Move A Little
Like any music-heavy video game, Sound Shapes really must been seen and heard to be fully appreciated. What is mechanically a simple platforming game becomes an original, momentous overload for the senses, a game that shows you tons of possibilities and memorable moments in a short timespan, and then hands the reigns over to you to continue its infectious creative spirit. This is a game you need to play.
As you may imagine, it's a little difficult putting it into words. You control a cool-looking blob-thing with an eyeball in its center, and you're put through a series of platforming challenges. There's running and jumping, of course, but you can also stick to light-coloured portions of any level to say, hang from the ceiling or cling to a building. Red objects, as you may expect, are bad news, and send you back to the last checkpoint if you so much as graze them. But said checkpoints are never more than a few seconds behind you, and between that and the easy, colour-coded nature of its mechanics, getting a grip on Sound Shapes is a pretty easy process. Don't take that the wrong way - despite it's cutesy indie look, there are certainly some tricky sections to work through that demand just the right timing to snake through.
Much like Queasy's last game, the brilliant Everyday Shooter, nearly all elements of the game are tied to music. Collectable notes usually provide the main percussive and melodic force through a level, although nearly every animated obstacle, hazard, or enemy generates some sort of sound that jibes with what's around it. It really is quite something to behold in motion, and I was constantly floored by what the developers have managed with such simple concepts in the Campaign mode, divided into different "Albums" that have different contributing visual and musical artists. The body of work ranges from indie dreamteam Superbrothers and Jim Gutherie to Deadmau5 to freakin' Beck, and each provides an incredibly distinct texture to savour. Between the vivid colours, wild sounds, and great controls, it's extremely easy to get entranced by Sound Shapes' approach to presentation and design. The developer-crafted portion of Sound Shapes contains four of these Albums, and shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to get through. Since the game's checkpoints are so forgiving, you'll probably finish it with nearly all or all of the notes collected as well. But the sum of its parts transcend their individual effort into something completely unique, more than worthy of multiple playthroughs.
Besides, the Campaign is meant as somewhat of an initiation. Each level you clear unlocks its unique assets - enemies, platforms, artwork - for use in its amazing level editor, the true heart and soul and Sound Shapes. Each sound, sample, and graphic can be endlessly juxtaposed and remixed to craft levels that are both challenging and enjoyable to play as well as artistically and musically satisfying. The level editor lets you craft terrain out of combining simple shapes - squares, circles and triangles that can be morphed, rotated, and combined effortlessly in tandem with more decal-like visual touches of levels you've completed in the campaign. Of course, there's a variety of note types to work with as well, and depending on where you place them on the screen, they'll have different pitches, and a timeline that wipes across the editor lets you easily space out your desired rhythms. It's all incredibly easy to understand and work with, and I never really felt constrained by using a controller to craft levels. The one misstep is that it doesn't allow you to control the layering of your different shapes, which would open up many more possibilities and make crafting levels a good deal less time-consuming.
Regardless, it's pretty mindblowing when you think about how Sound Shapes' adherence to such simple rules is exactly what makes the possibilities of its editor vast and achievable, and the results of what must have been constant revision and polish to the editor and gameplay in general are already coming to fruition. I postponed this review a few days to keep checking in on the community and see how things were shaping up after a week or so of growth, and I'm very surprised at the quality of what's already out there. People are already finding new and exciting ways to riff on the available tools, and I've been having a blast checking out their levels. I can't wait to see what'll be up on the servers months from now, when the dedicated have truly mastered their skills.
Don't get me wrong: there is still a lot of offensively awful Mario and Zelda inspired levels and "remixes" whose very presence on my screen is an affront to my being. You will encounter some sloppy, creatively bankrupt material out there. More often than not, though, each page you scan through has a couple interesting - and occasionally brilliant - ideas to have fun with and use as inspiration for your own levels. As someone who is almost always extremely disappointed in sorting through mountains of user-created content, Sound Shapes impressed me with a lot of thoughtful and wildly inventive levels after just a couple days. I'm checking out the community even as I write this review, and I'm legitimately excited for what's next. If you own a PS3, there is pretty well no reason not to own Sound Shapes, even if you only tap into its brilliant campaign and never touch the awesome community tools. This will be one to watch - and play, and listen to - for a long time to come.