Coverage Club is our weekly series of smaller impressions in the style of full reviews. Games can range from brand new titles hitting Early Access to older hidden gems that never got their due. No matter your preference, you’re sure to find something off the beaten path here.
I used to be underground. I used to fool around. Then I played some bad games and had to settle down. Now I'm playing it real straight, and I even changed my tag. You might think I'm crazy, but I don't even care. 'Cause I can tell with what we're covering.
It's hip to be square.
Just Shapes & Beats
Covered by Samuel Guglielmo
I love myself a good rhythm game. Tapping along to the beat and trying to hit buttons or make movements is enjoyable. So naturally, I was on the lookout for rhythm games at The Mix. I, uh… didn’t find any. Instead, Just Shapes & Beats found me, mostly because I was walking by it and some guy shoved a controller in my hands while saying “we need a fourth player.” I don’t know who that guy was, but remind me to thank him at some point.
The basics are pretty simple: you and up to three other players play as little circles flying around in a void. Things can’t stay simple, and purple lasers attack you constantly. At this point, your goal is to dodge the lasers, which play in time with the music.
Did I say lasers? They’re explosions now. Anyway, things explode in time with the music, creating a chaotic mess of dodging. You can somewhat rely on the other players to help you, as they can revive a downed player. However, this is easier said than done. Staying in one spot, even in the few seconds it takes to revive someone, is usually a fatal mistake.
It’s mostly because if you’re reviving someone you can’t dodge the spinning balls of death. What, explosions? We’re on spinning balls of death now. Keep up, honey. Thankfully, dead or not, you get some really awesome beats to go with your shapes. The soundtrack for Just Shapes & Beats was probably my favorite part of the game. The techno beats fit the gameplay so well and drew me into every moment.
Sure the game is simple, but Just Shapes & Beats is absurd in how fun it is. The entire time I was playing with the other three people we were laughing at just how ridiculous the game could get. The constantly changing traps and massive variety they seemed to come in really helped with this, and there was always something new that needed to be avoided.
Unlike most of the games I’ve played at The Mix, Just Shapes & Beats is already out right now. So if a four-player co-op rhythmic dodge ‘em up appeals to you, then it’s something you can go grab without waiting. Even if you’re alone, there’s a single player campaign to play (I wish I got time with it), and so many beats to appreciate. I can easily see this as one of the best examples of how to make something easy to learn but difficult to master.
Covered by Alex Santa Maria
I consider myself a fan of puzzle games, but it might be more realistic to call myself a Tetris fan. Any game with falling blocks is mesmerizing, and playing them gives a meditative boost to the rest of my day. This year at E3, one of the biggest surprises for me was The Tetris Effect. A new Tetris that focused in on that "in the zone" feeling seems like a slam dunk, especially coming from the mind of famed Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Puzzle fans already know of his work via Lumines, one of the few names in the genre that can match the Russian classic in notability.
Whether through expert marketing or sheer chance, the release calendar gave me the chance to experience his creation on PlayStation 4. Known as Lumines Remastered, the original PSP game gets an upgrade onto modern consoles and PC. While many have been shining it up for over a decade, I come to the game fresh, and it certainly takes some readjusting. Each piece consists of four squares with one of two colors. Your job is to create squares of a solid tone, and pieces drop down to fill gaps as needed.
Complicating the process is the game's pure style. As you accrue points and progress, the entire theme of the game changes over and over. This includes visual styles, music tracks, and even the sound effects that play as you move and drop pieces. The gameplay itself isn't that complicated, and high skill players can reliably keep going for hours on Endless mode. As you're getting up to speed, the change of styles keeps you on your toes, at once waking you from your trance and instantly drawing you back in. The whole experience is intoxicating.
What really drives the game is its presentation. I had heard that the game had leanings towards the rhythm genre, and this comes from how your completed squares are cleared. A bar continuously scrolls across the playfield in time to the music. As that changes, the bar matches the new tempo, and you're forced to adjust your playstyle on the fly. I can appreciate how this mechanic works, but the connection between the music and dropping blocks is tenuous at best. It's more about style than substance, but that works in the game's favor.
Lumines, more than any other puzzle game I've sampled, captures why I love dropping blocks. Recognizing patterns in your well and letting your instincts take over brings me to a zen state better than straight up meditation. Maybe that's just due to my love of the format, or maybe there's something more at play. In any case, I'm happy I got the chance to play Mizuguchi-san's most well-known creation. It's a timeless game that anyone can pick up and enjoy with ease. Combining that with the equally timeless Tetris gameplay could lead to a puzzle game that's hard to top.
Lumines Remastered was covered on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher. It's also available on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.
What do you think of this week’s Coverage Club selections? Do you know of an overlooked game that deserves another chance? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to follow our Steam Curator to keep up to date with all our reviews.