Giant Bomb Review

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Sound Shapes Review

5
  • PS3N

Both aesthetically and mechanically, Sound Shapes is an absolute delight.

Five years ago, an indie developer named Jonathan Mak brought Everyday Shooter to the PlayStation Network. These were the decidedly early days of PSN, and downloadable games in general hadn't become nearly as elaborate or interesting as they are today. And yet something about Everyday Shooter has endured with me over the years. I still go back to it from time to time, just to play a level or two and enjoy its off-kilter art style and bedroom rock-inspired music.

A sentient, moving eyeball should probably be creepy, but this little guy is just too adorable.

I suspect I'll be doing the same thing with Sound Shapes, the latest game from Mak and his team of collaborators at Queasy Games. Speaking in indie game terms, Sound Shapes is to Everyday Shooter what Journey was to Flower. It's an evolution of design that's more self-assured, more cohesive, and frankly just a hell of a lot more fun.

Sound Shapes explores the idea laid down by Everyday Shooter, namely the idea of creating an intrinsic connection between the action on the screen and the sounds you hear. This is a music game, but as with Everyday Shooter, the soundtrack is built almost entirely by the things you do in the game. By playing Sound Shapes, you build the soundtrack around you.

You do this by controlling a rolling eyeball...thing. The eyeball has the ability to attach itself to any light-colored areas of the environment. Jumping up to a ceiling, for instance, will let you stick and roll around. Round objects let you roll around in circles, and so on. Along the way, you'll be collecting coins, which are essentially musical notes. Collecting them adds notes or sections of notes to an existing track built out of the level.

Levels are broken out into "albums," which contain musical compositions created by artists as diverse as Superbrothers' Jim Guthrie, to Beck. Yes, that Beck. Each album has its own unique visual accompaniment. Guthrie's, for instance, uses an art style similar to Sword & Sworcery while depicting a desperately bland corporate environment, while Beck's levels flit between everything from flaming cities to giant, unidentifiable oceans of green stuff that your eye guy can swim through.

Though art and musical styles are varied, the mechanics of the game don't evolve too far beyond "jump on things, and don't hit red things." Red stuff kills you, which is where Sound Shapes gets tricky. Levels are generally tricky in ways that you won't recognize right away, though the checkpoint system is such that you'll rarely have to backtrack much, if at all. Sound Shapes is far more interested in you being able to see a song/level to completion than you mastering some insidious bit of platforming sadism.

To that end, Sound Shapes won't take too long to complete. There are only five albums in the game--six if you count the tutorial levels--each with between three and five levels. After a few hours, you'll likely have tried all of the levels at least once, but that's not really the "end" of the game, exactly. Leaderboards keep track of your level scores, and honestly, even if they weren't there, the levels are fun and trippy enough that you'll want to play through them a few times, at least. I certainly did.

If nothing else, Sound Shapes is a prime example of why having a diverse color palette in your game is a very good thing.

And then there's the matter of Sound Shapes' level creation tools. Completing levels gives you access to the various pieces of scenery, enemies, and other aesthetic elements to use for your own creation purposes. Level creation tools in games typically just give me a headache, but Sound Shapes employs a clever, easy-to-learn system that makes placement and design relatively easy. I was able to craft a few musically un-terrible levels in relatively short order just by playing around. If the early community levels I've toyed with thus far are any indication, those with more creative minds are bound to create some brilliant stuff.

The level editor is perhaps the one area where the PSN and Vita versions of the game differ. In some respects, the Vita's editor is easier, in that you can use the front touch screen to just tap and drag items around the layout screen. The flip-side is that you also have to use the rear touch screen to shrink and expand objects, which I generally found pretty awkward. Otherwise, the two versions might as well be the same game. In fact, you get both versions with a single purchase, and your saves (theoretically) can sync up via Sony's cloud service. I say theoretically because I've had a nightmare of a time getting the cloud syncing to work thus far. Supposedly it will work at some point in the future, but not at the moment.

That glitch aside, little of Sound Shapes did anything but put a doofy grin on my face. This is a game where visuals, audio, and mechanics sync up in a way that feels effortlessly organic. I'm sure the work put in to making it that way was anything but effortless, but it paid off. Sound Shapes is a reminder that great, creative things can be done in the music gaming genre.

Alex Navarro on Google+
59 Comments
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Posted by Weird_Fish

Great review! I'm glad this is coming out on the PS3 as well 'cause I'm not buying a Vita.

Posted by Cincaid

@Weird_Fish said:

Great review! I'm glad this is coming out on the PS3 as well 'cause I'm not buying a Vita.

Damn, you read that review fast!

Posted by MethodMan008

Game is so good. Agree with Alex completely.

Posted by Weird_Fish

@Cincaid: I may have just skimmed through it.

Posted by phrosnite

Surprised to see 5/5 after that quick look...

Posted by ElixirBronze

Why does these things only come out on the Sony stuff?

Posted by Opus

They need to put out the soundtrack already so I can stop humming the tunes and just listen to them all the time.

