Review: Sound Shapes (PSN/PSV)
Title: Sound Shapes
Format: PlayStation Network Download (PS3 1,052 MB / PS Vita 974 MB)
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Developer: Queasy Games
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: E
Sound Shapes is available on PlayStation Network and PlayStation Vita. It is a Cross-Buy, Cross-Save title.
The PlayStation Network and PlayStation Vita download versions were used for this review.
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 282 of the podcast.
At its core, Sound Shapes is a pretty simple platformer. You play as a little ball, a ball that can roll, jump, and stick to certain objects. You can’t shoot fireballs or teleport to certain areas, but you can hold R1 to sorta run, or, roll faster I guess. You can stick to some surfaces, allowing you to crawl up walls and ceilings, but if you hit R1, you’ll fall, which in some spots is exactly what you’ll want to do.
The picture says it all, and so simply, “red things are dangerous.” Surfaces, objects, and whatever else that’s red in the game is what you want to avoid. Other than that, you’re free to roam-about in the levels. There’s a definite path from point A to point B in each screen, and all of them are static, no scrolling.
The game is setup in sets of levels, with each set having a distinct theme based on the artist that’s provided the music, hence each group of levels being presented to the player as an album. Each album is from a specific artist such as Jim Guthrie, Deadmaus, and even Beck (I wonder if this is in the Becktionary…)
The primary objectives are simple, pick up these small orbs that represent musical notes, and get from the beginning to the end of the levels. Each level consists of multiple screens, with themes including an 8-bit journey through hell, underwater (which even lets you navigate with a small submarine pod,) and in Beck’s album, a war-torn cityscape with missiles and explosions strewn throughout while stacks spew smoke into the atmosphere from an industrial complex. All of the levels are tied to the music of each album, and until you attempt to create your own level, you might not realize how closely the levels are tied to the music.
Speaking of creating your own level, this is really the only thing that differs between the PS3 and Vita versions of the game. On both platforms, it’s very easy to use the creation tools, and the more you complete in the campaign, the more objects will be available to you to use in the levels. The difference simply is that obviously on the Vita, you’ll be able to use the touch controls. On both platforms, it’s incredibly easy to create something playable, and the amount of freedom is very nice. Also, to make the level playable for testing is a snap with the simple press of a button, and truly makes creating a level much easier and enjoyable. All levels created can be uploaded to the community servers, and accessed on both platforms. Familiar community tools are available to allow everyone to rate and share levels that you may like.
Once the campaign is complete, you’re not done yet. Instead, that’s when “Death Mode” is unlocked. Basically, all of the levels are kind-of remixed, and the game almost becomes a set of challenge rooms. It’s not easy either. “Death Mode” isn’t just a clever name, as when you’re playing them, thoughts of Super Meat Boy or other difficult old-school-style platformers will definitely surface.
The visual style is clean and very pleasing. Each “album” definitely has a unique and dedicated visual theme. The Beck levels are reminiscent of a bombed-out city, whereas the Deadmaus levels are completely inspired by 8-bit and earlier gaming, including things based on Pac-Man and Space Invaders. Even the first album includes a couple of levels that reference Jonathan Mak’s first PSN title, Everyday Shooter.
The game looks fantastic no matter what you’re playing it on. Animations is fun, and everything happening on the screen is in-time with the beats of the songs. With the differences in the themes, the amount of differing content that you’ll earn for the level editor is tremendous, so actually taking the time to get through the campaign has its benefits.
The audio is definitely 50% of the experience, and like a “normal” rhythm game, you’re really only listening to the music. Every component is so complimentary in Sound Shapes though, and everything just clicks while you’re playing it. It’s not just about getting through the screens and levels, it’s about using the music to help you time your way through. This is definitely a game that you’ll want to play with headphones if possible.
There is no actual online gameplay, but there are many online components integrated throughout the game. First, cloud saves. At any time, you can simply go to the Settings Menu and choose to sync to the cloud servers. This is completely separate from anything related to PS+, and doesn’t require anything except for you to be connected to the PSN.
Also, every level has a dedicated leaderboard, as one of the key gameplay elements is a speed run element, trying to get every note while racing through the level in the fastest possible time. They are easy to get to, and filters are easy to use as well.
As simple as it may seem, Sound Shapes is truly brilliant. It’s fun to play, more addictive than you’d expect, and the mixture of visuals, gameplay, and music is something not often experienced. I do wish there was an easier way to tell if I have any notes to still get on a certain level, but that’s really my only complaint. This game is a treat to play, with varying difficulty and imaginative level design. I have to say also, that I love that the folks from Capybara helped with a set of the levels, and the mixture of different musical artists is refreshing and fun. It’s a great game from a developer that is quickly becoming one of my favorites. I can’t wait to see what Queasy Games come up with next!