Sound Shapes – The PS3 Attitude Review
Initially, I was scared of Sound Shapes, of what I might think of the simplistic looking 2-dimensional side-scrolling platformer with not a single character, story, or line of dialogue. The old school gamer in me kept saying everything was going to be fine and not to worry, while the modern gamer in me scoffed at the idea of it all. Would this be a sound investment or an experience shaped by disappointment?
Like a race horse listening intently for the click in the gate indicating it was time to engage all cylinders, I waited for the PlayStation Store to update. Low and behold, it came hours before it normally does, and I was off downloading Sound Shapes for both PS3 and Vita with very little effort. It didn’t take long for either, with the PS3 version weighing in at around a gig and the Vita version considerably less.
Without hesitation, I synced the Vita up to my PS3 and transfered it over, for I had decided that my first experience was going to be on Vita. As it turns out, I was right. Not only are the graphics absolutely stunning on the OLED screen of the Vita, the sound is stout and formidable. Plug in your very best headphones and it’s official. The PS3 version is more pleasant for others to watch while you play, but the touch experience is something that pulls you into whatever game it is.
Sound Shapes is an easy to play side-scroller platforming game set to music. The graphics are varied depending on the level, ranging from an old school 8-bit tribute to clean industrial set pieces. The object of the game is roll and jump your eyeball-looking character to collect “coins” while navigating to the end of the level, all the while attempting to avoid red things. There are unlimited lives, in fact a death instantly spawns you back to the most recent checkpoint touched.
PS3 vs Vita
The only differences between the PS3 and Vita versions are the main menu layout and the way you interact with the game outside of actual gameplay, I’ll get into level creation in a little bit. On the Vita version of Sound Shapes, the submenus are accessed by swiping up, down, left, or right while on the PS3 version, all the submenus are laid out across the bottom of the screen.
Gameplay controls are identical between the two versions. Move with the left stick, jump with X, run with square or the R button. This is all taught in the mandatory tutorial that will automatically play the second after you press START on the title screen. The tutorial will also show you the game’s whopping three strategies: sticking to objects, dropping from objects, and the long jump while running.
Levels and Music
There are five albums to choose from, each containing three to five levels, or music tracks. You aren’t required to start from one end or the other, any album can be your first, but the tracks must be unlocked in sequence. To keep our planet from falling out of orbit, I chose to complete them from left to right. I noticed a subtle gradient to the difficulty while playing through the uniquely themed albums. The Corporeal album with music by Jim Guthrie resembled a corporate building with an elevator advancing between stages. D-Cade with music by deadmau5 is very 8-bit set in a cave scene with asteroids and ships from Space Invaders.
I am a big fan of music games and have been playing them since imported Beatmania arcade machines were first seen in arcades. The music in Sound Shapes is well rounded and plentiful. For this being such a bite-sized download, I was pleasantly surprised at how much musical talent was squeezed in. The Beck album is definitely my favorite for both the graphics and the music. Touch The People has a very Beck sound to it.
The base game in Sound Shapes is its Campaign mode. In this mode, you’ll play through every level in each of the five albums. The objective is to simply familiarize yourself with all the levels in Sound Shapes, unlock all the items for Editor mode. Upon completing the campaign you’ll be rewarded with two new modes where the all the game’s trophies can be unlocked: Beat School and Death Mode.
You will find Death Mode within the Campaign mode menu by pressing the L button on any of the 20 previously completed tracks. Instead of playing through the entire track, you will play a challenge that takes place in one scene from that track. This is where Death Mode is the death of Sound Shapes. The objective is to collect a set number of coins before the timer expires. The problem, or solution if you’re an optimist, is that the coins spawn semi-randomly around the screen each time you restart. You can fail the objective by running out of time or dying. In some levels, this will lead to some very frustrating gameplay.
However, I found Beat School to be the highlight of my entire experience with Sound Shapes. Having a background in music theory, and a Masters in Rock Band 3 drums, I felt completely at home in Beat School. The combination of these two masteries made the whole of Beat School incredibly simple to me, without the need for headphones.
At the end of about 40 minutes within Beat School I had completed all the challenges, therefor unlocking all 12 silver trophies related to Beat School. But Beat School’s purpose is to familiarize all levels of gamers with placing the coins that make the sounds in custom created levels. It had me craving more, and that takes us right into level creation.
Sound Shapes allows for up to 30 custom levels to be saved locally. Though once you upload your works of art, you may delete them to free up the slot. You start with a single panel, but can use multiple panels which leads to levels that go not only left and right, but also up and down.
Every button and input mechanism on the Vita is used in the editor. The front touch is used to place coins or level objects while the rear touch pad is used to move, rotate, or resize objects. All the rear touch pad functionality is reciprocated onto the left and right sticks to resemble that of the PS3. These simple controls are so easy to become accustomed to that you will find yourself creating an entire playable level in just minutes. Sound Shapes is the first game I’ve allowed my five year old daughter to play on my Vita and she already created two very difficult levels in under 20 minutes.
Once you’ve created a level it can be uploaded for the public, and your friends or followers to play anytime they want. The community levels are streamed to the console, not downloaded, so you need not worry about space requirements. Every online level has leaderboards displaying the players with the top times. As of this writing, there are hundreds if not thousands of levels already uploaded, many of which claim to be popular songs from familiar franchises.
Sound Shapes has clean menus, a healthy dose of classic platforming, and a robust set of creation tools. The polish comes from the community levels and cloud saving between PS3 and Vita, not to mention Sound Shapes’ initial deal on the PlayStation Store. It is a cross-entitlement, both the PS3 and Vita versions are purchased for one price and each comes with its only platinum trophy. After having completed Sound Shapes, I’m still going back for more and I’m no longer scared.