ducarme of Berzerk Studios, the game should be ready in January of 2017, but they have not decided on platforms yet.