Shape of the World (Switch) Review

Our Changing World

The first person exploration game Shape of the World begins in a bright white realm, nearly devoid of anything. In the distance is a red outline of an incomplete triangle a singular image beckoning the player. Upon walking through the triangular shape, nature suddenly begins to materialize: trees pop up from the ground and giant boulders appear from behind. The world receives a splash of color, and unfamiliar creatures populate the new environment. So begins the journey.

 

Be sure to check out my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!

Hollow Tree Games’ Shape of the World is an interactive experience akin to “walking simulators.” The game actually feels like a mixture of two such walking sims: Proteus and Journey. You are free to explore a world and are given little direction other than the red triangular symbol that one can’t help but proceed towards. The big difference is that the world grows around you as you walk. Flora, fauna, and mountains emerge from the ground, producing a neat pop-up book-like experience. There is no plot and almost no text, but there is a linear progression through several biomes, each with their own unique settings and surreal color palettes.

Shape of the World Nintendo Switch Triangle.jpg
It all begins with a caret.

The world is pretty and exhibits a dreamlike charm, despite its low-poly design. The minimalist artstyle helps the emerging flora stand out, although the lack of detail results in some cheap-looking set pieces. Additionally, the emerging scenery sometimes looks like poor draw distance pop-in. Regardless, I appreciated the dynamic color shifts and moments of blissful eye-candy. The fusion of light electronic beats and oriental-inspired music work well to deliver a zen experience, and the soundtrack’s dynamic nature complements the active environment.

Shape of the World Forest.jpg
The world is photogenic.

The world may look nice, but there isn’t as much to do in it or see as I would hope. The areas are fairly empty, save for a few wild creatures roaming about. Even though the biomes look different, they start to blend after a while, simply because little happens in any of them. As a result, I wasn’t as compelled to explore. There are some standout moments and sets, such as majestic creatures in the sky or beautiful water effects. They sell the conceit of a tranquil, spiritual adventure but unfortunately don’t occur often.

Shape of the World has a neat concept, but that’s about it. The game is designed to let you relax. There are no enemies, timers, or fail states. Gameplay consists entirely of walking around and watching the world grow. But you don’t even get to create the world how you desire like in the similar open world sandbox genre. Rather, your role is mostly passive; the world is shaped around you based on your movement as opposed to you possessing agency to freely shape the world. Your limited actions include touching rocks to form staircases, flying to structures, throwing seeds to instantly spawn trees, and interacting with said trees to jump forward a little.

Shape of the World Whale.jpg
Breathtaking moments are present, but few.

Despite the game’s focus of immersing you in a world and simulating the feeling of being lost, there are clear red triangular goal posts that you must go through. Those seeking a more open world might be disappointed by the game’s scope and linearity. Once you pass through the triangular checkpoints, the world shifts, sometimes bringing you to the next level. The only way to return to previous areas is to go through a chapter select, in which you restart that biome completely from scratch, so you don’t keep any aspect of your created worlds. In addition, the biomes in the game aren’t that large. In fact, I once fell off the level while exploring its edge – an odd glitch.

Although there is an ending to this 2-3 hour journey, you may not necessarily come out with any big revelation as in similar games of the genre. And other than beating the game, there is no real sense of progress, no record of your creations or achievements, other than a small set of collectibles. Consequently, replay value is limited.

Shape of the World Water.jpg
The blobby creatures are so adorable!

Conclusion

Shape of the World straddles the line between open-ended exploration and a “walking simulator.” There is a profound beauty in strolling around and watching the world generate on its own, but there isn’t much substance through your linear walkthrough. And without a story or a character to relate to, not to mention the lacking senses of progression and urgency, it can be a dull journey. Still, it’s an artistic treat to the senses. Some people, particularly fans of games like Proteus, may enjoy the game’s meditative, slow-paced nature. However, at its US$15 price point, Shape of the World may not be the easiest sell for its experience.

