Sound Shapes Review
Sound Shapes isn't your average musical platformer. In fact, I'm not sure what Sound Shapes is exactly; what I do know is that it's one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I've had this year.
Sound Shapes is something that could only come from Jonathan Mak, the creator of Everyday Shooter. It's an extremely unique musical platformer that tasks you with creating the soundtrack as you play through the level. Every time you collect a note in a level, the game will change in real-time to add a corresponding note on the soundtrack as it's playing. It's a simple concept that continues Mak's pension for creating music with simple gameplay, working as brilliantly as ever.
Presentation-wise, everything is extremely minimal in Sound Shapes. You've got a simple menu system that makes it easy to figure out how to do everything without much explanation. In fact, simplicity is a theme throughout the entire game, right down to the short tutorial sequence that teaches the basics through proper gameplay rather than slow explanations. After the tutorial you won't ever see another explanation, but you'll learn what you need to do just by doing it. It was so simple that I didn't even realize how much I had actually been taught until the end of the game.
Sound Shapes features five albums from four different artists —I Am Robot and Proud, Jim Guthrie, deadmau5, and Beck— that all utilize significantly different mechanics that develop as the music is formed. The different environments contribute to the development of the music as well, as the sounds of firing cannons or enemy lasers zap to the beat. It makes it extremely useful to listen to the music and learn how the level is operating.
The levels were all made with the in-game level editor, showcasing the creative and beautiful tracks that can be made using the tools. My favorite track was Cities by Beck (which is exclusive to Sound Shapes) as it showed some of the most creative level design I've seen in years. As the song's faint vocal track faded in and out, the platforms made of the lyrics appeared and disappeared. It was absolutely brilliant and showcased the design aesthetic that makes Mak's development studio Queasy Games so unique.
After completing the main campaign, Beat School and Death Mode are unlocked. Beat School attempts to teach the basics of beat creation by tasking players to match the beat pattern to the track played. It's a really neat idea, but I found it to be exceptionally difficult, requiring more trial and error than actual skill. Death Mode is, as the name implies, a mode where you die over and over again. It's comprised of several seemingly simple challenges that require you to gather a certain number of notes in a selected amount of time. It's incredibly difficult, but addicting at the same time, thanks to that "just one more try" style of gameplay.
Perhaps the biggest part of Sound Shapes is the level editor and user-generate dlevels that extend the gameplay long beyond the short three-hour campaign. The level editor is simple to use and even though it might seem like a gimmick, using the back touchpad to manipulate objects works surprisingly well and integrates into the workflow immediately.
Sharing a level with friends is as easy as hitting Save and watching your level go live for the world to see. It's even easier to find new user levels to play through, as there's a whole section of the main menu dedicated to it. There's plenty of sorting options too, making it easy enough to look through without seeing the same level multiple times.
Sound Shapes is beautiful. It's one of the most elegantly designed games in recent memory, showing the creativity and care of the developer throughout. It does some unique things in level design and musical arrangement that separate it from similar titles. I can't wait to see what the community can do with the tools available to them, and at only $14.99 for both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita versions, I'm more than confident that there will be thousands of great levels soon.