Sound Shapes Review

August 8, 2012

The sweet sound of shapes…

From Everyday Shooter creator Jonathan Mak and his partner at Queasy Games Shaw-Han Liem, comes Sound Shapes – a concoction of music creation and classic 2D platforming that attempts to use the Vita’s functionality and allow players to sequence beautiful music whilst traversing deadly landscapes. For some, the novelty in the description would be enough to perk some interest, but does Sound Shapes hit all the right notes? Read on to find out.

Game: Sound Shapes
Developer: Queasy Games/SCE Santa Monica Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Reviewed on:

Initially, Queasy Games’ sequencer-platformer feels more like an work in progress than an actual game. There’s no story, the protagonist is essentially a circular blob and the main premise of collecting coins on the way to an end point doesn’t exactly set the world alight. Even the visuals that offer a nice minimalist and smoothly animated look, often struggle to capture the charm that titles of similar stock manage to encapsulate so well. Although, it’s not long before you realise that there’s plenty more to be found than what initially meets the eye (and the ears).

The reason for this lies mainly in Sound Shapes’ unique quality of being neither a game that utilises music, such as Rez for example, or a sequencer that incorporates gaming. It’s an equilibrium of both those aspects; in this case one literally wouldn’t exist without the other and the more you play and create, the more apparent that becomes.

As you progress through a level the game’s music is for all intents and purposes mixed by you, the player. Each coin you collect adds another predetermined musical element to the soundscape that eventually builds up into its finished form. It’s not just the coins that make music either, it’s literally the platforming too. Trees make violin sounds swaying backwards and forwards; each enemy pops and boings with the beat; rapturous traps slam down in perfect time and suddenly even our rolling blob doesn’t seem so unimpressive because every object it makes contact with adds even more sound to the mix.

Thankfully, all of the aforementioned musical elements eventually fade out as you move further away onto other screens, meaning there’s a level of dynamics and variety to audio rather than just layering sound upon sound into a gigantic mush. It’s clever and almost enigmatic the way Sound Shapes motivates you to collect every single coin by its sound alone – you won’t want to miss any coins that might add that cool kick drum beat or synth loop to accompany the music track and finally grabbing it feels like scratching an itch that’s plagued you for hours without you really knowing why.

The main campaign gameplay itself takes a level or two to really gather some momentum. Early levels are a simple mish-mash of jump timing and avoiding anything red, whilst the more you progress through the game an unexpected amount of variety comes to the fore which includes minor puzzle elements and even floaty vehicle segments. It’s all very welcome and keeps gameplay that could quickly become fatiguing, remaining somewhat fresh.

The superb level design is what will inevitably keep you playing the campaign though. Included is five themed albums that hold a number of stages and feature music from the likes of I am Robot, Proud and Beck. The Superbrothers inspired stages look great and have you moving boxes to open doors in a Corporate building feel. Beck’s ‘Cities’ levels are the other real highlight and are the only ones to feature actual vocal passages in the entire game; his melancholy tones ring out words such as ‘Break it, turn it, move it’ whilst platforms break and twist along in time. Once you’ve collected enough coins, it’s difficult to not become totally engrossed with Sound Shapes as it takes an audio/visual grip on your senses.

One gripe may be the length of the bundled campaign content. The levels can be quite short and only offer any real challenge towards the end. Even then spawn points have been placed to avoid frustration so you’ll be at a push to get more than a few hours gameplay out of the campaign. Thankfully, completion offers two new game modes in the form of the Death Mode Challenges and Beat School. The first takes Sound Shapes’ difficulty from nought-to-sixty by having you complete tasks such as collecting coins in a set time limit, whilst the latter also offers a fun diversion by giving you a beat to replicate via the game’s editor. You’ll need to listen to the beat and place coins in the correct place of the sequencer until it sounds identical.

Chances are by this time you’d have already tinkered with the level editor/sequencer which is where the game’s main longevity resides. Within the editor you can create your own levels and musical masterpieces by selecting an instrument, placing it on the grid (the higher on the grid, the higher sounding the note etc) and then building your terrain and traps around it. The Vita’s touch screens can be slightly awkward at times whilst resizing and placing your objects but becomes natural after a while. Also, very much in the vein of Little Big Planet, you can unlock everything you’ve seen during your campaign play through adding extra incentive to complete it all. It’s the editor that really makes Sound Shapes’ shine and there’s literally hours to be lost messing around with beats and level design before uploading and sharing with the community.

VERDICT

For the creatively minded among us who like to make things of our own and share them with the unsuspecting world, Sound Shapes is an absolute winner. Lack of single player content included is a slight disappointment and for those who tire easily of simplistic platforming might not find much to enjoy here. However, the way Queasy Games have blended sound and gameplay together to work as one is unexpectedly engaging and if the community get behind the creation aspects of Sound Shapes too, then it will only get better and better.

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