From the meteoric rise and fall of Guitar Hero to the Just Dance Sensation, video games have never been short on rhythm. But Sound Shapes, a musically sound platformer located exclusively on the PSN, manages to scrape out its own unique spot within the storied genre.
Within the confines of Sound Shapes’ harmonious domain, players take control of a little slime ball, a conduit through which players are able to traverse beautiful 2D tracks located on a series of albums. The albums, crafted by various artists and musicians, feel incredibly different from one another. Whether you’re vigorously grinding your way through the workday in the industrial inspired Corporeal or casually rolling along the ups and downs of Hello World’s Hills n’ Spills, each has its own individual look and tone. I constantly found myself mesmerized by the plethora of gorgeous art styles throughout the various tracks. And although the goal of finishing tracks in as short of time as possible exists to those who are trying to make the online leaderboards, it wasn’t untypical of me to take my time as I gazed upon the vibrant scenery.
Of course, as its name suggests, Sound Shapes is really all about the music. With a track list including names such as deadmau5 and Beck, it’s no surprise that the soundtrack ends up sounding superb. However, it’s not just the music, but the way it’s incorporated into the game as a whole that proves to be insanely creative. It’s clear that each level was specifically designed for each song, as the visual tone of a track is masterfully matched by the musical tone. The fiery 8-bit hell of Invaderoids is accompanied by deadmau5’s fast and tense beat that’s mirrored by the attacking enemies and unforgiving lava. Meanwhile, ascending through the cloudy maze in the game’s final track, Spiral Staircase, lends itself perfectly to Beck’s comforting and uplifting melody.
Scattered throughout tracks are items called coins. Each coin is varied in use, ranging from drum beats and base riffs to piano chords and turntable spins. Collecting coins adds to the overall melody of the level, giving players the option to customize their own musical experience, and it doesn’t stop there. Not only can interacting with objects within the level create some quick added notes, but it’s also common, not to mention incredibly cool, to see them moving to the rhythm of the song’s beat. This is where Sound Shapes shines brightest, as it’s really clever how the game takes everyday objects such as file cabinets and makes them move and sound like keys on a piano whenever you roll over them, or how objects will appear and disappear, mimicking the timing of the lyrics. Embracing this element transforms Sound Shapes from a basic platformer with great music into a masterpiece of rhythm gaming.
Now, this isn’t to say that the platforming isn’t good on its own. Controls feel tight, and each track has its own unique element to offer, whether it be new enemy types, interactive objects, or gameplay mechanics. Although it may not give Mario a run for his money, it’s no slouch either. It’s just that the rhythm element makes it feel special like no other game before it. As a matter of fact, my only gripe with the entire game is that I wish it was longer. Sound Shapes’ campaign consists only of five albums, which you could probably make it through in about 2-3 hours. A remedy to the situation comes in the way of Death Mode, a challenge mode based around the campaign’s tracks. While Sound Shapes’ campaign is more of soothing melodic journey, its Death Mode is just as it sounds. It’s a basic concept of trying to collect a certain amount of coins within a time limit, while trying to escape sudden death from enemies and environmental hazards. It’s quite challenging and my inner trophy hunter just wouldn’t let me stop playing.
For a game as artistic and creative as Sound Shapes, it’s no surprise that it comes with its own track creator. Similarly to titles such as Little Big Planet and ModNation Racers, players can use the items they unlock by playing the campaign to create levels of their own. I’m not exactly the creator type, but it seemed intuitive and not too complicated. Tracks can be uploaded to the online server and from there, players from all around the world can play your level and vice versa. It’s a cool and sensible option that extends the experience of a short, but sweet, game.
But before you jump in to the level editor, you’ll want to get an education from the game’s beat school. Sighing heavily as I first started up beat school, remembering the long and boring tutorials of past Little Big Planet games, I was pleasantly surprised by what I was presented with. As it turns out, Beat School is a neat, little puzzle game that asks the player to match the beat of the rhythm by placing coins on a grid. It’s incredibly addictive and a great way to learn what each specific coin’s function is.
Thanks to Sony’s Cross-Buy/Cross-Play initiative, purchasing one version of Sound Shapes, whether it be on Vita or PS3, grants you the other for free. And by syncing your saves to the cloud, sessions started on device can be continued on the other. Although, I would recommend sticking with the Vita version, as Sound Shapes is better suited for the more personal feel of a handheld.
There’s no doubt that Queasy Games should be proud of their astounding game. Full of life and bursting with creativity, Sound Shapes is truly something to behold. It might not be reinventing the platformer, but it’s musically entwined gameplay is something everyone should experience.