Sound shapes is a rhythm-action game, developed by Queasy Games. Except it isn’t really a rhythm game. Normally I’m not a fan of this particular genre, but watching previews before I got my hands on it, the style of game play intrigued me. Sound Shapes is actually a hard-core platformer, with a lot more depth than first impressions gave it credit. Playing it, I was reminded of Supermeat boy, Super Mario World and Little Big Planet. Your main aim is to move a circular spinning shape around a level, following some very basic physics-based rules and with a very simple control system. The aim is to collect coins, dotted around various parts of each level and progress to completion with as many coins as possible. On your way you pass through a variety of environments and soundscapes.
Each Themed Level is essentially an album, which you play through like tracks on a record. The ‘Sound’ theme follows throughout the game and its menu system, which works well with the touch interface. There are some nice little touches; it displays each themed area as an album cover. You can choose individual levels either by scrolling through icons of the levels or by moving a stylus across grooves of a vinyl record. Queasy games have invited various musicians to write original music including I Am Robot, DeadMau5, Beck and Jim Guthrie (who also contributed music for the Superbrother: Swords and Sworcery EP). The unique element to this game is how the music is generated. As the player progresses through the levels, the music is triggered by your progress and changes. This become more evident in the level constructor mode and you can appreciate the time and effort that has gone into constructing the game. The art style is gorgeous and matches the style of the music well, ranging from the sketchy surrealism of the Beck Levels to the neon, high contrast, retro, tron-esque of the DeadMau5 levels. If you’re a fan of Electronica, you won’t be disappointed as this is the main oeuvre offered. This is perhaps its one minor flaw, if you’re more of a rock or R&B fan, you may not hear much to your liking, but it would be difficult to integrate this into the nature of the gameplay which requires quite a defined BPM to guide you through the levels.
Gameplay is spot on. The control system is very accurate and is essential in the later, more difficult levels. There’s none of the inconsistent sponginess of LBP and it is particularly impressive when you replay the earlier levels again and discover how you have adapted and learnt the fine tuning. The difficulty is ramped up in each album, so that you get a breather as you move on each time. Each album has a very different style of play and this has been designed in mind of the fact you can pick and choose any album in a non-linear way. Playing through the game also unlocks resources which can be used in the creation mode. Listening to the music is essential in the campaign mode. The music gives very subtle clues as to the timing of your jumps and moves and you are very grateful for the sequential spawn points as you die repeatedly. The campaign is pleasingly difficult, but not frustratingly so. Upon completion of the main campaign you get to unlock extra levels which are MUCH harder, which is a good way to differentiate between the casual and more hardcore gamers. The unlocked levels are tantamount, in some cases, to masochism but it is pleasing to be challenged in a world where games seem to be getting easier and easier.
Sound Shapes obviously owes a lot to Little Big Planet with its content creation. You have a fully fledged level designer which makes good use of the front and rear touch controls, is easier to use and is more satisfying than Media Molecule’s game (and better than using your controller on the PS3). The tutorial is simple and effective and passing through ‘Beats School’ helps you focus on particular aspects of level creation as well as contributing to gaining a platinum for the game. The community section allows you to download and comment on other creations and compete with friends on the best completion times. This all works very well and ensures an infinite level of replayability, which is a real plus on a handheld device (as long as you have internet access).
Finally it’s worth mentioning the extra-features Soundshapes offers to the user. The game is part of Sony’s ‘Cross-Play’ package which means you buy the game once on either Vita or PS3 and get the other version free. This is nice, but I’ve used it sparingly on the PS3 and I have heard some issues with the layout of designed levels made on the Vita when displayed on the PS3. The game also offers cloud sync which lets you save your game on one device and continue on another. when I first tried this it didn’t work, which was disappointing but a recent patch has since fixed it.
To sum up, the game looks good, sounds good, is addictive and pays very good lip service to platformer and electronica fans. It has longevity in terms of new content and works very well as a handheld game, better in fact than on the PS3. Buy it.
Jon (Darth Nutclench) Evans
Images courtesy of Queasy Games