Review: Sound Shapes (PS3)
Music is generally an important part of any game. It helps set the tone for an emotional scene, pumps you up for that big boss fight up ahead, and for many of our favorites it sticks in your head and reminds you of your time spent in that games world. But for how important music is to the enjoyment of a game it is for the most part a non-interactive element (rhythm games being an exception). That is unless your game is titled Sound Shapes. Queasy Games have managed to make a platformer where the music is just as important as reaching your goal. Oh and trust me headphones are definitely recommended.
In Sound Shapes you control a ball like creature that has the ability to stick to light colored objects in the world and the color red is its worst enemy. Your goal is to make it to the end of an area while dodging obstacles and collecting coins. While this sounds like almost all platformers out there, here is what makes Sound Shapes stand out: everything in the game makes a sound and the accumulation of these sounds makes the soundtrack for the level that you are playing. Each coin you collect will add a looping sound to the music (for three screens) based on the type of coin and where on the screen it is located. Objects such as platforms, tress, or even cats will produce a one-off sound when you interact with them. Enemies, such as a laser firing every few seconds, will create a constant beat with each movement while they are on the screen. All of the sounds come together to produce some of the most enjoyable music I have heard in a game and it was hard at times to not just sit there listening and nodding my head along to the beat.
Just because music is such a big focus with the game, doesn’t mean that the platforming was given any less attention. The levels in the Sound Shapes campaign are all nicely built, wonderfully paced, and enjoyable to play. Having the ability to stick to objects makes traversing the environments an interesting affair. The game did stutter at times when going from screen to screen though and I also experienced screen tearing when switching the albums in the game menu, but these occurrences didn’t distract too much. The game offers simple controls, using either the D-Pad or Analog Stick to move your character, X to jump, and Square or R1 to speed up your movement but losing the ability to stick to objects in the process. While the controls may be simple the game offers plenty of challenge throughout the campaign, but minimizes frustration by having unlimited lives and frequent checkpoints to instantly re-spawn at.
Sound Shapes campaign is comprised of six different albums (including the tutorial), with each album containing three to five levels. What’s interesting about the campaign though is that each albums music and graphics was created by different pairs of contributors which lead to each album having a different feeling, style, and flow. Take the album Corporeal with music by Jim Guthrie and graphics by Superbrothers (who last cooperated on Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP). The levels in this album are located inside an office building with the layout and music starting fairly relaxed and becoming more intense and skewed throughout the four stages. Another Album is Cities with music by Beck and graphics by Pyramid Attack. This album adds lyrics to the songs with them appearing as objects in the level. This leads to some interesting object mechanics, like a block platform that acts differently based on the specific lyric that is currently being spoken (break, hurt, move, turn, and lose). The other talented contributors are: I am Robot and Proud, Vic Nguyen (from Capybara Games), Colin Mancer, deadmau5, and PixelJam. All of the albums are a unique collaboration of music and graphics with each having different platforming mechanics unique to the album. Also all albums are open from the start so if you are a fan of a certain contributor you can skip right to their levels.
Along with an awesome set of built in levels the game allows you to create your own using objects that you obtain by completing levels in the campaign. All of the creation objects are housed in your toolbox which you open with triangle. In there you can select notes, terrain, objects, decorations, and screen color schemes to create your masterpiece. Beyond placing objects the level editor is full featured allowing you to do such things as stretch, rotate, resize, duplicate, and cut and paste the objects you place all while giving you a preview of what that particular screen will sound like. You can even change the beats per minute and music scale to use minor, major, pentatonic or chromatic. The level editor allows you to create levels that rival what you will find in the campaign, and even if you are a bit low on the creative side (like me) you can still create a decent sounding and looking level in a fairly short period of time. I did experience some screen tearing once again in this mode when switching screens though. After creating your masterpiece you can upload the level to the Sound Shapes servers for the world to play. In the community section of the game you can play any level that has published and if you like it enough you can add it to your favorites or follow the creator to see what they publish next.
After finishing the campaign you unlock two other modes you can play: Death Mode and Beat School. In Death Mode you have a single screen stage that is either taken directly from or is based on a campaign level where you need to collect a certain amount of randomly appearing coins before you run out of time. While this may sound fairly easy they don’t call it Death mode for nothing. Each level contains its fair amount of hazards and you most likely will be failing a lot before passing each one. In Beat School you are given a melody that you must recreate by placing coins on a 16×9 area similar to what you see when creating a level. This can be a little daunting but the game makes it a little easier showing you how many coins you need to place and you can check whether the ones you have placed are right or wrong. Beating these levels is also how you earn the majority of the trophies in Sound Shapes. I really liked the fact that the trophies were kept separate from the campaign mode which meant you could concentrate on enjoying the game instead of worrying playing a certain way to obtain trophies. Unfortunately after finishing up Beat School (and getting my Platinum) the next day I started up Sound Shapes and all but two levels of my Beat School progress was gone. I am not sure what happened and if it was an isolated incident or not, but it was disappointing after completing those levels just the night before.
Sound Shapes is a very unique platformer that creates a wonderful combination of graphics and sound. The way the music comes together while playing and the simple yet great looking graphics are spectacular. It’s also very impressive to see so many collaborators come together and create such a cohesive and enjoyable package. While I do not expect much from my (lack of) creative skills, the quality and quantity of community levels already uploaded is outstanding and I look forward to seeing what is created in the future.
A copy of this game was purchased for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Music that is created as you play
- The wonderful looking levels
- Death Mode
- The very awesome Cities and Corporeal albums
What I Dislike:
- Some screen tearing
- Cant filter leaderboards
- Loosing my Beat School progress