Posted by Maajin

@david1890 said:

Why does these things only come out on the Sony stuff?

Don't complain, man. You guys got Fez! =[

Posted by Skanker

Yeah, wasn't expecting a 5 star review after the QL either. Maybe it picks up in the later levels or the user creation tools are really cool, I dunno. The levels Jeff played through looked pretty easy and simplistic.

Posted by Video_Game_King

Why did I think Patrick wrote that blurb? Because I came out of his marriage thread.

Posted by Scotto

Alex, the little "blob" you control is the round sticker from a vinyl record - the moving black dot in the middle is the mounting hole.

Online
Posted by CaLe

Are you trying to tell me the simple mechanics don't get boring? I have trouble believing that.

Posted by Cirdain

Yay! :D

@phrosnite said:

Surprised to see 5/5 after that quick look...

I thought that what they showed was really really good. But the guys didn't seem to like it that much. It seem really pleasant in a fluid sort of way.

Edited by Szlifier
@Scotto said:

Alex, the little "blob" you control is the round sticker from a vinyl record - the moving black dot in the middle is the mounting hole.

It's not in the middle... I don't believe you!
Edited by Opus

Until one gets a controller into their hands and plays through the three levels in the Beck album the high appeal of Sound Shapes will remain a mystery to many people on the outside looking in.

But from the very moment you do select that stage; magic.

Posted by chilibean_3

Wow. It really didn't hit me as a 5 star game watching the Quick Look. I don't look forward to turning on my PS3 and going through 5 days of system updates to download the demo but I'll probably do it.

Posted by beard_of_zeus

@MethodMan008 said:

Game is so good. Agree with Alex completely.

Ditto, I love it!

The only thing I was surprised about, with regards to the review, is no mention of the super hard levels and "beat school" stuff you unlock after finishing the campaign. The campaign is indeed a little short, and I think those add a decent amount of stuff to do (plus all the trophies except one revolve around that content). Excellent review otherwise!

Posted by buzz_killington

I did NOT get this vibe from the Quick Look. Looked very average.

Posted by Artie

"Wow. A five star review?

Oh, it's Alex."

Posted by JDillinger

@chilibean_3 said:

@Skanker said:

Yeah, wasn't expecting a 5 star review after the QL either. Maybe it picks up in the later levels or the user creation tools are really cool, I dunno. The levels Jeff played through looked pretty easy and simplistic.


Wow. It really didn't hit me as a 5 star game watching the Quick Look. I don't look forward to turning on my PS3 and going through 5 days of system updates to download the demo but I'll probably do it.

This is why people shouldn't take quicklooks to be gospel. Often full of misinformation and plain just not knowing how to play the game.

Posted by chilibean_3

@JDillinger: What during the Sound Shapes Quick Look you felt was wrong and how do you feel he played it poorly?

Posted by NAQ

@Artie said:

"Wow. A five star review?

Oh, it's Alex."

what the hell IS THIS SUPPOSED TO MEAN

Posted by Xeirus

@NAQ said:

@Artie said:

"Wow. A five star review?

Oh, it's Alex."

what the hell IS THIS SUPPOSED TO MEAN

Yeah Alex is king of 1, 2, and 3 star games.... someone hasn't paid attention

Posted by prestonhedges

@buzz_killington said:

I did NOT get this vibe from the Quick Look. Looked very average.

It's easy and short. The perfect "video game journalist" game. Automatic five stars.

Edited by JDillinger

@chilibean_3: I'm talking more in a general sense. The problem is most people seem to sincerely base their opinions on games on quick looks instead of considering multiple sources and opinions and coming to a reasonable conclusion. They'd rather throw a vacuous comment out in the case of Sound Shapes about how it looks boring or "simple" (by the way since when did a game being simple mean it's terrible?) Maybe I would be more understanding if quick looks were done after the person demonstrating the game had ample time to become familiar with it. However, most are done after they've only spent at most an hour or two. Often times this means they'll have a poor grasp on the mechanics or lack the ability to provide sufficient answers to questions asked of them (see recently PASBR quick look.)

Posted by Brackynews

@Xeirus said:

Yeah Alex is king of 1, 2, and 3 star games.... someone hasn't paid attention

Alex can love too.
Posted by Solh0und

Hmm... I should definitely get this when i have a extra 20 dollars laying around. Dating sucks sometimes =/

Posted by rjayb89

I find the Deadmau5 levels the shittiest ones of the bunch so far (2-3 levels in), and I've finished the first album and Beck's. Beck's is, as expected, the shit.

Posted by johnsonic7

I wish I had a more relevant comment, but I enjoy guessing who wrote a given review based on the blurb and was happy to find that I guessed correctly this time. I suppose if I had considered both Brad and Patrick weren't in the office and Jeff was playing through Darksiders 2 I likely could have come to the same conclusion but whatever.

Posted by Scotto

@gladspooky said:

@buzz_killington said:

I did NOT get this vibe from the Quick Look. Looked very average.

