Expand your mind with Shape of the World (Review)

Jun 5, 2018

Shape of the World
Developer: Hollow Tree Games
Publisher: Plug In Digital
Release Date: June 5th

Shape of the World is the first release for newcomers Hollow Tree Games. This title first entered the public stage through a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign back in July of 2015. I was lucky enough to have been given access to an early build of the game back then. Even in its infancy, it was clear that this seven-person indie team was on to something special. I am happy to report that, nearly three years later, my expectations have been exceeded.

In many respects, it is hard to even classify Shape of the World as a game. There are no monsters, no weapons, no missions nor any high-scores or leaderboards. What this game does offer is a captivating atmosphere; a feast of color, light and sound that converge into a truly mesmerizing and legitimate sensory experience. As the title implies, over the course of each playthrough, you will bear witness to the formation of an alien world. When you first begin, you find yourself in a silent, nearly featureless expanse. The only point of interest is a gleaming angular archway. Upon passing under this structure, a world of shapes, colors, sounds and music surges to life all around you. With every step you take, mountains rise, lakes form, trees shoot towards the sky and animals poof into existence. Are you a witness of this new realm’s birth or its parent?

While you are free to roam the landscape at your leisure, you will discover more of those mysterious archways. Each one you pass underneath introduces new colors and sounds, as well as strange structures to interact with. Lay your hands on all of these shimmering objects and magical pathways materialize to lead you to higher elevations. As you follow this pattern and climb higher and higher, the world will take on new shapes such as forests, caves and snowy mountain ranges. Additionally, the wildlife will grow in variety and complexity, ranging from tiny tadpoles to colossal whales. It isn’t clear why most of the animals are aquatic in design, but that doesn’t make watching seahorses dance above your head any less beautiful. Some of the larger jellyfish will rush towards you, but they pose no threat beyond the minor annoyance of getting bumped around a bit.

The sole way you can interact with the landscape is through the creation and destruction of the trees. Scattered around the ground in certain areas will be strange seeds you can collect. Once obtained, you can toss them into the earth to cause a tree to take shape. Inversely, hitting a tree will wipe it from existence and will also fling you forward. Do this in rapid succession and you can build up considerable momentum. If you are looking for a way to traverse an area quickly, this is a solid tactic. There are a number of different seeds hidden throughout the game. You can keep track of how many kinds you have collected on the Pause screen. Seeds of different designs don’t change the type of trees you can grow, but finding every variety of seed may give you a secondary objective beyond tracking down archways.

The collective experience is a short one, roughly one to three hours depending on your play style. However, what this game lacks in length, it makes up for in immersion. I must have said “Wow” out loud about 20 times on my first playthrough of the game. Some of the vistas that you will discover are just stunning to behold and the way the musical score shifts and evolves in response to your actions truly makes you feel a genuine sense of wonder. Shape of the World isn’t designed for binge gaming. Due to the game’s procedurally generated world, the sights and sounds of each playthrough will differ from the next. As such, it becomes the type of game you pop in to unwind after a long day, an intense Fortnite: Battle Royale match or a harrowing World of Warcraft raid. It’s the video game equivalent of throwing on a pair of headphones and zoning out to your favorite album.

Shape of the World is launching this week. Steam and PS4 users can purchase the game on June 5th while Xbox One and Switch owners can grab a copy on June 6th. If you are a fan of games like Flower or Journey, I highly recommend giving this game a try. For up-to-date information, as well as more pictures and videos, be sure to visit the game’s official website. Share your thoughts in the comments or on our social media channels. Until next time, Happy Gaming!

Summary: A game that is a sensory treat for the eyes and the ears. While it won’t challenge your reflexes, it will stimulate your mind. The short length combined with the procedural generation will keep you coming back time and again to see what new vibrant landscapes and majestic animals you can discover. If you are in the market for a unique and relaxing experience, your search ends here.