Sound Shapes [PS Vita]
If there's one thing that music and games have in, common above all others, it is the ability to make people smile. Both are very powerful mediums in their own right and so any carefully crafted combination of the two has the potential to produce exceptionally compelling experiences.
Sound Shapes is very much about combining both music and gaming to create unique experiences. Queasy Games has taken this one step further by handing gamers the tools create and share such experiences for themselves.
To begin with Sound Shapes seems like just another coin-collecting platform game dressed up in a simple-yet-beautiful artistic style that evokes other off-kilter games like PixelJunk Eden. What lies beneath this exterior is an elegant and carefully crafted experience that offers something very unique.
Sound Shapes opens up with a simple set of tutorial levels, giving players the chance to get to grips with the very simple controls and find out exactly what the game is all about. For the gameplay Queasy Games has chosen to fore-go the Vita's touch based controls in favour of a very button-based control scheme making navigating the levels a very intuitive experience.
Each level is about more than jumping around platforms to find the end, collecting coins as you go. Every coin collected unlocks a musical element to the level which builds up the soundtrack layer-by-layer as you move on. There are also more dynamic elements to the levels which contribute to the soundtrack as you encounter them, again building on the soundtrack as you move on.
The game consists of six albums emphasising the musical theme that runs throughout the game each containing four levels. Capybara's Vic Nguyen, PixelJam, Superbrothers, Colin Mancer and Pyramid Attack have each contributed one album's worth of artwork while the music has been contributed by I Am Robot and Proud, Jim Guthrie and even Beck and DeadMau5.
The team at Queasy has been very careful when pairing up the music and artwork so that in playing through each album you will find an uncontrollable smile creeping across your face.
Once you're done with the single player campaign Death Mode is unlocked. This opens up a whole new set of levels in each album that are excruciatingly hard to complete. They require you to successfully navigate one single screen-sized level to collect a certain number of coins within a limited time frame. The time is pretty tight and you will die, in Dark Souls volumes, before you pass each level. On the plus side, each level unlocks a single trophy for completion providing enough kudos to make it all worth while.
Sound Shapes is far from just a platform game though and you'd be forgiven for thinking that some 20 levels in all feels a bit short. What you're missing here is the final dimension of Sound Shapes which is the level creation tool.
Completing each of the albums will unlock Sound Shapes' library of level elements and, most crucially, sound samples. The level creation tool makes full use of the Vita's touch capabilities both back and front combining a very simple drag and drop level editor together with a simple musical sequencer. Use the touchscreen to choose, place, select an remove game elements and the real touch panel to move, rotate and resize level elements.
Sitting, playing around with the level editor can be exceptionally rewarding and it is fantastically simple to put together some very hypnotic and complex sounds with the tools Queasy have built here. They've also slipped in a short Beat School which teaches you how to build the musical elements of the levels tunes by mimicking a selection of short beats and musical phrases.
It might seem all very LittleBigPlanet, and you'd be absolutely right in thinking that. Once you've built your masterpiece levels you can then share them with the rest of the world by uploading them to PlayStation Network. Unsurprisingly you can also jump on to PSN and check out what others have created too download any levels that take your fancy and give them a try. As a bonus, all of this is possible through the Vita's 3G connection making it one of the handheld's most mobile titles yet.
Queasy Games has managed to put together a very striking experience in Sound Shapes. Beyond what is a simple, beautiful and visually striking platformer is a very elegant level creation tool that has enough depth to it to be able to foster a very healthy community around is. Having the big-name musicians like DeadMau5 and Beck create music for the game also shows the true power of the experience that Queasy has crafted.
While this may not be everyone's cup of tea Sound Shapes is an superb example of the kind of gaming experiences that the PS Vita is capable of fusing art, music and gaming into one very addictive little package. If you're even the slightest bit curious what lies beyond the myriad of first and third person adventure clones then download Sound Shapes and you won't be disappointed. If even half of the games that appear on the Vita are as imaginative as Sound Shapes then the handheld has a very bright future indeed.
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