Andrew: There’s no denying the fact that my favourite game genre is platformers. So, needless to say, I was intrigued by the Paperbox Studios Australian made title, Shapeway. What further peaked my attention was the fact that it was available on Steam as well as on Android and iOS. When I got to play it at PAX Australia this year, I knew I had to download it right away. I then immediately messaged Dave telling him to download it, as he is always in need of games to play on his mobile. So, Dave, now I’ve forced you into playing Shapeway, why don’t you tell us what it actually is and your initial thoughts?
Dave: Shapeway is dual concept game encompassing both puzzle-based level design and platforming. Levels are self-contained and, equipped with basic platforming skills, your goal is simply to reach the exit. There’s a catch though! The levels aren’t designed in a manner to allow you to achieve this without some form of “divine intervention” which is where Shapeway’s unique twist comes into play. By flicking between the game’s two modes – edit and play – Shapeway allows the player to add components to a level to enable you to reach your goal. Can’t make that jump? Add a spring pad to give you the extra height you need. Getting zapped by a laser? Block it with a spinning blade trap. You must plan carefully though, as resources are limited and progression relies heavily on frugal use.
As a big fan of platform puzzle games like Braid and The Swapper I was very excited to see what Shapeway had to offer. The first thing I noticed was how easy the game was. In most cases you’re given more than enough design components to achieve your goal, meaning the main challenge, for me, came from trying for gold trophies and getting the platforming right. Platforming was fun, but left little margin for error, making the tighter sections feel more frustrating than rewarding. That said, perhaps that’s just me becoming “soft” as a result of modern day platformers. How about you? What were your first thoughts?
Andrew: My first thoughts were “A platformer on a mobile phone? That’ll never work.” But as a devoted platforming lover, I downloaded it as soon as I could, alongside the Project Greenlight Steam version as well. And boy was I glad to be wrong. Unlike the Rayman mobile games where you tap the screen to jump, in Shapeway you have buttons you can actually use to navigate the levels. Using jump with your right thumb, and left or right with your left thumb, you can quite easily make your way through levels. I’m always a little cynical when it comes to games on mobiles that have more than two ‘buttons’ as I find they usually take up too much real estate on the screen. With Shapeway though, the ‘buttons’ are opaque making them feel unobtrusive and thus making the game easier to play. I found the platforming itself nice, precise and enjoyable. I’ll get on to the level ‘creation’ later on.
My main quibble with the game is the fact that, on the mobile version, it is a free to play game with microtransactions. Now, it being free is nice for sure, however, I would have preferred the microtransactions not be tied to completing levels. As you mentioned, the real challenge is getting gold trophies for each level. To progress past certain points, you need to obtain a prescribed amount of gold trophies to unlock those levels. If you get a silver trophy on a level, you may not be able to progress to the next level and will instead be prompted to purchase the next level. Whilst microtransactions usually don’t bother me all that much, when they are tied to the core progression of the game, they really get my goat. And I like my goat! If I had been able to purchase the game outright and the gold trophies had been an optional achievement, I would have enjoyed my time with Shapeway just that little bit more. How did you feel about the microtransactions? Would you have preferred they follow the Crossy Road route of watching an ad instead of forking out real money to progress?
Dave: My thoughts mirror your own. Subtle and effective advertising in games is a tough beast to master and I was disappointed to find that, in Shapeway, an ad played after each level. As levels often took under a minute to complete, this meant I was constantly bombarded with ads, often waiting for five second timers to expire before progressing. I have no issue with paying for the removal of ads, however Shapeway didn’t display the price; meaning, if I wanted to pay, I had to authorise the payment before knowing the cost. Worse still, the ad removal cost was directly linked to progression in the game.
Shapeway is divided into four worlds. Each world has fifteen levels; however these unlock 5 at a time. If you earn a gold trophy on all five levels then the next tier unlocks allowing you to proceed. Gold medals are unlocked by utilising the bare minimum number of design components in your solution to achieve a “perfect” route. I’m a big fan of this kind of hook as it often increases the replay value of games, however, by using it as a frequent progression requirement instead of a bonus, Shapeway effectively voids the benefit of progressing with anything other than the optimal solution. Don’t worry though – if you’re having trouble finding the solution, you can just pay to unlock all the levels – and this is what bugs me about it. It feels forced and intrusive.
