Shape of the World

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Plug in Digital
Developer: Hollow Tree Games
Release Date: June 6, 2018


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Switch Review - 'Shape of the World'

by Fran Soto on Aug. 7, 2018 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Shape of the World is an ephemeral first-person exploration game where the world grows around you in a procedurally populated environment.

Buy Shape of the World

Procedurally generated environments, the power to control the formation of the world, and peaceful ambiance are what make up the first-person explorer, Shape of the World. Developed by Hollow Tree Games and published by Plug In Digital, Shape of the World puts the power of creation in the players' hands. The game begins as a blank slate. No flora or fauna to see, nothing but an empty space for tutorial purposes. The game truly begins once players leave this tutorial area through a large A-shaped gate. These gates are found all over and help the progression of the game.

Shape of the World is simple enough: Keep walking, and your world will come to life. As players walk around, the world begins to populate with towering trees and scuttling creatures. Players get a choice in shaping the world. Walking around populates your world, and it also provides players with opportunities to collect seeds found in the environment. Once enough of the same seed type has been collected, players can toss seeds around to their heart's content. There are a variety of these collectibles found in the world to placate a collector's enthusiasm and provide diversity in flora. There is a satisfaction that comes with creating the world you desire. Throwing seeds immediately causes them to sprout, and they can be thrown anywhere that has dirt (even underwater).

Shape of the World provides a minimalistic art style to this virtual playground. Geometric shapes and blobs of animals set in a pastel-colored backdrop follow the tranquil, surreal theme of the game. Relaxing soundscapes play in the background as you journey forth. Composer Brent Silk does an excellent job of creating a peaceful atmosphere that could be straight out of a sci-fi film. The futuristic soundscapes add depth by adhering to the theme of tranquil ambiance. Fans of games like Journey and No Man's Sky may find Shape of the World to be just as appealing.

Playing it on the Switch, it was satisfying to be able to pick up and put down the game with ease, allowing me to play it during a lunch break or moments when I didn't have much time. It's a walking simulator with sandbox elements, but this is the kind of game that allows players to relax as they play. There are no real objectives other than passing through gates to reach the next area. There are no monsters to fight or quests to fulfill. Shape of the World provides an amorphous adventure with infinite possibilities.

While there are no true objectives, if players want to advance through the game, they'll have to seek out the many gates throughout the world. This could be as simple as walking toward them, or slightly more complex, such as interacting with pillars to cause them to grow and spawn stairs. There are a couple of gates within each area, so how players want to advance is ultimately their choice.

After passing through the gates, it's surprising to see the variety in levels. Including the tutorial area, there are 10 different chapters, each with distinct elements. Players start out in the Valley, where tranquil lakes and bubbling brooks take center stage. Trees are sparse until players pick up seeds to grow their world. Not happy with the placement of some trees? The game has an editor feature where players can "delete" flora that has spawned. In addition to deleting plants and trees, the action of doing so also gives players a little hop in movement speed. It's understandable with a game of this nature that movement can be slow, but it was tedious trying navigate each level at such a speed. There is no run ability, and the most help players receive isn't until the later levels, when interacting with monoliths sends one flying through the air. These especially come in handy once players reach the cave chapter, which is mostly underwater, and interacting with monoliths increases swimming speed.

Shape of the World is a game about taking one's time. Yes, one can beat the game in a single sitting, but looking for new seeds and creating one's personal Garden of Eden is part of the process. Watching the ambiance change from tranquil lakes to a torrent of showers in the Rainforest provides diversity in each area. By moving to new areas, players are also able to pick up new seeds. Nothing was more satisfying than creating a forest of trees where there was none and populating the world to your heart's desire. After unlocking new areas, players are easily able to skip levels through the chapter selection screen. Progression does create more densely populated areas and newly evolved fauna, so one can see how the world takes on a life of its own.

While there are 28 different seeds one can collect, it was a tad disappointing to see that players have no control over the animals in the world. Amorphous fish and jellyfish-like animals have lives of their own. Some may follow you, while others run away as players approach. In later chapters of the game, there are even some animals that will delete newly planted flora. While the animals give the game more depth, not being able to create new animals or control them detracts from the overall creation experience. They add to the tranquil ambiance as gentle whales float by in the sky, or schools of fish swirl about you.

Playing Shape of the World in portable mode provides the best experience for players looking for a relaxing game on the go. Crisp visuals and smooth frame rates create a memorable experience. Playing Shape of the World in docked mode provides the same kind of quality. No drops in frame rates or quality of visuals could be noticed. The game plays easily in both modes. The atmosphere is colorful and vibrant, but some levels of the game (such as the Rainforest) created a more dimly lit world that was difficult to navigate. Because the title works in a minimalist art style, no borders or lines are visible to distinguish landmarks. This makes it more difficult to navigate some areas and detracts from the overall experience. Usually, there is a gate visible throughout the level, but in the darker areas, it was difficult to find the exit. While the game is mostly open-world to a degree — attempting to test the boundaries causes giant rock forms to sprout and create natural barriers — there were times when I found myself lost in the world with no direction. A change in lighting and textures could potentially solve this frustrating issue with a future patch.

Overall, Shape of the World provides a relaxing virtual playground for players wishing to create their own world. Gorgeous visuals and soothing ambiance make the game perfect for those wishing to kick back and relax with an incredibly chill explorer simulator. Being able to construct worlds with a variety of seeds gives players a reason to explore each area and come back for more. Multiple levels with their own flora and fauna give players new sights to explore. While walking can be slow at times and some visuals actually hinder progress, Shape of the World makes up for these shortcomings in a memorable sandbox experience that's perfect for casual play.

Score: 8.0/10

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