Shapes? They’re in there. Beats? You bet, tons of ’em! Just Shapes & Beats lets you know up front what you’re going to see and hear, but that doesn’t begin to cover how much fun one of the best multiplayer games on the PAX East show floor turned out to be. Judging by the size of the crowd in front of the booth at all points in the show, shapes and beats were exactly what the audience had come to PAX to see.
Just Shapes & Beats is a dodge-’em-up, where you’re a small shape on a big screen avoiding enemies and the ridiculous amount of firepower clogging the arena. Your one defense? Don’t be where the bad things are. The player ship is fairly zippy, but also has a dash move that renders it invulnerable for a brief half-second of movement. The dash cool-down is pretty quick, but that moment of invulnerability is only a small advantage when the screen is filled with bullets and strips of hot pink laser-death trimming down the safe area to next to nothing.
You can take a few hits before death, but even when falling helplessly off the screen there’s hope of rescue if you’re playing with friends. A quick touch from a co-op partner will see you back in action, zipping about the screen as bullets and lasers pop out to the beat, rescuing and being rescued as the situation requires. Single player is supported and pretty fun due to the game’s sheer manic energy, but Just Shapes and Beats really shines when playing with other people.
The two levels on the PAX East show floor were designed to first ease players into the game and then hit them with a real challenge. You pilot a super-simple ship around the screen — little more than a rectangle, triangle, or circle, dodging slow-moving solid pink bullets against a black background while zipping out of the way of the pink rectangles encroaching from the edge of the screen. It’s mildly tricky, even when the arena is being dissected by pink death lines, but a bit of careful, semi-frantic invulnerable dashing got me past the worst of it.
Then the next stage showed up with a giant pink critter made of large circles and little triangle-spikes (plus rectangular eyebrows) to show what frantic dodging was all about. At that the four of us flew about the arena avoiding the barrage as best possible, rescuing each other when we could and falling to our doom when that didn’t work out. Surviving the attack felt like an earned victory, and was one hell of a fun way for four strangers to feel like they kicked ass together.