You see two objects in a circular gray field, as if looking in through an electron microscope. Move the left stick and you'll find out which object is you. Hit buttons until you reach the shoulders or triggers and find out you're not just a little blob, but a little blob with a sword. Strike the other geometric creature in sight and suddenly a small pack of triangles are after you. Fight on, globular gladiator. Fight on.
Shapes of Gray has a simple sense of discovery to it, providing no manual or backstory to lean on and relying on the player's gaming instinct to find out what's what. This initial feeling of the unexpected makes it more compelling at first, but there are unfortunately some flaws waiting for explorers to find as well.
In the first phase of play you find you have to fight your way through 49 tiny arenas. Why not 50? Probably because of saucily paved over Twilight fanfiction, that's why; but let's not digress toward things that have already received more attention than they deserve.
While moving the left stick controls the direction of the character's movement, the right stick controls which way it's facing, and subsequently the direction of the sword slash. Dual-stick manoeuvreing becomes an increasingly important element as the intensity of enemy attacks increases, and it responds relatively well. There may be some times when the sword isn't positioned just right and something slips through, or that the blob will seem to overeagerly run into an enemy, but it usually seems to be a result of human error.
The sword itself is a little thing, but actually feels pretty nice to wield. Hits connect with a satisfying sense of mass and even push your character back a little. That combined with the black-and-white theme conjures the slightest Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening feel. There's even a sub-weapon that can be found sometimes, in the form of shuriken that can be flung in limited amounts.
The blob never gets as many hearts as Link can, however, and has no shield either. In most cases, getting hit three times or letting the timer on each level expire will end the run and ship you back to a previous level - either the beginning or just past one of two checkpoints reached by slaying a mini-boss. The timer almost never tends to be unfair, but does force you to move forward aggressively. It's damage that will be the primary nemesis, as a mis-step can rip one or two of your three hearts away in a blink and there's very rarely a chance to replenish them.
It's nice that there are checkpoints at all, but this can still mean running the same leg of levels over and over and over again if you're having difficulty. The last leg of the initial quest, for example, requires surviving 20 levels just for a chance to take on the last boss. And if you lose, you're just going to have to go through all those again for another shot. The levels aren't long by any means, but the sheer number of deaths and repeats you may face can become aggravating to those who don't have as much resolve to try and try again. There are also no saves, requiring the full 49 to be completed in one sitting.
Victory ultimately comes down to remembering what each room contains and reacting to it quickly. In a nice move, the placements of all the enemies in a room are always the same relative to each other, but may not start in the same place. Think of it like each circular room being rotated a different way every time. This keeps it from being a full-on case of muscle memory, but things will still become very familiar over time.
Although Shapes of Gray entirely lives up to its namesake and some will likely turn away from looks alone, the style works. It's unique, and flashy colours would likely distract from the task at hand. It's surprising, however, that such an apparently simple display will often suffer from slowdown when there's a lot of action onscreen. Something just isn't right there. There was also an instance when an enemy became stuck in the side of the arena (how can you get stuck in something without corners?) but that only happened once.
Beating those first 49 levels is not the end of the game. There is a second quest to take on after that, and an Arcade mode is also added that gives points for collecting coins and completing rooms as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be an online leaderboard for bragging rights. Is there more to discover after these additions? You'll just have to find out for yourself.
...Which means yes. Whenever anyone says this, it means yes.
Fans of old, arcade-like twitch style may dig Shapes of Grey and its challenge for monochromatic mastery. It controls solidly, has a good if not one-track soundtrack, and features an impressively varied amount of enemy shapes with differing "personalities" to take on. Slowdown problems do occasionally throw a wrench into the flow of things, though, and not even the Arcade mode might keep some players from coming back if they've burnt themselves out having to repeat the same set of levels to what feels like infinity. Don't get Gray if you easily see red, but others still might discover some zen in the non-complex chaos.