By Leo Stevenson
Sound Shapes is a platformer. Sound Shapes is a rhythm game. It’s a level creator and a piece of music production software. Sound Shapes is incredible.
It’s also incredibly good fun, excellent value for money and a true reminder of why I play video games. It taps into that little part of me inside, where a 6 year old version of me still lives and it makes him giddy with excitement. If you’re not grinning like a complete fool the entire time you’re playing Sound Shapes, you’re doing it wrong.
At its core, Sound Shapes is a 2D side-scrolling platformer. You play as a circular blob, making your way to the right until you reach the end of the level... and then you do it again. What sets this game apart from a plethora of similar games is the artistic flair, the soundtrack and the ease with which you find yourself immersed in the game moments after booting it up.
The main portion of the game is a campaign mode consisting of five distinct “albums” containing several levels each. Each album has been designed by different artists and the music for each album comes from a different musician. This gives each album and the levels contained within a distinctive flavour which help to create a different tone and different feeling when playing levels from the differing albums. For instance the “Hello, World” album with art by I Am Robot and Proud and music by Vic Ngyuen is a jaunty, bright set of levels whereas the “CORPOREAL” album with art by Superbrothers (Swords and Sworcery) and music by Jim Guthrie is a dark and oppressive set.
The main aim of each level is to reach the end while collecting floating “coins” along the way. Each coin collected adds another element to the music until the full track has been unlocked and plays you towards the end. The coin collection and music building of each level is reminiscent of the Tenori-on, a Japanese electronic instrument created by Toshio Iwai (the creator of Electroplankton). Every coin produces a note in the same key however their placement on the vertical scale changes the pitch, resulting in higher or lower notes depending on the height of the coin in the level. The music doesn’t only play a passive role in Sound Shapes though. Enemies, traps, and obstacles all follow the music. Having trouble timing a jump? Listen to the music and watch the level. The music will show you the way. Stuck on a particularly devious enemy? Again, listen to the music and watch the pattern. Soon enough you’ll be relying on the music almost more than your eyes to inform your decisions moving forwards through the levels.
The campaign is fairly short and if played from beginning to end in one sitting would take somewhere between 3 and 5 hours, depending on your penchant for replaying levels to collect all the coins. It seems as though Sound Shapes is designed to be played in short bursts which is part of its charm. Playing the game is a relaxing and casual experience and one that shouldn’t be rushed through for the sake of completion or earning trophies. Interestingly enough the trophy collection in Sound Shapes is almost entirely removed from the campaign. Two unlockable modes -- accessed by completing the campaign -- contain this title’s trophies, requiring that you play through the main portion of the game unencumbered by trophy lust. It’s quite freeing.
Sound Shapes is available for both the PS Vita and the PS3; better still, if you buy it on either platform, you own it on both. It’s games like this that truly make it worthwhile being a Vita owner. The save game on either platform can be synced to cloud storage which enables you to continue your progress from wherever you left off. It's a bit hit and miss when trying to sync saves or download them from the cloud and several times I would have to re-upload my save more than a few times to make it work. This is a minor issue which is likely to be patched if not already then very soon, however it is still frequent enough to cause annoyance and bring the total enjoyment of the game down. I much prefer to play on the VITA but the PS3 version is just as fun, if a little clunkier when it comes to level creation.
Speaking of level creation, Sound Shapes comes equipped with a robust level creation kit. Playing through the campaign, unlocks all the different bits and pieces need to create true master works of level design and making the levels on the Vita is a breeze aided by the touch screen. On PS3 you use the DualShock and while it’s simple and responsive it feels much slower when compared with the Vita. All of your creations can be uploaded to the community and while not everything available is solid gold, much of it is pretty terrible, there are some diamonds among the rough and with time it’s perceivable that some truly amazing user generated content will emerge.
Sound Shapes is an amazing piece of software and is a title worth buying a PS Vita for. The amount of pure fun and joy experienced when playing is unparalleled on the system and while it’s also available on PS3 it’s clear that the Vita version was the lead. Simple but engaging platforming, level creation, leaderboards and music creation all combine to create a perfect mix of gameplay and art. I’m hoping for many more experiences like Sound Shapes in the future and so is my inner child, it’s just a shame we can’t play co-op.