August 31, 2012
In a refreshing change, Sound Shapes lets the player dive in right away with only a 3-5 minute tutorial. It explains the controls and the bare basics of the level and beat editors. There's a ton of other options available, of course, but Sound Shapes lets you choose how to progress instead of forcing a certain route. Ideally though, you'll gravitate towards the campaign first as completing each level unlocks more objects which can be used in the editor.
Each of the game's five worlds feels distinctly unique from one another. Instead of incorporating different styles, the developers instead decided to contract different musicians to each album and create an art style centered around their music. One world is rather bland as the corporate environment runs supreme and this features Guthrie of Superbrothers' fame. In another you have a visually stimulating ride through the city tied together with the music of Beck. In addition you also have works by ixelJam, Colin Mancer, Vic Nguyen, I Am Robot, Proud and deadmau5. All in all it's an impressive list of talent.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Sound Shapes has a bit of an old-school touch incorporating the side-scrolling platforming genre alongside its music. The ball that acts as you in the game can switch between two modes. One mode allows you to stick to certain objects and rotate 360 degrees around them if possible, while the other mode un-sticks you, but lets you move at a much faster clip around the level. Tying into the musical aspect are numerous little circles which can be collected. As each one is collected, more and more features are added to the background music. Growing in robustness, certain noises gradually fade away while others come to the forefront, eventually crescendoing into something particularly enthralling once all of the objects have been collected. Of course you can simply dodge all of the hazardous objects and reach the goal and keep on going, but part of the fun is building the music and seeing how fast you can complete the level with everything achieved.
This is why Sound Shapes is particularly interesting. It's simple enough for a novice music lover and platformer gamer to pick up and enjoy, but those who excel in either category (or both) will find a lot to enjoy in the post-game content. For music lovers, there's a fully-featured editor which opens up as each of the levels are completed. It utilizes a easy-to-use drag and drop editor, although some aspects are a bit easy to perform on the Vita as the PS3 version requires multiple functions to be tied to the same button at times. Complimenting the level editor is a music mode which allows you to generate your own music on the fly and includes a set of trophies for completing each of the various musical challenges that teach you the ropes.
For the platformer junkies out there, you have a remixed version of the previous levels in the form of Death Mode. Instead of multiple-screen levels, Sound Shapes pairs them down to one and requires carefully navigating the various hazards to collect enough of the circles before time runs out. There is a fair bit of skill involved here as the music and the environment are carefully tied in particular in these levels, but occasionally the randomized placement of the circles will cause you to lose no matter how good you are. Needless to say this is a game that'll make you work for that Platinum trophy.
Sound Shapes also includes a community option which lets you download levels and upload ones you've created to the game's servers. The game has only been out for only about a month now, but there's already some impressive levels up already and looking at the levels of creativity in the LittleBigPlanet franchise it's certain that there will be some amazing user-created levels to partake in after the main game is completed.
Since this is a cross-platform release, Queasy Games has the option to upload your save data to the cloud so you can carry on your completion (and unlock your trophies) on the other system. You might run into a few hiccups post-launch trying to do this, but there's a number of workarounds if you happen to be affected by the issue which appears to be mostly fixed after server upgrades following the game's release.
Even with its minor flaws with the editor, its post-game content and the server issues, Sound Shapes is easily one of the standout titles for the PlayStation Vita. It may be simple looking when comparing each of its parts individually, but combining all of them together forms something incredibly novel. Here's hoping that Sony decides to release downloadable content and expand the franchise further, as this takes what LittleBigPlanet did so well for the platforming genre and brings it to the music/rhythm genre.
Sony's "Only on PlayStation" catchphrase rings certaintly true in regards to Sound Shapes - this is something unlike anything you've played on the Vita.