Journalists get a lot of criticism for comparing games to other games. Well strap in, because it is really hard not to sometimes. Shape of the World is an art game, one which is defined by it’s aesthetic and the journey you have while playing it. The use of shifting colours and the basic mechanics are there to let you sink into the pretty artistic style like a great blue ocean. Your aim is just to go through triangular gates, which will lead you up a mountain. Every time you go through one the colour scheme will shift and the world may reveal new secrets for you to interact with.
Most of the time these little secrets are obelisks you can interact with in order to make a staircase appear to help you along to your next destination. This definitely brings to mind games like Journey and Innerspace, the simplicity of gameplay here and the experience of moving through a shifting and unfamiliar environment almost demand you remember similar games. Of course there are plenty of games like this, in fact most games could be described as such, however there are notably fewer games where that experience is the game in it’s entirety.
The essence of what makes these games phenomenal tends to be in the payoff, so everything may be pretty but what is the point of moving through it, what reward awaits you for seeing it through? While any experience isn’t entirely defined by the end point, it’s not the destination it’s the journey. When it comes to games though this is largely dependent on how good the game is. When it comes to non-narrative stylish games the journey needs to be good, but the destination has to be satisfying – it’s one of the reasons they tend to be shorter experiences. Where action games can hide a dull destination with a backflip onto an enemy into a juggling combo, narrative games need to have a compelling story. Obviously.
There are two issues with Shape of the World. The first issue is that the movement speed is incredibly slow. Now, this isn’t a deal breaker, in fact there are plenty of games where this works well and helps to keep the player focused and relaxed. The issue arises when you first make one of these magic staircases appear. You see, upon getting onto it and starting to follow it around, you realise that you move significantly faster on these than your normal walking pace, which makes the standard pace incredibly frustrating as a result. It’s like being shown that you can run on top of custard, only to then be told that you’re only allowed to trudge through it. Along with walking you can also interact with certain objects, which usually involves destroying a tree for a slight speed boost. You can throw seeds as well which allows you to place speed boosts in front of you, but it isn’t an exact science so it’s generally easier to just ignore.
The second issue, and the one that ultimately sours the game itself, is the payoff. This is where the comparison to other games comes in, so, ya know, prepare for that. Journey has you exploring worlds and occasionally coming across other travellers; sometimes they show you the way, sometimes they help you find a secret. Sometimes they are useless but it’s all part of the experience. Only at the end do you see a list of names, the list of all the people you played with without realising, it is a reveal that makes the already incredible experience that much better, because it is unlikely you had any idea. When compared to the reveal at the end of this one, well, it won’t be spoiled here, but it is ultimately underwhelming and the journey up to that point isn’t strong enough to make up for that.
Shape of the World isn’t a bad game, it just never quite hits its stride in the way a game like this needs to. There just isn’t anything that implores you to move forwards apart from the fact that there is little else to do, and while there are some very pretty moments, rarely is anything more than superficial achieved. Shape of the World fails to do enough to pull itself out of the abstract and ultimately just feels empty.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch – also available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One