Review: Sound Shapes

SoundShapes

The latest title from Queasy Games, Sound Shapes is a mixture of platforming and music creation.  The concept is simple: move a blob through various levels, collecting dots which activate musical notes. There are five album worlds which have unique art styles as well as musical notes to collect.  Each album was created with the help of other indie development teams and musicians, and I found myself methodically playing through each level so that I could enjoy the music as it was unlocked after collecting each new dot.

Collaborators include I Am Robot and Proud, Vic Nguyen (from Capy), Jim Guthrie, The Superbrothers, Colin Mancer, deadmau5, PixelJam, Beck and Pyramid Attack.  Each album brings a touch of flavor from each respective contributor’s work, bringing a fresh and interesting feel to each new world.  As I played through each album I would think to myself, “Wow, this music is my new favorite!” only to get to the next album and be blown away all over again.  The music is truly top notch.  While some levels can be frustrating (any and all red objects in the game cause instant death), there is no death penalty and no time constraint, which helps put the focus on being able to enjoy the music as a level progresses.

Once a level is completed, objects are unlocked which can then be used for creating your own levels. Creating levels can be done right out of the gate, but gaining the unlocks provides level creation with a bunch of new environmental objects to work with so you’re better off waiting until after the campaign has been completed.  I’m a bit torn in saying this, but fortunately the campaign is short so all unlocks can be obtained quickly.  However, as much as I enjoyed the music and levels that launched with the game, I also wish there were more.

Finishing the campaign unlocks two additional modes: Beat School and Death Mode.  Beat School is a fun educational series of lessons which play a brief series of beats or chords and then have players try to place the musical notes in the correct location to match what was played.  These lessons help teach how to best make music within the game.  Death Mode is a series of levels or b-side tracks from each album that are races to collect notes before time runs out.  While I appreciate the added replay value, the random placement of notes on each attempt is completely frustrating. I love that the campaign levels are play at your own pace; I absolutely dread playing the Death Mode levels.

Fortunately the game doesn’t simply rely on Death Mode or Beat School as the only means for replay. Similar to LittleBigPlanet or ModNation Racers, Sound Shapes‘ level/music creation tool allows each user-made track to be uploaded and shared with the world.  The Community section of the game highlights popular levels as well as levels that people on your friend list have enjoyed.  While searching for new levels can be a little hit or miss from within the game, Sony and Queasy have also put together a Community web site that allows gamers to browse levels and queue them up to be played at a later time.

Before Sony announced its big Cross Buy promotion at Gamescom this year, Sound Shapes was already one such title where buying it for Vita or PS3 gave gamers the ability to play it on both systems at no extra charge.  Sound Shapes provides a great Cloud Sync function which allows progress within the game, as well as levels being created, to be uploaded to the cloud from one device and then transferred to the other so that progress can continue without having to restart from scratch.  This is a simple and awesome implementation and something that I hope is copied with future Cross Buy games.

I’m a bit torn as to which device I enjoy playing the game on more between the Vita and PS3.  I love seeing the unique art style on a big screen and hearing the music through my 5.1 surround sound system, but on the other hand, the game feels a bit more natural on the Vita.  The Vita’s menu system is more graceful due to the touch screen and while it takes getting used to, being able to use the rear touchpad is also less clumsy than using analog sticks when creating a level.

Sound Shapes is a wonderful title for the unique music and art style found within the campaign.  What will keep this game fresh is the community-driven level creation.  While I’ve found a few amazing titles, I’ve also found some clunkers. But seeing that the game has only been out a very short period, I would expect some truly spectacular levels will be created in short order once the community has mastered the tools within the game. Sound Shapes is at its beat-making best on the Vita, but as a two-for-one title it is a definite buy no matter which platform you choose to make beautiful platforming music on.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Amazing campaign music
+ Great level editor
+ Cross Buy and cloud sync between Vita and PS3

Cons:
- Death Mode levels are frustrating
- Additional campaign levels would be nice to have

Game Info:
Platform: PS3 and Vita via PSN
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Queasy Games
Release Date: 8/7/2012
Genre: Music Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.