Shapes of Gray Review
I remember playing Asteroids as a kid. In fact, it was one of the first games I ever played: black-and-white, simplistic, incredibly difficult (at least to a five-year-old), but equally rewarding. Shapes of Gray, a new Wii U eShop title, hits all the same notes. It’s an addictive, fast-paced indie title that I highly recommend to fans of the genre.
In Shapes of Gray, you play as a nameless white blob cursed to defend himself against endless waves of enemies while navigating the seventh circle of hell. Okay, in truth, there’s really no story here, but that feels like a fairly accurate description given the game’s difficulty. There are two worlds comprised of 50 levels each and a super addictive arcade mode. If over 100 levels sounds overwhelming, worry not; it only takes a couple of seconds to complete each one. If you fail to take out all of the on-screen enemies within the allotted timeframe, however, you’re forced to start over.
Yeah, yeah, each world has fifty levels, meaning fifty… shapes of gray. We get it.
Time is rarely an issue, at least in the opening stages. The real challenge is not getting hit three times before defeating a boss. If you do, you have to start over from your previous checkpoint, which can be incredibly difficult in later levels. The controls are simple and effective – the left analog stick controls movement, the right controls direction, and the shoulder buttons attack – but the pacing can be tricky. At its core, Shapes of Gray is a top-down slasher with the speed of an arcade game; in fact, the levels move so quickly that finishing the required 15-20 levels to get to that next checkpoint can feel like running a wind sprint, and the fun 80s-style theme song certainly adds to the frenzy. Unfortunately, the game does not save your checkpoint progress when you power-off the system, so you’ll need to complete the fifty level block in one sitting (it’s possible, but challenging).
Developer Secret Tunnel Entertainment made numerous smart design choices to reduce repetition fatigue. For example, although you may end up playing the same levels 50 times before you beat them, the enemies will slightly alter their locations on the map while still keeping the same basic configurations. This means replaying levels multiple times (which believe me, you will) feels fresh and engaging every time. The evolving enemy placement allows for gradual player improvement without any unnecessary tedium. Additionally, the enemies themselves are diverse and challenging: some explode on impact or fire projectiles, while others purposefully avoid your attacks to eat up your precious time. There are also added power-ups, which pop up just rarely enough to make them feel like precious resources.
Apparently Shapes of Gray takes place in Lorule...
From a visual standpoint, Shapes of Gray is bare bones. You fight in one giant gray circle, while the HUD indicates health, level progress, and remaining time. Fittingly, the world is depicted entirely in gray scale; the white enemy designs pop out nicely against the darker gray background. There are also some interesting particle effects and screen shakes that occur when certain enemies are destroyed. Likewise, the exploding enemies leave behind dark gray burns on the playing field, which is a nice touch.
Even though Shapes of Gray is not overtly impressive visually, the graphics are never problematic. I did, however, have an issue with the framerate. It generally runs well, but every so often dips drastically (for maybe a second or two). Level 2 on the first world, for example, was nearly unplayable for me thanks to framerate drops that occurred every time I re-played it. Though not a deal-breaker, it’s a frustrating issue in a game in which every second counts.
...except you don't have Link's spin attack :(
Shapes of Gray doesn’t do much with the GamePad except allow for off-TV play, which arguably works better than playing on the TV. In fact, Shapes of Gray would be much stronger as a downloadable 3DS eShop title, as the gameplay is better suited to portable play. I could see myself coming back to the game on the train, but it’s unlikely I’ll boot up my Wii U specifically for it again (not to say I won’t return to it to hit up some Arcade mode).
In the end, I found Shapes of Gray to be a fun little eShop title that brought me back to a genre I hadn’t considered re-exploring. Like Asteroids, Shapes of Gray presents a challenging arcade-style shooter that’s hard to put down. If you’re new to this style of gameplay, it may seem underwhelming at first, but after a few minutes – and a quick glance at that teasing remaining levels counter – you’ll understand the appeal.
Please note that the final score is not an average