Review: Sound Shapes
Some folks may remember Everyday Shooter and the big splash it made for PlayStation Network in the Fall of 2007, when PSN was starved for creative, original downloadable titles. Everyday Shooter was an extremely successful and popular hit considering the fact that it was made by pretty much one person, Jonathan Mak. Although Everyday Shooter was a dual joystick shooter akin to Geometry Wars, it set itself apart by incorporating gameplay and music in unique ways. Sound Shapes, the latest PSN game made by Jonathan Mak, is a platformer that takes that concept of integrating music into gameplay, and expands on that aspect to make it the focus. Although the platforming is pretty standard, the dazzling audiovisual presentation Sound Shapes offers makes it a fine choice for anyone looking for a breezy, pleasant downloadable game.
At its core, Sound Shapes is a 2-D platformer in which you control a small round blob that is able to stick onto surfaces that are of your own color. The color red however, is always harmful and will kill you instantly the moment you touch it. There is an abundance of checkpoints scattered throughout each screen, so no matter how tough it gets, you won’t be redoing too much work. The fundamental gameplay consists of sticking on to surfaces, rolling around, and jumping from platform to platform. It’s very basic stuff, but things such as the rhythm affecting various obstacles surrounding the environment will add another layer of depth that is much appreciated. Missiles will shoot according to the beat of the drums or platforms will only appear when certain notes are being sung. There isn’t much challenge in the early goings, and although the later stages do ramp up the difficulty, they aren’t anything that’s going to remind you of Super Meat Boy.
While the gameplay won’t be blowing anyone’s mind away, the way the music is woven into the experience is something special. Interspersed throughout each level will be a plethora of small, circular coins that you can collect. Obtaining these will add a segment of the music, whether it’s a simple drum beat or a guitar note. It’s cool to see each icon add something different to the soundtrack, and if you gather every coin, you’ll have synthesized a whole, complete song. While getting these coins are not necessary to complete the level, this element of adding to the music is what make Sound Shapes unique, and ignoring it would be robbing you of the main enjoyment of the game.
With the music being such an integral part of the game, the soundtrack is obviously going to be a huge factor. The campaign is divided up into 5 worlds, and each world has different soundtrack composed by different artists. There are a diverse range of composers that contributed to Sound Shapes, ranging from Jim Guthrie (of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP fame) all the way to well known artists such as deadmau5 and Beck. A big part of your enjoyment of Sound Shapes might come down to your appreciation for the artists and their music. Personally, I’m not big into electronica and techno, so the soundtrack didn’t really do anything exceptional for me. To those interested however, Sound Shapes is definitely an aural treat.
Along with the main levels, there is also a level editor, and completing a stage will give you access to more tools that you can employ. Using the editor is really straightforward, as the screen is broken up into a grid so you can place whatever you want in neat angles that will keep things organized. I’m not a very creative person, so I stuck to looking at community made levels and toying around with them. As expected with any level creator, there’s already a gamut of Mario and Zelda themed worlds along with its iconic music. The music however, is limited to basically one measure of notes, so it’s impossible for the maker to actually construct the entirety of the desired song, which is a little disappointing.
Probably the most impressive aspect of Sound Shapes is it aesthetic. Each world has a distinct style that corresponds with its music. Jim Guthrie’s level looks like it was taken straight out of Sword & Sworcery, while deadmau5’s level is rife with 8-bit looking graphics. The visuals have a minimalist art design to it which I love, and the sheer amount of colors that are infused into each stage is simply a delight to look at. It definitely is a far cry from the brown and gray you see in most modern games.
It’s also important to note that a purchase of Sound Shapes will net you both the PS3 and Vita version. For those craving for any kind of software on the Vita, this is definitely worth a look, even if it only takes a few hours to complete. Sound Shapes can be compared to an art house indie flick — fantastic on style and graphical flourish, but a little light on actual substance. Regardless of the middling platforming, Sound Shapes combines its visuals and music excellently to create a cohesive experience.