Sound Shapes hands-on preview

The other game you should consider scooping up on launch day

While spotlight-stealing titles such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss and LittleBigPlanet have served as the poster children for Sony%26rsquo;s next-gen portable, a number of under-the-radar entries are also leveraging the hardware%26rsquo;s advanced tech and unique controls. One such off-the-grid game, Sound Shapes, impressed us as much as some of the higher-profile titles on display at a recent Sony media event. Developed by Everyday Shooter%26rsquo;s Jonathan Mak and his Queasy Games%26rsquo; partner Shaw-Han Liem, the PS Vita launch title is equal parts side-scrolling platformer, music creator, and absorbing interactive art.

Controlling a circular, faceless object with eight stubby, suction cup-styled limbs, players navigate rectangular levels populated by enemies, obstacles, and traps. Your octopus-like character can run and jump in familiar platforming fashion, as well as stick to objects and walls. The simple goal is to get from a stage%26rsquo;s starting area to its finish point without being touched by the various threats littering the level. The %26ldquo;enemies%26rdquo; aren%26rsquo;t especially aggressive and your character doesn%26rsquo;t have any offensive attacks, so it%26rsquo;s really about surveying the surroundings and skillfully platforming.

The real hook, however, is your little guy%26rsquo;s music-making abilities. With every new object he comes in contact with, a new beat or effect begins looping, ultimately layering into a complete musical composition by the level%26rsquo;s conclusion. So, while things may start with a single, repetitive %26ldquo;bleep%26rdquo; or %26ldquo;bloop,%26rdquo; additional audio tracks fill out the mix as you progress. By the time we finished our first level, our heads were instinctively bobbing to the funky fresh beats we%26rsquo;d just created. Of course, the levels - or %26ldquo;songs%26rdquo; as Mack calls them - increase in both size and difficulty as you progress through an %26ldquo;album.%26rdquo;

The visual style dominating our demo, a minimalist mash-up of abstract art, hard angles, vibrant visuals, and a little old-school aesthetic, was easy on the eyes; based on some other screens we%26rsquo;ve seen, later levels will also include rounder shapes and a more organic vibe. Additionally, the presence of cool touches such as speakers and turntables further complement the toe-tapping style. Similarly cool is the front-end interface, which utilizes the Vita%26rsquo;s multi-touch display by having players choose options by sliding a phonograph needle on a record, with each groove on the vinyl representing a song/level.

While our time focused almost entirely on the main single-player mode, a significant portion of the experience delves deep into Sony%26rsquo;s LittleBigPlanet-led %26ldquo;Play, Create, and Share%26rdquo; initiative. Cleverly swapping out the %26ldquo;Create%26rdquo; with %26ldquo;Compose,%26rdquo; the user-generated content aspect is a huge part of the title%26rsquo;s appeal and play-extending value. Based on a quick demonstration by Mak, it looks as though Sound Shapes is brimming with options for players to compose music and create levels. A variety of instruments and objects can be mixed and matched into your own creations or used to tweak existing favorites. Furthermore, Queasy Games is making intuitive use of the Vita%26rsquo;s tactile control options. Both the front multi-touch screen and rear touch-pad are incorporated extensively into the level-editing process; from placing items and objects, to adjusting their shapes and sizes, players can expect to get very hands-on when working on their own masterpieces. Mak didn%26rsquo;t have any specifics he could share, but it%26rsquo;s expected that sharing and swapping content with around-the-globe pals will be a breeze.

Sound Shapes is best experienced in person, with hands-on and headphones cranked up. It offers a one-of-a-kind experience that%26rsquo;s done little justice by static screenshots. While it can%26rsquo;t be easily categorized into any existing genre, its diverse elements recall a number of popular games that have come before it, from hardcore music creators like KORG DS-10, to cult-fave platformers such as Super Meat Boy, there are plenty of subtle influences to discover within Sound Shape%26rsquo;s surreal depths. It may not have the outward appeal of a system-seller like Uncharted, but its charming presentation, head-bobbing beats, and extensive suite of creation tools impressed us thoroughly.

Aug 3, 2011

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