Shape of the World (Nintendo Switch) Review

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Shape of the World is an odd game. Developed in Unreal Engine 4 by Hollow Tree Games, it describes itself as “A relaxing and interactive escape to get yourself pleasantly lost”. I don’t quite know what to make of it, but I hope my experience will be useful for those on the fence.

Welcome to the World

You start the game in a bright white light, with little to guide you beyond a faint outline in the distance. With no glimpse of instruction nor narrative, I approached, eager to discover what this canvas of a world would evolve into. In the beginning, everything felt slow, almost intentionally so. I found myself drawn into each crevice and cliff face, each rock and sprout; the contrast of definition on this barren screen drew me into progression and motivated me to move towards my goal. As an introduction section, I think it does a fantastic job. It sets certain expectations of the worlds’ growth, and that there is more to see if you are simply willing to look. 

As your near your first goal, you’re presented with what might be described as gameplay. With an unclimbable wall before you and two glowing stones, you must interact with them to create a set of stairs. It’s a pleasant experience that furthers your involvement with the world’s development and gives you a small sense of satisfaction in knowing you’re progressing. At this point, I was excited to see what else the game would do with these interactions. It had started small and simply to introduce its core mechanic; this is what I thought at the time. I wanted to see myself progress through this world through creative and interesting means, to see this simple world explode in a brilliant light of unexpected and simple. In the end, I found myself disappointed. 

Where I had hoped to see interaction escalate, the game gave me the same repetitive format over and over. Here are some stones, touch them to create stairs, follow the stairs for your next gateway and set of stones; rinse and repeat. This cycle grew more and more tiresome as it soon became clear the game’s sense of escalation came from the amount of stones you had to interact with at each destination. It ultimately came across as a means of padding the experience with menial content as the slow movement I previously praised felt like an anchor weighing me down. 

Outside of the repetitive progression, the game prides itself in its procedurally generated foliage and whimsical creations. This is one aspect I can honestly say worked really well. Seeing the world pop up around me, to see creatures appear from the shadows begging for interaction, it pulled me off the beaten path to see what was to be found. It could however only grip me for so long before my slowed pace made each trek feel less and less worthwhile. I could go look at the shining blob in the distance, but the amount of time it’d take to crawl there and back would only serve to infuriate me, in contrast to the relaxing vibes the game strives for. It’s a shame, because the game very much feels like it is there to be experienced; it simply gives you no engaging means of doing so. If you could move just a touch faster, if you had a second jump, if you had a sprint button, a short teleport; none of these ideas would compromise the game’s core themes or ideology, but would make it so much more playable. 

If the slow pace and lack of traditional gameplay and narrative doesn’t put you off, you may yet find some joy in the lush scenic beauty this game puts forward. Progressing through each layer of the world brings with it new foliage and themes, creatures and critters for you to approach and interact with. Each touch brings with it a pleasant sound, putting you at the heart of the world and making you feel a part of it. Even with the game only lasting a few hours for a full playthrough, if this kind of experience helps you relax or de-stress, I can see this game having some value. Shape of the World definitely isn’t a game for me, but it could yet be one for you. 

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