Following closely behind the compelling, electronic beats-centric Dyad, Sound Shapes is a quirky downloadable game that’s an amazing value for the musically inclined. A note of caution: If you pick up this PSN title thinking it’ll play like a standard 2D platformer, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. But as a musical toy box, Sound Shapes is fantastic for tune tinkerers, letting other players experience your music in a novel, organic way. If you’ve been known to enjoy a catchy beat and think you could design a halfway-decent Super Mario level, this rhythmic run-‘n’-jump will be right up your alley.
Well, “run-‘n’-jump” implies that you have legs. You actually play as a near-featureless orb, hopping onto platforms and adhering to ceilings with its outer membrane, then shedding its yolk-like exterior to drop off of objects and speed around a level. The goal of each level is to roll around collecting floating notes, which will add layers to the soundtrack of the stage you’re currently exploring. Traversing the levels means sticking and rolling to terrain while avoiding red obstacles, a simple-to-grasp mechanic that gives the game a laid-back pace quite unlike the typical platformer. The controls can be a bit sticky at times, but they’re intuitive enough that anyone can work their way through the straightforward stages.
But the 2D platforming plays second-fiddle to Sound Shapes’ audio and visual design. The crux of the game’s appeal lies in its trendy music selection, with five stages (called Albums) worth of soothing melodies and energetic electronic beats playing over uniquely-themed level designs. Sound Shapes’ art is the way it blends the visual and auditory senses – every onscreen action corresponds to a beat in the stage’s pulsing rhythm, which starts out simple enough but intensifies with each nabbed note. It never gets too crazy, mind you – the sounds and sights of each level all have a very minimalist style to them, which imbue the game with a charm like that of a children’s book.
It can be pleasantly hypnotic to stop, look, and listen to your surroundings, and you’re sure to lose yourself at least once to the mesmerizing melodies and psychedelic scenery. It’s a surprisingly enchanting experience – there’s nothing quite like cruising through the pixilated pathways of an office crafted by the Superbrothers, or nailing precisely-timed jumps in a virtual shrine to DJ dignitary deadmau5 and arcade games of old.
Our favorite stage features alt-rock legend Beck, who crooned a sleepy melody while we traversed through a post-apocalyptic city full of cool blues and exploding reds. Crimson missiles that pace back and forth through the level move in time to the groovy bass line, while a cheery karimba eggs you on to reach your goal: a plain old turntable. We guarantee this song will be stuck in your head for hours after you’ve completed the Campaign – which won’t take long, considering that its 20 checkpoint-laden levels offer minimal challenge. You’ll easily breeze through the available Albums in an afternoon – but that’s when the game really comes into its own.
Upon beating the brief Campaign, every widget, creature, and structure you’ve encountered will be available in the Level Editor – and suddenly, you’ll feel overwhelmed by the creative possibilities. This is where Sound Shapes truly excels: as a tool for dreaming up and designing stages of your own. Minutes in the Level Editor can melt into hours as you unlock your inner musical talent, simply through playful experimentation with the hundreds of notes, samples, and beats at your disposal. Setting up a level is as simple as dragging and dropping pieces into place, and the exploratory nature of designing your own stages means you won’t feel overwhelmed in a bad way.
Once you’ve constructed a level to your liking, you can upload it to be played and enjoyed by others; we had a blast discovering community-made levels that recreated the Saw and Terminator themes in style. Much like the Little Big Planet series, this game’s lifespan is in the hands of its players, who must take it upon themselves to create fun, harmonic content that lives up to the included compositions. Likewise, if you can’t be bothered to assemble and share your own levels, you’ll miss out on the majority of the game’s appeal.
As with Rez and Lumines before it, Sound Shapes hybridizes a genre to put the focus on music over complex gameplay, and creates something entirely distinct from what we typically perceive as a “game.” As an instrument through which to channel your creativity, it’s incredibly deep – and anything this cleverly liberating is well worth a $15 investment.
Note: This was review was based on playing both the PS3 and PS Vita versions. Buying it on one system unlocks the game on both, and it supports cloud saves.
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