A music platformer that's as well polished as it is charming.
August 16, 2012 11:22 amKevin James
Versions tested: PlayStation Vita
Many games can give you a rush thanks to their speed, grand visuals, and set pieces, and just as many other games can give you a dopamine drip of progress through grinding skill trees, leveling up, and completing side quests. It takes a special type of game, though, to hit that certain fusion of an engaging premise, feedback to the player, and control to make a pure, bottom-line game to build a great experience on.
Sound Shapes is one of those experiences.
The elevator pitch for Sound Shapes is simple: it's a music-based platformer. You venture through 2D levels gathering pickups which add the current soundtrack. Each level starts virtually silent but becomes a fully-fledged soundscape once you collect enough notes. Sound Shapes is easy to pick up and play, leaving you with little question as to what you need to do. You move with the D-pad and jump with the X button. It seems like familiar territory to the point where the game almost doesn't need to explain a single thing to you.
Rather than having a camera that follows you throughout the experience, each level is broken up into a series of screens you travel across as the camera remains static. Each of these screens has a metronome that continuously loops as you collect as many notes as you can on the screen before progressing, and each note translates directly into the music you hear as you play. The music you build, in turn, helps you time jumps and figure out the best approach to take against the varied obstacles in your path. A bass line might synch up perfectly to the way an enemy moves, and after hearing that line loop a few times you'll suddenly know exactly when to make your move past that baddie. This isn't an infrequent occurrence too; it's the hook that drives Sound Shapes.
This rhythmic approach wouldn't add up to much if the levels, songs, and controls in Sound Shapes were below par, but fortunately they're all spot on. The very first level left a smile on my face from start to finish as I "built" the level's soundtrack, thanks to the cozy visuals and finely tuned mechanics of the game. The formula for this game is simple but near perfect in execution, making the short play through a tight one that never wastes a moment of your time. There are five albums of levels to play and you'll probably find yourself revisiting songs multiple times before progressing to new ones. Thankfully, Sound Shapes encourages you to hear and play through its levels at your own jurisdiction by giving you access to these albums right from the start (although you'll need to unlock each track by beating them in order, naturally). You'll definitely want to replay certain sections over again for the simple pleasure of it all, and I dare you to try to play "Cities" by Beck once. These are the kind of songs you'll pull up on YouTube at work the next day.
Sound Shapes could have easily been a $15 downloadable game with a tight standalone single player mode, but Queasy Games decided to not only include a post-campaign challenge mode (aptly named Death Mode) but a level editor and the ability to share and download user-created levels. There's already a substantial amount of levels available as of the writing of this review, but based on the pedigree already available online and the sheer simplicity of Sound Shapes's gameplay, it can be assumed with little question that there's going to be a virtually endless amount of levels to play whenever you feel the itch. There's sure to be stinkers and experimental levels that, well, don't work, but the front-end of the online community is simplified to the point where you can see just what's worth playing briskly. You can even continue your game cross-platform between a PlayStation 3 and Vita thanks to cloud save support, and you only need to buy the game once to get both copies. The Vita version of the game is slightly better than its bigger-brother on the PS3 due to the console's use of touch screens for level creation, and the PS3 version seems to run just slightly less smooth. Both are great ways of experiencing the content of Sound Shapes but the Vita version is really the bread winner here.
If the mobile space has taught us anything it's that it only takes a simple, novel idea to make a fun game. In the case of Sound Shapes we're given one of those ideas that also comes with a strong sense of vision and care behind it along with the proper hardware to pull it off. This game is going to be the darling of the music-game genre for a long time to come for good reason.
A pleasing mixture of retro-inspirations with a modern approach. You'll be excited to see what's coming next with each level.
Arguably the best soundtrack in a long time. Assembling music via platforming only enhances their charm.
New but instantly familiar. What is done is concise and basically flawless aside from the sometimes frustrating Death Mode.
Cloud saves, cross-platform play, user created levels, and albums that begged to be replayed. $15 gets you a lot of game.
|FIND YOUR GEEK RATING
out of 10