Sound Shapes is another unusual game from Queasy Games, a developer known for abstract creations. Just take a look back at 2007 when the PlayStation 3 and the PSP saw the release of Everyday Shooter, a game which was held in high regard by critics. Queasy Games’ Jonathan Mak is now ready to release his latest work on PlayStation 3 again and Sony’s newest handheld, the PlayStation Vita, hoping it’ll be hailed as a masterpiece like his last one-man project. Sound Shapes has received a lot of attention since its first announcement, and all of it has been positive, but now the time has come for this PS3/Vita to fall under scrutiny by us reviewers. Can Sound Shapes’ rhythmic gameplay captivate us as Everyday Shooter years ago?
Sound Shapes really knows how to hook a player. Its 2D platforming/rhythmic gameplay may be simplistic, but it manages to be oh so addictive. There are 20 levels split up into 5 albums — not including the Tutorial album which is comprised of two introductory levels — that can be tackled in any order. Each level may rely on the same basic mechanics, but they separate themselves by offering different layouts, challenges and music styles. The 5 albums each focus on an artist, including well-known musicians such as deadmau5 and Beck. As you begin one of the levels, nothing is heard until your little, circular creature begins interacting with the environment and collecting coins. Grabbing coins adds single notes or segments to the overall song for that particular level. This means, as you progress through any given level and roll/jump through coins, the music will continue to evolve and build up until you reach the very end. Furthermore, the environment itself may be filled with creatures (both hostile and friendly) and obstacles that make their own noises, although some need to be interacted with first. As you might expect, music is key here. Collecting coins creates the music and the music’s beat is a crucial component to figuring out the timing for hazardous obstacles.
Hazardous objects are easy to spot thanks to their red color scheme. Despite their easily identifiable nature, passing them unharmed will require precise timing. This is why listening to the music is just as important as visually examining the level’s layout. Your circular blob can stick to all light-colored objects in order to avoid the deadly red, but the player must also be wary of the black/dark areas to which they cannot attach. The blob’s abilities revolve around sticking and jumping mostly, but it is also capable of deactivating its adhesive attribute in exchange for quicker movement. This adds a bit more to the thought process when attempting to avoid faster-moving enemies or clear large gaps. It may also be used by players to attempt to fly through levels, leaping to and from safe points swiftly to gain the fastest clear time on the leaderboards.
Even when the game looks like it’s over after the 5 albums, it has really only begun. Actually, the albums can be seen as a fun diversion and preparation for the real challenge that awaits players. Beat School and Death Mode become available after the campaign is completed. Death Mode provides hard challenges for each level. They revolve around getting so many notes before the timer runs out. At first, seeing “get 18 notes in 32 seconds” sounds easy, but after attempting to dodge deadly obstacles, it ends up being much harder than it looks. And the checkpoint system isn’t as forgiving as the main game. If you die, you start over. Beat School is the modifier for the Editor mode (more on that later). These require the creation of beats and melodies rather than simply navigate a level. The musically inclined might feel more at home here.
Immediately upon starting up Sound Shapes, one aspect of the game grabs the players attention. I’m talking about the vibrant and gorgeous visuals. The first level in the”Hello, World” album is filled with rolling green hills accented by pockets of red lava and colored vines that intertwine themselves throughout the scenery, fitting decor for a level titled “Hills n’ Spills”. The second level, “Sparkle Darkle”, shows off something completely different. Dark caverns with lava veins fill the screen with vibrant blues and greens appearing later on. Skipping ahead to the D-Cade, the album performed by deadmau5, puts 8-bit stylized levels on display with some very familiar enemies. Look ahead to Beck’s “Cities” album and you’ll see grim cities coming under explosive red fire. This leaves the game not only stunning, but varied.