Since the PlayStation Vita's announcement last year, few games have sparked the pre-launch buzz like SoundShapes. Although it missed the launch window, it seems poised to be one of the platform's breakout titles during the Vita's first year. We got a glimpse at a near-complete version of it during GDC week.
What Is It? SoundShapes is a first-party exclusive that combines the Play, Create, Share ethos of LittleBigPlanet with musically-inclined stages that resemble a music-building title like Beaterator. In other words, as you collect notes, jump and escape death, you're building up the soundtrack to your stages, and collecting content to build future DIY levels.
Who Is The Developer? Queasy Games is a Toronto-based studio. Its founder, Jonathan Mak, designed the 2007 PSN hit Everyday Shooter, another game that fused music to classic gameplay. Several other Toronto-based programmers and artists, including Jason DeGroot and Cory Schmitz, have contributed to the production of this game.
What Does It Look Like? It almost resembles a childrens' book or the sort of cute style seen in other Sony first-party games like LocoRoco. The simplistic art style and character design belie a deceptively complex game. There's also a great DJ'ing/vinyl culture undercurrent, since each section of the game is an "album" that resembles an LP (remember those, kids?) with 4-5 "tracks." The sections are visually represented by a record on a turntable. To select different stages, you move the needle to each "track" to pick it. And yes, that means you can scratch, speed up, and rewind the audio before you dive into the level.
How Does It Play? SoundShapes' platforming works quite well. Your character sticks to certain walls, which allows it to navigate progressively more dangerous obstacles while collecting musical notes. As you progress, you'll not only collect the skins for each stage, but the creatures you overcame. Both can be used for user-created levels. We love the idea that with each note you collect, you'll advance the soundtrack for the game all the way until you reach the end of the stage. It's a game that performs the rare feat of offering highly challenging gameplay, but isn't particularly frustrating when you fail and have to restart. Maybe it's the cute aesthetic, but we were fine with repeating sections. Plus, when you die, a hi-hat drum sounds off. So even when you fail, there's a pleasant and familiar sound.
Like LittleBigPlanet, you will be able to concoct stages based on the items you collect in the campaign, and you can take each section and upload it to Queasy's servers. We also tried out the stage creation, which uses the rear touchpad on the Vita to great effect. You can enlarge and shrink different elements using that method, and it's handy for seeing what you're doing. Far too many touchscreen games let you resize by pinching and widening items, but you usually can't see them, because, well, your fingers are in the way. Sound Shape's rear touch level-building works great. It's part of a greater package.
When Is It Out? The official line from Jason DeGroot: "Pretty close to done, but not done." Take that for what you will. Out before E3? We sure hope so...