|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: Queasy Games|
|Release: March 13, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 544p|
by Josh Engen
Forgive me if this sounds a little melodramatic, but if you haven't played Sound Shapes by now, your life has been a complete waste of time. I don't care if you spend the majority of your day volunteering at homeless shelters and performing CPR on kittens. A few rounds of Sound Shapes would enrich your existence far more than any amount of volunteer work ever could.
Hyperbole aside, Sound Shapes has become one of Sony's most impressive little surprises. Vita ownership often isn't an easy thing to stomach these days, but Sound Shapes is like a digital antacid.
For those of you who haven't experienced the title yet, it's what you might get if you threw a copy of Super Meat Boy into a blender with Guitar Hero and drank the resulting solution. This might sound like a strange combination, but it makes sense once you actually get behind the wheel. However, you can't really understand Sound Shapes until you experience the game's two main components; the platformer and a level creation suite.
The platformer component is everything we've come to expect from a modern day side-scroller. Players take control of an amorphous ball of goo and must navigate a dangerous dubstep universe. It’s all pretty straightforward. In fact, if you were to mute the volume on your Vita, there might not be anything particularly special about the campaign. It's adequately difficult and the visuals are subtle and stylish. But when you turn up the volume, the game becomes far more interesting.
As you collect items throughout the levels, the soundtrack becomes layered and intricate. Every item represents another note in the electronic soundtrack. So, in order to fully experience a stage, you'll need to collect all of the notes.
The other side to Sound Shapes, the level creator, allows players to create their own maps using music, items, and terrain from the campaign. It's incredibly simplistic, as is the rest of the title, but it's enough to allow players to create some fairly impressive and intricate custom campaigns.
Once you've polished off the campaign, two other modes are unlocked: Beat School and Death Mode. Beat School puts players at the helm of a 16-step sequencer and asks them to copycat several musical scores. For those of us with a musical bent, Beat School blends two of our favorite time-wasting hobbies, which makes Sound Shapes the game that every mother should fear the most.
Death Mode, on the other hand, is an incredibly frustrating series of timed minigames. Players dodge traps and collect notes for 30 seconds at a time or until they die, whichever comes first. And the later is far more frequent.
Queasy Games, the developer behind Sound Shapes, has poured an impressive amount of work into their little platformer/sequencer hybrid. It's a truly unique experience that fits perfectly into Sony's artistically inspired lineup of games. Since the title was released last year, Queasy has delivered a steady stream of new musical content and creation tools, but this week they released the game's first proper DLC pack.
The Car Mini-Album and Creator Pack, which is already available on the PlayStation Store for only two bucks, adds three new levels, a few new creation options, a brand new sound pack, Beat School lessons, and a two new cars.
Obviously, the coolest part of this package is the addition of two new vehicles. Those of you who polished off the original Sound Shapes campaign have already seen the Sound Shapes submarine, but cars are cooler than submarines. Everyone knows that.
If you've ever played Uniracers on the SNES, the control scheme should be instantly familiar. Each Car has a fiery boost and can do more flips than a speedo-wearing high diver by simply touching the shoulder buttons. But one of the cars, the one that looks like an Ed Hardy T-shirt, will explode if it lands upside-down. So, speed is not always your friend.
The DLC only contains three new maps, so the campaign levels, which are collected in an album called Do You Wheelie Want to Hurt Me, are polished off quickly. It's a little disappointing, but it underlines Queasy's philosophy: Sound Shapes belongs to the community.
The point of the Car Mini-Album and Creator Pack isn't to overwhelm you with a collection of new campaign levels. It's to give the community the tools to create their own vehicle-heavy maps. Hopefully, the new terrain, loops, and speed boosts that have been included in the Creator Pack will give editors the tools they need. But the extended campaign is definitely going to be disappointing if you're expecting to spend hours behind the wheel. I managed to finish the three new levels in about 20 minutes.