Living in New York, I often find myself taking public transportation. Unfortunately, I also find myself in the most horrific conversations with strangers–only my headphones and the daunting subway noises fend them off. Today, I have Sound Shapes with me, a side-scrolling platformer from Queasy Games with a joyous and rhythmic music creation and sharing twist. With Sound Shapes and my PS Vita in hand, I bested my morning commute. Its excellent level design, minimalistic but vibrant visuals, and head-bopping soundtrack engulfed me. There’s no excuse not to own this game especially with its low $14.99 ($11.49 for PlayStation Plus subscribers) price point. In short, Sound Shapes is a game every Vita owner should have in his or her collection.
Sound Shapes puts players in control of a blob with the goal of getting from one end of the screen to the other. The blob attaches itself to certain objects in the environment, but needs to avoid dangerous red objects. Queasy Games isn’t re-inventing the platforming wheel, here. X jumps and Square transforms the blob into a fast-moving ball. Occasionally, you’ll encounter a tricky jump or simple puzzle. Nothing extraordinary, right?
The game’s novelty derives from its musical level design. To become better acquainted with Sound Shapes’ music creation, the campaign should be your first stop. Each stage, the result of a different music and visual artist pairing, has many notes to collect, as well as colorful hazards that gamers should avoid. Every action contributes to the music, be it jumping on an enemy, landing on different platforms, or bouncing off objects. It all comes together in an amazingly cohesive musical experience.
Musically, Sound Shapes is a masterpiece that dabbles in indie rock, house, and electric jazz/rock . Deadmau5 lends his talents with incredibly catchy original tunes (in fact, all the music in Sound Shapes was made for the game) while you traverse Space Invaders-inspired stages. Jim Guthrie pairs his music with Superbrothers’ visuals to produce a stage that calls back to their Sword and Sworcery work. Beck, however, steals the show with his Cities album. It’s all top quality; the songs incorporated into the game are above amazing and really demonstrates the game’s creative power.
Sadly, as quickly as the game begins, it ends. The campaign takes about two hours to complete and ends abruptly, leaving you wanting more. Dying during the campaign doesn’t negatively effect you; you have infinite lives and revert to the nearest checkpoint. Yet the campaign serves a purpose: It’s meant to demonstrate the game’s content creation prowess. The tools for the job are acquired by completing stages in campaign mode. After each stage, you unlock set pieces that include different sounds and objects that you can use to build custom stages.
Anyone with a keen ear and patience will be able to create riveting and pleasing music and stages. When you first begin, you’re given a brief level creation tutorial. You can place notes anywhere on the screen using the touch screen; the higher up the higher the note, the lower down the lower the note. Objects can be placed anywhere and re-sized and rotated with the Vita’s rear touch panel, which seems counter intuitive with the games simplicity. For this reason alone I found content creation easier on the PlayStation 3 version, as it’s simpler to use buttons and the sticks to place and re-size objects. Besides this small difference in controls, I found both versions nearly identical.
Rest assured, purchasing one version allows you to download the other, free of charge (other publishers take note). I preferred the Vita version due to its portability and sound quality. Playing Sound Shapes without headphones is a disservice to the game’s genius. That said, if you own a PlayStation 3 gaming headset (or a kicking theater setup) you’re in the clear.
Finishing the campaign unlocks two additional game modes: Beat School and Death Mode. Beat School is a crash-start guide to recognizing different sounds and putting beats together. All you have at your disposal are your ears and the tools provided by the game. Death Mode tasks you with replaying a level’s boldest moments, but with challenging objective-based twists. It’s extremely frustrating, but highly addictive. These game modes make up the majority of the trophies, and at the road’s end there’s a platinum trophy awaiting the skilled and patient.
Queasy Games is taking a huge risk. Leaving the fate of the game’s content to the community can ultimately hurt them–that is, if there’s a lack of quality content. This is why it’s important that a strong community embraces Sound Shapes, especially the more musically adept gamers. This is a chance for gamers to become the next Tiesto, Deadmau5, Daft Punk–the tools are all here. Sound Shapes is an amazingly creative game and it would be a shame to see a game of such importance to the Vita, and gaming itself, be cast away into the depths of the PSN store.
If you own a Vita do yourself a favor, stop reading this review and purchase Sound Shapes. If you’re a music lover you’re in for a treat and if you’re looking for a unique experience look no further. It’s a game that should not go overlooked.