You mentioned Crossy Road as an example of a game that does monetization well and you’re right. In Crossy Road, the ads don’t break the flow of the game, are optional, and the microtransactions don’t affect progression.
Despite intrusive advertising I still really enjoyed my time with Shapeway. Similar to games like Crossy Road and Super Meat Boy failure on a level results in an instant respawn meaning game flow is very smooth and enjoyable. Changing between edit and play modes was seamless and I found the experience very rewarding. What are your thoughts on the edit/play aspects of the game?
Andrew: I absolutely loved it. Just like you, I found the core base of the game a joy to play. The ease of swapping between edit mode and play mode is nice and smooth. I’d find myself swapping in and out of the different modes to test jump distances very easily. Add in the touch screen element of mobile phones and it becomes easy to move elements around to create your path. Shapeway works just as well on the PC version however I felt a lot more comfortable using my phone rather than a keyboard and mouse.
For the earlier levels, there appears to be a prescribed path to the end, but as the levels progress you discover different paths of varying degrees of difficulty. Some may have pits of bubbling lava, while others may have rotating saw blades. I enjoyed the gradually escalating difficulty of the levels; some really made me think about how to progress. I also really enjoyed the different element options you can choose from when creating your path. Not all are nice and easy – in fact, my favourite levels were the ones where you had an array of bricks that would break when jumped on them and bricks with rotating saws. This added challenge was greatly appreciated.
Making the gameplay even smoother are the nice, simple visuals as well as the enjoyable music and sound design. The art style is very basic, but in an endearing fashion. Your little blue man is quite cute for a brick-like character and the sounds he makes when he jumps – and dies – add to that pleasing factor. The music itself is really enjoyable and was one of the first times in a while where I didn’t turn off the in game music and listen to something else when playing a mobile game. Throw in the great sound effects for different elements – like the aforementioned lava which bubbles when you’re near it – and it soon becomes an immersive experience.
I’ve gushed over the game enough, what are your thoughts on the ease of play in Shapeway? Do you think it does enough to shake up the platformer genre to be its own unique title?
Dave: My view is quite opposite to yours actually. To me Shapeway feels more like a “proof of concept” than a polished and tested game. Combining excellent concepts with an enjoyable interface, it was let down by its pacing and level design. New elements were presented in a staggered fashion allowing for gradual introduction to players, however they were rarely necessary in order to progress meaning most players would ignore them in favour of taking the safest route. Alternate routes were nice, but I didn’t experience them until around level 4-8, just 7 levels shy of game completion!
Before I conclude, I did want to touch on the music. I agree with everything you said, but also wanted to mention the subtle effect of the muffling of the music in edit mode. This change in audio between modes made for a really enjoyable experience and reminded me of games like PixelJunk Shooter and Airscape! It really added to the atmosphere nicely!
Platformers live and die by their accessibility. That’s not to say a game needs to be easy, but you do need equal parts skill and level design in order for the player to have fun. The precise timing requirements of Shapeway pushed this boundary for me. Level 4-9 is a good example. In that level your timing had to be microsecond perfect in order to succeed, which made the level more frustrating than enjoyable for me.
Shapeway was fun but levels alternated between frustratingly hard and incredibly easy making for a mixed experience. It’s definitely a game worth playing, but not one that will stay on my phone should I run low on space. It’s a 5 out of 10 from me. Some will like this title, and others will not – average overall but it had the potential to be really good.
Andrew: It’s interesting that you comment about only finding the ‘alternate routes’ in the later levels. I found that some of the earlier levels did contain a few alternate routes. You’re not really encouraged to explore for these alternative routes all that much, but that didn’t stop it from being enjoyable for me.
I do agree that platformers live or die on their accessibility, but I feel that the gradual difficulty level here made the accessibility fair. Just like a good puzzle game, the way the difficult levels and the various methods you can use to solve them that were introduced throughout the game never made me feel like I was over challenged. I found that if I hit a level that I was struggling with, I would simply leave it for a bit and come back – just like I would with a puzzle game.
I do wish though, that those microtransactions weren’t there, or if they were necessary, that they were implemented differently. I would have happily forked out $5 or so to have the whole game open to me at once with some levels locked away behind progression based goals. However, I found Shapeway fun enough and an interesting and worthwhile platformer for mobile so it’s a 7 out of 10 for me.