Title: Shapes of Gray
Platform: Wii U, PC
Shapes of Gray is a curious little creature. It’s a game that willingly eschews the colorful palette available for modern games in favor of, well, shades of gray. It’s a fairly simple game that starts out slow but eventually rounds the bend into an enjoyable experience.
An indie game developed by a single person, Trent Steen, Shapes of Gray features your character as an amorphous blob in the center of the screen. Your “shape” molds slightly depending on the direction of your movement, but otherwise stays consistent throughout the game. Even though the game utilizes dual control sticks, it made me reminisce of NES games in its lack of complexity: Left stick moves the character, R attacks with a bat, and right stick aims the bat. In later stages, you can procure some kind of a weapon consisting of miniature stars that bounce around the screen until they hit something, but those are only available for a brief period.
It’s an interesting decision to go with the gray palette. I’m often bragging about the colorful assault that many Wii U games employ in comparison to other current gen consoles, and I feel that the vibrant color swaps in indie games like Super Hexagon help accentuate the experience by mesmerizing the gamer. So, seeing the bland background had me a little concerned at the start.
You can see the layout from the pictures, but there’s not a whole lot to describe anyway. But this game isn’t trying to impress you with its lush visuals or inventive environments; at its core, Shapes of Gray is all about gameplay. Thankfully, for the most part, it nails it.
Your blob is tasked with moving around the screen and swinging its bat at other little creatures in order to pass on to the next level. After making my first contact, a rhythmic beat begins pulsating through the background, and I found myself immediately thrown into the action. The music is a perfect fit for the gameplay, though I wish there was more variety. A simple counter shows me how many levels I have left, and death shows me how many levels are left until a boss. Thankfully, there are checkpoints after each boss; having to manage swift batting skills for long periods of time can be quite challenging.
Enemy types remain constant, but on subsequent playthroughs they would sometimes originate from different locations. Still, they mostly started from the same location, so I’m not sure at what ratio they would change.
The gameplay itself ended up being a lot of fun, which is ultimately the most important feature. At the beginning, it doesn’t seem like much is there, and playing through the first 50 (incredibly short) levels had me wondering if that was all there was to the game. It turned out that there’s another 50 levels after that, with some increasingly challenging enemies, but it still never got to be too tough. It took me about an hour to beat the entire game.
After beating those two main sets of levels, you unlock an arcade mode where you can compete for various accomplishments, like gathering coins, attaining a certain score, or finishing the level in a certain amount of time. I played this for a good chunk of time, to the point where my Wii U gamepad’s blinking red light told me I had to stop, and this mode extended my time with the game to about three hours.
Jumping into the arcade sections ended up being quite addicting; as soon as you die, you can jump right back into the action, Hotline Miami-style, and that really is what kept me coming back. Having any kind of wait would have dampened my enthusiasm, but the quick action and desire to attain some of the accomplishments kept me coming back for a few hours. Frustratingly though, when I signed in the next day, I found that the game wiped out all of my accomplishments on one of the two levels. [Edit: Though this did happen on my first playthrough, subsequent accomplishments were properly recorded and saved.]
There’s also a little side section of the game that I won’t try to explain for fear of ruining the esoteric nature of it, but I had a little laugh when I played through it. An extremely short piece lasting only a minute or two, it was entertaining nevertheless, and a breath of fresh air.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time with Shapes of Gray. My main complaint is that I wanted more things like boss battles; there’s only a total of six in the entire game, and they’re unfortunately very easy. But the ideas behind them were great, and I would have loved to play tougher versions that incorporated a deeper playbook. I also would have enjoyed playing more of the main campaign with additional enemies and challenges.
My only other gripe with the game aside from its length is the frame rate. There are several occasions, particularly level 3 of the first campaign, where it slows to a crawl. It wouldn’t be so much of problem if it just happened in that one level (it was certainly most severe in that level), but I occasionally found some dips here and there in other levels, which, in this type of frantic gameplay, can be the difference between success or failure. Speaking of success, I had much more of it when just using the gamepad screen in off-TV play – I was glad to have the option.
At the the end of the day, Shapes of Gray is an interesting indie game that takes some novel gameplay concepts and effectively merges them into a cohesive game. I had a lot of fun in my time with it, and I highly recommend giving it a shot. Skip the next eat-out meal, or have one less drink when you go out, and pick this game up with the money you saved; it’s definitely worth your time.