It's easy and short. The perfect "video game journalist" game. Automatic five stars.

Every time I read another of your pithy comments, I continue to wonder why in the hell you are a subscriber when you have such utter contempt for so much of what these guys do, and their integrity.

As for the substance of your comment 1) the reviewer for this game was not the same as the quick look participants, which would account for the difference in tone, and b) you'll notice the user reviews filed so far are also giving this game between 4 1/2 and 5 stars.

Online
Posted by Scotto

@Brackynews said:

@Xeirus said:

Yeah Alex is king of 1, 2, and 3 star games.... someone hasn't paid attention

Alex can love too.

In fairness to Alex, he reviews a lot of genuinely below-average games, too. It's not like he's slamming otherwise critically-acclaimed titles.

Online
Posted by BaconGames

Personally I don't like how collecting those icons just layers a bunch of stuff all over the place and makes all of it feel really busy. I liked how the platform elements added to the music, which is what I would have wanted a majority of the additional sounds to come from. Or maybe just touching certain platforms that you need to traverse starts just one new elements and you just keep building until the end. The way it is now, you just collect all the shapes and get to the end with nothing really to show for other than time and too many layers. That would be perfectly fine if the soundtrack was there but again, except the Beck stuff, nothing is really grabbing me.

It's a question of taste. I love the art design and I think the platforming is solid but the shape collecting and soundtrack don't click for me. First time I've disagreed with a 5 star review to this extent but I'm glad others are really enjoying it and good for that guy. If it means anything, I prefer what Dyad is going for over this. Damn shame because the look is great in Sound Shapes.

Posted by nickux

Absolutely agree with this one. It's simple yet every time I finish a level I can't keep from smiling. It's just a joy to play. Also, the level editor is actually FUN to use- not laborious like LBP and others. The Death Mode levels are fun in their own way but really I'm looking forward to possible DLC albums from Queasy as well as whatever the community cooks up.

Posted by Imsorrymsjackson

@david1890: Just buy a PS3 as well then, be a proper gamer.

Posted by mabber36

you are boring when you are praising something

go back to reviewing shitty games

Posted by CharlesAlanRatliff

Definitely picking this up sometime.

Posted by kpaadet

@Artie said:

"Wow. A five star review?

Oh, it's Alex."

Wait! I thought it was Brad "5 Stars" Shoemaker? You guys need to make up your minds, I cant keep up with all these stupid complains.

Posted by Chtasm

@Artie: Ahoy, Dinosaurs! :3c

Posted by SpiralEye

Wow, I'm surprised too. But those Superbrothers' levels looked pretty sweet..

Posted by Fascismo

@buzz_killington said:

I did NOT get this vibe from the Quick Look. Looked very average.

No kidding. I wonder if he played the same game :\

Posted by probablytuna

Haha finally let Alex play some good games to review for once.

Posted by Muerthoz

I've played through all of the levels on Vita and played a couple of levels on PS3 and I feel like I had more fun playing it on Vita. I don't know if it was simply due to being able to plug in headphones to hear the game without ambient sounds getting in the way or if it was because of something else. Not really sure what it was that made the experience more enjoyable for me on Vita since it's the same game for both systems.  

Posted by TurboMan

@Fascismo said:

@buzz_killington said:

I did NOT get this vibe from the Quick Look. Looked very average.

No kidding. I wonder if he played the same game :\

The SuperBrothers levels turn into something terrific

The Beck levels are awesome

Deadmou5's levels are quite fun even if I don't like him

The gameplay is super fun and the online community is going to put out more levels once it gets better.

I'm a bit surprised by the 5 star review, but this game is definitely a 4 star from me.

Posted by TurboMan

@chilibean_3 said:

I don't look forward to turning on my PS3 and going through 5 days of system updates to download the demo but I'll probably do it.

Posted by TheHT

After seeing the Quick Look, I think it might be the one game I really want to buy on PSN. Ever, oddly enough.

I suppose Walking Dead would have been the other, if I didn't get it for free on PS+. Should be picking this up tomorrow. Excited to give it a whirl.

Posted by GioVANNI

@buzz_killington said:

I did NOT get this vibe from the Quick Look. Looked very average.

I felt the same way until the very end level they played. That looked pretty rad

Posted by Rmack

I Am Robot and Proud is a wonderful musician and I am more than happy to buy a game in which he and Beck's music make levels.

Posted by dropabombonit

Glad to see this get a 5 star because the quick look didn't show it off great. Not out on UK PSN until next Wednesday for some reason but at least that means I can get Soundshapes and Papa and Yo on the same day

Edited by ZRLeigh

I'm glad that there is another must play game for the Vita. I hope things pick up for the system soon. Haven't bought any games for my Vita in months!

Posted by skadave

I finished the game, completed all of the "Beat School" levels (my favorite part of the game), and most of the "Death Mode" levels. I would give this game 3 out of 5 stars. It was fun but nothing spectacular.

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