Even if the heyday of the rhythm genre’s popularity is gone, developers are still discovering ingenious ways of incorporating audio into gameplay. Developer Queasy Games has entered the field with Sound Shapes, a music-driven platformer that is not only one of the best downloadable titles I have played in a while but also one of the few recent experiences to leave me pining for more.
Sound Shapes’ main conceit is quite simple on the surface – players control a one-eyed blob through 2D platforming that is anything less than traditional. Every level has the same goal, which is to collect all available coins and reach a turntable at the end of each journey. Beyond this familiar idea, however, is a world built around the game’s music. Different portions of the level move in conjunction with various aspects of the audio. Lasers will shoot in time to the groove of the bass drum. Disappearing platforms will add a sound bite once players land on them. As coins are collected, new beats are added to the song.
This clever incorporation of the music makes for an absolutely engrossing experience that is only benefited by the visual and audio quality. Rarely do I play a game hoping not to finish because the music is so good. Sound Shapes includes 20 songs separated by albums depending on who composed the tracks, and there isn’t a flat note in the bunch.
I am by no means a fan of Beck or deadmau5, but I loved Beck’s “Cities” as I hopped amongst skyscrapers and avoided clusters of rockets that shifted to the bass. And from deadmau5’s retro, Space Invaders-inspired levels to the album from the Sword & Sworcery team’s office setting, Sound Shapes amasses a vast range of art and musical styles that all work well. Each time I completed an album, I was disappointed the art style would disappear but always became excited to see what new surprises the next set of levels would hold.
Playing through the 20 songs does not take too long, and feel more like a sublime experience than a truly trying adventure. The controllable blob can jump and stick to like-colored platforms, though it will perish if it touches any dangerous red substances. Thankfully, there are plenty of checkpoints along the way at which the blob will automatically respawn. Players can also make the cute character roll faster and jump farther at the expense of not sticking to surfaces. Timing the use of this ability correctly is intuitive thanks to the level design, which is incredibly strong when considering how integral the music and visuals are.
Once this campaign has been completed, however, the scope of Sound Shapes actually opens. Two new modes, Death Mode and Beat School, unlock upon conclusion that provide the challenge missing from the main levels.
Death Mode includes a level for each entry in the campaign, and all require that the player collect a number of coins in a short period of time. If the blob fails or is hit, the challenge restarts. And expect to restart often. Some of these offerings are surprisingly harsh, but the music is so addicting and I found myself improving time after time that I continued to chase after dozens of coins. Death Mode will test players’ patience but with enough dedication and skill, each level can be overcome. They would frustrate on occasion, but 20 minutes later after mastering a few more challenges, I did not want to stop.
Beat School taps into the level editor tools (more on that in a moment) by asking players to match each beat of a music snippet in the correct time. These were less difficult to master but even more enjoyable to play. Essentially audio puzzles, I loved isolating each portion of the song and placing the notes in their correct sections to play in time. Having a little background in music will certainly help – I don’t know how these levels will play for someone unfamiliar with some music composition – but as a puzzle fan I was thrilled with this mode and could have seen a game built around this function.
One of Sound Shapes’ most comprehensive portions is its level creator tool. Players are presented with a grid on which they can place beats, coins and nearly anything present in the campaign. Beating the game’s built-in levels unlocks the platforms, enemies and other aesthetic inclusions for use in the editor, and players can really let their imagination run wild.
The interface for this, and to an extent the Beat School mode, is an intuitive use of the Vita’s features. Adding beats is simply a matter of placing them via the touch screen, and objects for level traversal can be moved and resized with the rear touchpad. The mode can be a little overwhelming at first, as the hope is to make levels that fit comfortably with the music players choose, but there is an incredible amount of depth to the system. The game includes so many options for players to design fantastic levels that if the community is there to support it, Sound Shapes should be in for a long life.
Queasy Games has done something amazing with Sound Shapes. Despite delays and the addition of a PlayStation 3 version, Sound Shapes is not an experience to be missed. I only came away disappointed that there were not more songs to experience – this game is seriously begging for DLC or a sequel. I hope that we receive more of this fantastic spin on platforming that comes with so much more. Well-designed levels, intriguing additional modes, an amazing soundtrack, fun and varied visuals, and plenty of reasons to continue toying around with the creation tools – Sound Shapes has it all. Don’t be surprised, however, to find yourself taking a few minutes to just bop around to the amazing tunes.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Amazing integration of sound, visuals and gameplay
+ Robust level editor
+ Additional modes that are as great as the main conceit
– Level of depth to editor may turn some off
– Would have loved more songs
9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.
Sound Shapes was developed by Queasy Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. It is available for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita (reviewed) at the MSRP of $14.99. A copy was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.