Score: 5/10

 Note: A review copy was used for this article.

What do you think of Shape of the World? What are your thoughts on walking simulators in general? I’d love to know your favorites and least favorites in the genre! Please share any thoughts or questions in the comments section below! Thank you so much for reading and watching!

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17 thoughts on “Shape of the World (Switch) Review

  1. Wonderful review! I really liked your opening description of how the world forms around you! I haven’t played a lot of walking simulators, but Journey is a standout one that comes to mind. The Shape of Wat–I mean, Shape of the World. looks considerably less sophisticated than Journey. The color palette is serene but the shapes themselves are kind of crude looking. I think it’s a cool concept but more design detail would’ve added a lot, especially since the visuals are the main (and only) focus of the game. It seems like a relaxing way to pass some time, but going for an actual walk outside might be better. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your support and super kind words! I truly appreciate it as always! 😀 Journey is definitely one of my favorite walking sim adventures, and Shape of the World’s game flow reminded me of that game. But with Journey, it really felt like an adventure with a protagonist, and I appreciated that. Shape of the World is more of a Proteus-like open adventure with a neat twist of the world growing around you, but not much else. It looks beautiful, but yeah, a walk outside would be just as relaxing. But trees and rocks don’t just pop out of the ground in real life! 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good point haha! Also, as you may have guessed, my favorite walking sim would probably be Journey, and my least favorite is Dear Esther. I just found that one boring. Gone Home is kind of in the middle for me. I liked Gone Home and the story was interesting, though walking around the home felt unnecessarily scary.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Great choices for favorite, least favorite, and middle. I didn’t like Dear Esther much either, and Gone Home was okay, though the story and setting seemed to juxtapose. I love thatgamecompany’s work, particularly Journey and Flower, and I’m looking forward to their next game Sky!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Cool review! You’ve been reviewing a lot of trippier games lately, and I love it! Random, but I think it’s cool that this game doesn’t offer any sort of tutorial on what you’re supposed to do. It’s a nice break from a lot of modern gaming.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot for your support and great comments as always! It’s awesome that you appreciate the trippiness. I think a lot of indie games tend to go for a unique artstyle and Shape of the World definitely fits the bill. And yes! Completely get what you mean about the lack of tutorial. The game does tell you how to interact and throw seeds, but gives no context otherwise about what either of those actions does. It is a game about exploration and getting lost after all! Thanks again!! 😀

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  3. I like walking simulators as a downtime game. I like Gone Home (though that freaked the flip out of me for some reason). This game looks a tad too psychedelic for me to be without a story. Is it like Abzu?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t played Abzu yet, but I’ve always wanted to try it out! What’s it like? And yes, this game is very psychedelic, and without a story, it doesn’t always make that much sense. You know, I was also freaked out by Gone Home. That was actually one of the reasons I didn’t like it so much. I thought the story was pretty good, but it was a weird juxtaposition to the “haunted house” tone. I thought what was happening was way worse than it actually was, and was very freaked out walking through the mansion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Abzu is pretty fantastic. It’s a very relaxing, yet enthralling game. I spent so much time looking at the pretty fish. It kind of has a story, but it’s bare bones.
        Gone Home freaked me out so badly too. And in the end, it all accounted for nothing. I didn’t mind it so much because it was similar to how I would feel if I was exploring an empty house at night by myself anyways.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I so need to check out Abzu sometime. It seems like a more exciting version of Endless Ocean, which was hardly a game at all.

        I like the idea of exploring a house with a creepy atmosphere, and I think a story with more sinister implications would have fit well with Gone Home. That said, I’ve been to houses at night to pick things up, and it’s indeed a scary experience even if you know it’s probably safe. So I completely understand how you feel.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I don’t think it’s worth the price, nor do I think it’s any sort of must-play experience. But it’s the sort of walking sim that does have appeal, albeit limited. Thanks as always for your kind words and support TSN! 😄

      Liked by 1 person

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