Anyone that knows me knows that I’m very partial to a good old party game. Whether I’m playing through all 48 tracks in a row on Mario Kart 8 with a few mates, trying desperately to master my aerial game in Rocket League or losing a game of BariBariBall in Sportsfriends, it’s likely that I’m ignoring a sprawling, open-world AAA title in favour of a ‘few quick rounds’ of a local multiplayer game.
My obsession with this kind of game means that I’m always on the lookout for another title to have a crack at. Sometimes I’ll stumble across a gem myself, other times I’ll have one recommended to me, but recently I was introduced to an upcoming game that’s looking like it will fit the bill being developed right here in my own backyard.
Launceston-based developer Smash Attack Studios are currently working on their first major game release, ShapeVS, which is slated for release in 2021 on PC and consoles (specific console release information to come). After sitting down for a chat with studio head Temp, I had the chance to go hands-on with the colourful party people-pleaser and can happily report that this early build shows plenty of promise.
ShapeVS is a 2-4 player local multiplayer game that will offer up 12 different minigames for you and your friends to battle it out in for couch supremacy. You take control of a little cube in each of the game modes and can choose between one of four colours: red, blue, yellow or green. At the time of my preview there were three game modes up and running: Shape Fly, Move and Zone.
Kicking things off with the most recognisable game mode we have Shape Fly. At its core, this mode is a multiplayer Flappy Bird. Players are tasked with tapping a button to keep their little cube in the air while manoeuvring through spikes placed on the floor and ceiling of the moving stage, with the last player alive being awarded a point (first to five points wins the game).
Despite being easy enough to get your head around, this mode didn’t grab me at first, as I’ve played a fair amount of these kinds of games in the past, but a clever addition to the formula mixes things up nicely. Each round the Tap Force is either set to low, standard or high. Essentially this means that your button press to bounce in the air could either send you flying during a high Tap Force round, or it might barely keep you in the air during a low Tap Force round. This added some much-needed flair to the mode and kept me invested, though I never quite got the hang of high Tap Force (don’t worry, I’ll get it with practice).
There are still some kinks to iron out of this mode and some adjustments to be made, such as changing the order of players between rounds to keep things fair, but as I said, the game is still in early development so these changes will no doubt be implemented in future builds.
Shape Move was the next game mode we jumped into, which sees players move around a platform, collecting stars (points) while avoiding falling objects from the top of the screen. There are three different falling objects that all take the form of spheres – large white spheres take off one point from your score, medium-sized grey spheres that take off three points and small black spheres that set your score back to zero.
You aren’t just tasked with avoiding the falling balls, however, as each player can fire small projectiles that knock other players back, allowing for some fun, friendly griefing. The platform you’re on has an edge that you can all fall off of, which of course means that everyone is trying to blast the player in first place off the side (making them lose three points in the process). Power-ups will occasionally spawn on the platform as well, offering boosts to speed or jump height to however collects them. The jumping power-up is good fun and bounding around above everyone else makes you feel powerful, but it can be treacherous as you’re far closer to the falling spheres.
The game ends when a two-minute timer runs out, at which point the player with the most stars wins. Some strategy can be used in this mode, as there are minus points that can be picked up that affect all players, but it can be hard to juggle while avoiding other players and the spheres. The foundations are definitely there, however, so I’m keen to see this one evolve.
Saving the best for last we have Shape Zone, a King of the Hill-style mode where players earn points by staying on a zone that moves throughout the arena. Similar to Shape Move, you can fire a small projectile to knock your opponent back, though this time you’re not trying to knock them off the stage, but trying to keep them away from the zone you’re in, or push them out of the zone so that you might replace them.
This game mode has a much faster pace to the rest, as the zone shifts and forces all players to move about, bump into and blast each other for the chance to rack up some points. Getting into the zone isn’t enough though, as you only earn points while you’re moving. This is a solid choice, as it forces players to constantly be on the move while keeping things fair and competitive.
It was clear to me that Shape Zone was a good time as I found myself gripping the controller just a little bit tighter than I was with the other modes, which was probably thanks to the increased competitive elements that it has. Atop this, there was a fair amount of shouting and laughing coming from all parties involved, which is the best measuring stick for multiplayer matches. The rate at which you earn points seemed to be pretty spot-on as well, as there wasn’t a clear winner from the offset and a comeback always seemed possible, whether you had a good amount of points already or not. Well-balanced and well-executed, this was definitely the highlight for me coming away from the preview.
During my chat with Temp prior to the hands-on, he mentioned that the team had a strong focus on accessibility and simplicity. This was very evident when playing, as menus are clear and succinct and getting into a game took close to no time at all. Even the games themselves required a maximum of four buttons to control, meaning that anyone could pick it up and play. The best party games are the ones that can be set up and played within a matter of minutes and ShapeVS absolutely ticks that box.
As I said, Smash Attack are still in the early stages of development with ShapeVS and they have a ways to go before a release is in sight, but what was shown off to me was a promising start. It’s amazing to see a local dev team working so passionately on a project like this, so you can be sure that I’ll be watching this game closely as time goes on. Provided that each of the game modes currently in development can manage to feel different, adding to the overall variety of the collection, I can see ShapeVS becoming a new addition to my ever-growing party game pantheon.