As part of a new feature for the site, instead of strictly focusing on games that were initially missed when they were originally released, from time to time, we will touch upon those new releases that we feel ‘shouldn’t be missed!’ Perhaps, in the long run, they will get the attention they deserve, but in case they don’t, we want to inform you of their existence and to tell you in advance that ‘you should play it.’
This time around, we focus our attention on the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3 digital title, Sound Shapes, developed by Toronto-based Queasy Games. Music is an integral part of many games and for Sound Shapes, actions add to the music. No, this is not a rhythm game like Rock Band or Guitar Hero; you’re not playing a song and must time your button presses to succeed. Instead, your actions in the game help to create the music.
It’s a fairly simple concept. As a blob, your role is to travel through various stages, and as you do, collect music pieces which then add to the song of the level. Sound Shapes is a platformer at its core: moving around, jumping and avoiding hazards and enemies will stand in your way.
The blob has the ability to stick to pretty much anything that isn’t black and anything colored red will hurt it. Outside of that, the only other action it is capable of doing is speeding up; this eliminates the ability to stick while triggered but does allow for it to move through an area faster or to gain more speed for a higher and longer jump when needed.
Thankfully though, each stage is pretty forgiving with plenty of checkpoints that even if you die, and you will die, you restart instantly at the last one you triggered.
What makes Sound Shapes so enjoyable is that every time you collect a music piece, it adds additional sounds to that particular part of a level. Music tones last three screens and as you progress, you will encounter different tones and beats that drastically change.
There are a number of different stages, called Albums, and each one offers something very different than the other. They can be played in any order but unlocking the next track does require the completion of the previous one. Fans of the iOS game Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery EP will be thrilled that the makers behind that game, Capybara, created an “album” using their famous art-style. Additionally, the music for that “album” is done by the same name who did the music for their game, Jim Guthrie.
Producer Deadmau5 and and singer Beck also supplied music for two “albums” of their own. In the case of Deadmau5, his “album” is a throwback to 80s video games while Beck’s three levels have probably the greatest connection to the music. In those particular stages, the lyrics of specific songs factor heavily into the stage, including clouds that activate at certain times and objects that change based on what he says: for example, when he sings “move” the object not only has the word written on it, it will literally move on the screen.
Sound Shape’s core “albums” are not necessarily short, but don’t take too long to complete. Some levels can be completed in under five minutes while other could take over ten if you get stuck in a particular section. This may give off the false sense that the game is short but in actuality, they serve as preparation for two additional game modes that open up upon their completion.
The first is Death Mode, and that name is not a joke. Each of the “albums” outside of the Tutorial one, have special time-objective levels to them. Rather than going through a stage, collecting notes and reaching the end, here you are given a certain amount of time to collect a pre-determined number of notes before the time runs out and/or you die. It may seem simple at first but these require a lot of patience and luck. In some cases, you might luck out and manage to complete a level in a short amount of time, but for most, expect to spend a good chunk of time before you collect the required pieces.
The other mode is Beat School. Here, you have to listen to a certain piece of music then add notes to the correct spot(s) on the screen to replicate that tune. If you have a good ear, a great sound system or headphones and patience, solving these shouldn’t be too challenging. The really fun part to this is hearing the creation of the music evolve from the first note you place until it is completed.
There are a lot of good things about Sound Shapes. Outside of the things already mentioned, there is even the ability to create, share and play other levels. Already, there are more than a thousand different stages created by others and that number will only continue to grow. Creating your own levels is pretty easy; additional tools and objects that you can incorporate into what you make are unlocked as you complete the levels of each “album”. Even if you’re not the creative type, finding a song you recognize made by someone else is almost a certainty.
Lastly, when you purchase either the game on Vita or PS3, you unlock the game for the other console. If you own both consoles, that is a real treat but if you only happen to own one, the content is the same. But in terms of preferences, playing the game on a Vita is the better way to go especially when it comes to playing Beat School and/or creating levels. The system’s touch controls make moving things around a lot easier. Additionally, I in particular found the controls on the PS3 to not be as intuitive; only really picky people will notice this.
Simply put, Sound Shapes is fantastic game that everyone should try. It’s not exactly a rhythm game but it’s also not just a platformer: it’s the truest form of a mash-up video game. Some people may find some areas to be a tad difficult, especially if you are not paying attention to the music; another reason to play it on Vita as you can insert headphones to hear the music better. On top of that, some may find the Death Mode to be too difficult and bothersome. Yes, you will have a sore hand after trying to complete a level for an hour. But when you do manage to complete a stage after all that pain, you will certainly pump your fist in approval.
For its first year, not to mention its first six months, Sound Shapes is without-a-doubt the must-own PlayStation Vita title to own. Don’t skip on Sound Shapes. Chances are that when the end of the year comes around and people begin to discuss “Games of the Year”, this will be on a lot of people’s Top Tens, and in some cases, ranked among the top.