Originally developed by Canadian team Queasy Games as a Playstation Vita launch title, Sound Shapes unfortunately missed its mark by releasing a full six months after the Vita launched. The time was well spent though, porting the game to PS3.
When boiled right down Sound Shapes is nothing more than a straightforward platformer. You play as a simple circle, you can jump, stick to most surfaces and dash, which also unsticks you from anything you might be stuck to. All this is explained in a quick but excellent tutorial level.
The main campaign is broken into five different “albums” which act as different worlds. They don’t slouch when it comes to the albums either. Queasy teamed up five different teams of both graphic and musical artists like Deadmau5, Superbrothers and Beck.
Each album is broken into “songs” which are the game’s stages. Every song starts with just a simple beat in the background. Dotted around the stage are coins. For every coin you collect, a beat is added to the background. As you progress, more and more of the song is revealed. Not only from collecting the coins, but also from enemies and the environment itself. The challenge depends on the album. The pairing of Deadmau5 and PixalJam in “D-Cade” gives a far more frantic challenge than Superbrothers and Jim Guthrie’s far more relaxed “Corporeal”. At no point does it ever get too frustrating though, and you can get through the main campaign levels in a few short hours. The real challenge comes from “Death Mode” which is unlocked after completing the campaign. These levels are designed to give a challenge comparable to Super Meat Boy and are not afraid to make you want to launch your controller into the nearest wall.
Each death mode challenge takes place on just one screen, tasking you to collect a certain amount of coins before the timer runs out. The coins appear in a random sequence as you collect them. I can understand Queasy wanting to extend the life of the challenges, but the randomness more often than not makes them impossible to finish. Too frequently coins will appear on opposite sides of the screen, eating up what little time you have hopping forward and back. A good run can be ruined by coins suddenly deciding to space themselves out.
The reason for doing all this (apart from the amazing experience) is to unlock items for the games level editor. Using a very simple drag and drop system you can easily whip together your own levels and upload them to the community, much like in Little Big Planet. There are already thousands of player created levels online. From fan created renditions of just about any song or theme you can think of (which range from great to “oh I guess this kind of sounds like Star Wars”) that offer little challenge, to levels that have left out coin collecting altogether in favour of a super tough experience. As you could imagine the best levels are the ones that embrace both sound and design to create a true Sound Shapes experience.
The “Beat School” also offers a trial-by-fire tutorial to the editor. You are given a beat and tasked with recreating it within the level editor. The games tip… “use your ears”.
When you buy Sound Shapes you get both the PS3 and PS Vita versions. At €12.99 that is an amazing deal. Unfortunately at this time I don’t have access to a Vita to test how the cloud save swapping and Vita features work. From what I can see the level editor was built more with the Vita in mind, using the touch screen to move and place your objects. I can definitely see the benefit of creating your level on the Vita before uploading to the cloud to play on PS3.
There were times that I have to admit I was annoyed at Sound Shapes. Mostly during death mode plays when I felt cheated out of completing a stage. But all that is nothing compared to how amazed I am by the game. There is so much to love here from the retro look and play to the fantastic music and thousands of online levels. I cannot help but recommend Sound Shapes to just about everyone.
Sound Shapes is available for download now on PSN for both PS3 and Vita together at only €12.99. Check out the trailer right here.