Music games are strange. They’re strange in that there is something about the game that you can sync up with to make the game more predictable, something that’s rhythmic, something on beat. When you play the game well because you’re completely in-sync with the music there’s a strange body-extension sensation that takes over, but only for the time you feel in-time with the music.
That means that music games typically went one of a few ways. You make finding that synchronicity the main point of the game and pushing the limit of that synchronicity by pushing your dexterity and stamina, ala Rock Band. Maybe you make the music a byproduct of the player’s actions so those actions create new music on every playthrough, e.g. Sound Shapes or Everyday Shooter. Maybe you have the music be the cue for onscreen action and movement, e.g. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Axiom Verge.
Just Shapes and Beats is probably closest to the last of these, onscreen cues except that cues aren’t the easiest to judge and time.
Donkey Kong Country Return uses the music to sync with the platforming and enemy movement patterns, but the levels are still open platforming sections, e.g. not on-rails, so you can still take the levels at whatever pace you want to take it. You just need to know that your movement will have to line up with the beat of the background music and some point.
Just Shapes and Beats takes the other approach, being completely on-rails and having the mayhem be not only in-sync but completely dictated by the music. It’s akin to a bullet-hell game with a mandatory soundtrack to notice. You will be dodging lots of things, things that take up a large portion of the screen, things that move very quickly and it will all be to the rhythm of the song. The only way to not get hit is to either avoid them or dash through them to a safe location on the screen.
The music for the three demo levels were great but you’re still fighting the enemy patterns to know what to look out for. An attack that causes waves of damage at the bottom the screen? Definitely didn’t know that was a thing til it happened. Enemy Face blasting damage beams towards the edges of the screen? That was a surprise.
The game was full of fun surprises that catch you off guard, but like any game you can learn the telegraph after a few tries and you can quickly find the synchronicity that the game tries to impart, except not that synchronicity is on the boss and you’re trying to avoid it.
Blaugust Day 30