|System: PS Vita, PS3|
|Dev: Queasy Games|
|Release: August 7, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 544p|
by Josh Wirtanen
Sound Shapes is one of those rare gems that had me hooked from the second I turned it on. Its premise is fairly straightforward, though a simple explanation hardly does it justice. You see, the game takes a completely fresh approach to the rhythm genre.
Sound Shapes is essentially a platformer where you control a little eyeball-like object that rolls around the screen. You can make this thing jump, and it will stick to certain walls and ceilings. Sounds simple enough, right?
But the thing that makes it stand out is the fact that every element of the game completely revolves around music. The obstacles you're going to have to dodge and avoid? Those are all timed to the rhythm of whatever song is playing in the background. Each coin you collect in a stage adds a new sound to the mix, so if you want to hear a song in its entirety, you have to collect all the coins. Listening to the various pieces of a song coming together as you uncover these coins is incredibly cool.
Now, any music-based game will live or die based on its soundtrack, and Sound Shapes brings together an insanely talented ensemble cast. In fact, you've probably purchased (or illegally downloaded) albums by some of these people at some point in your life. Deadmau5 and Beck lead the pack, but the tracks by Jim Guthrie and I Am Robot and Proud manage to hold their own as well. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up buying something by I Am Robot and Proud, based on how exceptional their contributions to Sound Shapes are.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
The levels in the game are actually better referred to as songs. The game is divided into six albums (one of which is a brief tutorial album) and each album contains between three and five songs (though the tutorial album only has two). Sure, it's not a lengthy campaign by any means, but we're promised robust DLC support in the future. And really, the album format of Sound Shapes is incredibly well-suited to downloadable content.
But the campaign is really just the tip of the iceberg here. You see, similar to LittleBigPlanet, completing stages earns you items to use in a level editor. Here, that means you actually get to create your own music in what's essentially a cross between a music sequencer and a level editor. And this is the true meat of Sound Shapes. Creative types will drool over the sorts of things they can build here. You're not just building platformer stages; you're actually composing your own music, which is visually represented as a video game level. How cool is that?
Of course, there's a huge social aspect to the game; you'll be able to upload your own creations and play through creations uploaded by others. On the day the game came out, there was already a pretty heft supply of user-created levels. Mind you, not all of them are going to be as fine-tuned as the stock levels, but there are actually quite a few decent ones in the mix. In fact, some users enjoy being downright brutal in their level design, which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering the platformer genre is no stranger to high difficulty levels.
Even though the music composition element takes center stage in the post-campaign content, there are some other cool things to play around with that open up once you've completed the main game. First is Death Mode, which allows you to replay new versions of the campaign songs, only with insanely difficult timed objectives added. If you were disappointed by how easy the campaign was, Death Mode is probably more your thing.
Next up, though, is an addition to the editor called Beat School, which essentially teaches you the basics of music sequencing by asking you to listen to certain patterns and re-create them in the in-game sequencer. Of course, I have almost a decade of experience with sequencing, so I breezed through this entire mode in about 30 minutes (I really only had any real trouble with this mode's final challenge). To those who don't have this kind of experience under their belts, though, I can see this being somewhat difficult. But stick with it and I promise you you'll be much better prepared to experiment with the game's music creation elements.