If we could somehow see sounds, I’m convinced they would look something like Sound Shapes. Developed Queasy Games, Sound Shapes, a title available for both the PlayStation 3 and Vita, is a triumphantly deep and enjoyable 2D platformer in which music takes much of the focus over gameplay. The platforming on offer here is good but the way it seamlessly intertwines with music makes this PSN-exclusive one of this years must-play games – regardless of your preferred genre.
Sound Shapes is in many ways as simple as a flash game. Essentially you’re tasked with navigating a nameless blob through each level, jumping over obstacles and dodging enemies as you go. Just because a game is simple, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Personally I’m a big platforming fan and thus enjoyed the conventional challenge of timing jumps and dodging dangerous objects, but generally each level is well designed making Sound Shapes a perfectly fair experience free from some of the frustrations often found in its genre.
Sound Shapes get interesting, however, when music is brought in to the equation. You see, throughout each level you’ll have glowing orbs to collect. There’s no reward as such from grabbing these objects, but you’ll find yourself going out of our way to grab them to see how each of them effects the musical score that surrounds this game at all times.
You see, each time you collect one of these musical orbs something is added (as well as occasionally taken away) to what we would conventionally call the game’s soundtrack. A level might start with a simple recurring drum beat but collecting one of these orbs may add the sound of a guitar or mandolin to the musical loop. By the end of each level you’ll generally find a roaring symphony of sounds from an endless variety of instruments, creating one of the most unique experiences available on the PlayStation Network.
Each stage is presented as a track on a four or five-track album in Sound Shapes’ smart starting interface. These albums all have their own artists, representing the musical acts that contributed their own works to the game. Such acts include four-time platinum seller Beck, who delivered three deeply political tracks, and Grammy-nominee deadmau5, who contributed his usual brand of electro-house. The usage of vastly different recording artists across the games main campaign brings with it real variety, with each artists album not only proving unique music but a unique art-style as well as different gameplay elements.
“The wait has been a long one but Sound Shapes is here; and it’s bloody brilliant. Go buy it.”
The albums that make up the core of Sound Shapes won’t take long to get through, but thankfully Queasy Games have ensured this musical platformer is brimming with enjoyable content that will ensure you get your moneys worth. Once you’ve played through all the game’s albums (you can pick and choose which you play at any time, all are unlocked from the start), two new modes are unlocked: Beat School and Death Mode.
Beat School requires you to use your musical ear. Essentially your played a tune and have to replicate the sound by adding notes on the games level creator (which we’ll get too later), choosing the pitch of the sound as well as the instrument that’s playing it. There are 12 of these challenges in total and they ensure that 2D platforming isn’t the only thing you’ll be getting up to in Sound Shapes, and with the lure of a silver trophy for each level you complete you’ll most likely be up for completing every last one of them.
Then there’s the rather aptly named Death Mode, a series of levels presented as B-Sides on each of the main games albums (there’s one for every level of the main campaign). These levels task you with collecting X amount of orbs before the time runs out, and they’re difficult as hell. Thankfully, each of these levels comes with a silver trophy as well, so if you do choose to put a few hours aside and give them a go you’ll be rewarded. Uncomfortable, the death mode levels do bring up one of Sound Shapes’ few flaws, as these challenges are often not do-able if the randomly appearing orbs do not appear in convenient places (i.e. close to each other). Therefore getting unlucky with where the orbs are positioned can often mean you can’t complete the challenge, which feels a little unfair. Throw in the difficulty of avoiding obstacles and Death Mode can be fairly frustrating.
Thankfully, that’s not all this PSN title has to offer. Taking a leaf from MediaMolecule’s book, Queasy Games have included a simple-to-use level editor in which you can not only create your own levels, but create your own music to accompany them as well. Throw in excellent community features (keeping in mind this is a downloadable content) and you get a pretty incredible amount of content for a game that’s yours for a tenner.
Sound Shapes plays well, with smooth, accurate controls, and it comes jam-packed with many different features that ensure you get more than your moneys worth. The simplistic gameplay on offer may put many of the video game buying masses off but the brilliance of a game like this simply should not be ignored. Pretty much all levels are well designed, using simple and yet hugely effective visual aids like ‘red is danger’ to ensure you make it across each level, and challenging gameplay ensures you’ll be hooked at first jump.
Whether you’re humming along to an ever-changing tune, racing to that last orb in death mode or creating a musical masterpiece of your own, Sound Shapes is a sublime offering that should be played by everyone who owns either a PlayStation 3 or Vita. It presents itself as a testament to what independent studios can do and is more than deserving of success. The wait has been a long one but Sound Shapes is here; and it’s bloody brilliant. Go buy it.