Shape of the World wants to immerse you not through tight, winding narratives or deep, complex game-play mechanics, but through grand atmosphere, wild imagination and a soft, undulating landscape.
As you drift into the experience of Shape of the World, ambient music greets you along with heavy snow like a blanket draped on the rocks around you. Immediately you feel a sense of ease. It contrasts with the thought of being lost in an alien unknown world. Shape of the World, however, constantly advises you to relax through its game-play and visuals. Sure, dreamlike, vaporwave and drug trip all come to mind when playing the first ten minutes, but that reduces the care and detail put into the game.
Shape of the World places you on a journey through nine “levels.” I hesitate to call them levels. Instead, they are sections of the world that bleed seamlessly into one another. They carry titles such as Swamp, Valley and Summit. This gives them a naturalistic connotation, furthering the positing of immersion. As for story or narrative, there really isn’t one, and it does not need it. As aforementioned, that isn’t the point of the game. I don’t doubt that many who play will breathe their own idea of a story into that game. That makes me like it even more.
Finding Mystery in a Breathing World
Thankfully, the world is populated with strange, blithe creatures that, while wary of your approach, are never threatening. Instead, they run or hide from the player. Snake-like creatures poke their head above ground, only to recess when you approach; likewise gentle, small fish swim away in schools.
I’m personally keen to the squat squid-like land walkers that jettison up into the sky when you are near. This is all to set up the backdrop for your objective of finding glowing artifacts. These are sometimes half-sunken orbs, sometimes stark, bright obelisks and sometimes rocky structures with holes. These then allow you to enter triangle shaped portals. Once you enter these, sharply contrasted and saturated colors ripple and undulate from your position. It frames the world in an entirely new color and atmosphere, and almost always very beautiful.
Part walking simulator part puzzle game, Shape of the World doesn’t hold your hand. Instead it forces you take the reigns and figure out what’s next. I’ll admit that during my first play I felt a pang of anxiety as I thought “Wait should I activate this first? Should I press this next? What if I miss this next part?” I quickly realized something comforting: It doesn’t matter. The game is essentially allowing you a couple ways to reach the next triangle.
These puzzles are not difficult, and consist mostly of finding those brights structures. There is no dialogue and no tutorial. Shape of the World gives you the words “Left to interact” and “Right to throw seeds.” Seeds are thrown to create trees, which does little to affect the game, but is instead a way for the player to change the world in their own way. Maybe there was something that I could have done with them, but I reached the credits without finding it. It has sunken into the general game panorama that games don’t need a lot of plot to still connect and affect audiences. Shape of the World takes it one step further with “plot? what plot?”
Just Let it Soak in
The developers posit this game was made with relaxation in mind, and if you’re willing to surrender to that proposition, the game will reward you in spades. At one point I ascended on a staircase that rose above mountains. They had sprung up to block my path until finding the glowing artifacts. After advancing over that lip, I was floating above a vivid land, a large whale-like creature swimming in the air next to me. It was a grandiose moment that fully encircled my excitement for this game.
While there isn’t much of an ending to spoil, I think its still rewarding to fall into the game without knowing exactly where its going. I did explain that there were nine areas to explore and that each led to another, but the general shape is wonderful to find out. The end does feel complete when achieved, and there are certainly a number of goodies to discover in the form of different seed shapes. A pause menu shows about twenty of them, and I finished with about ten. Perhaps the ending changes when you find all of these, but I’m certainly satisfied with what I achieved.
It’s difficult to bring up solid criticism of the game. The developers are very upfront about the one to three hour completion time. Its understandable then for some to balk at the thirteen dollar price tag. They touted the game as a form of relaxation, which could induce boredom in some players. While there is already a plethora of games that allow you to take a break from gun-totting and sword-swinging, Shape of the World makes a convincing case to pick up.
A Wash of Color and Sound
If you’re interested in any sense in walking simulators, games that exist in the very to check out this game. Be sure to know that the developers are sure to point out their “one to three” hours experience. Maybe this seems too short to justify the price tag, but I only think this could work in favor of a dense and well-constructed experience.
Dive into Shape of the World June 5 (PS4 and Steam) and June 6 (Switch and Xbox One)