Sound Shapes Review: A Musical 2D Platformer That’s More Than Meets the Ear

Sound Shapes is a music-based 2D platformer developed by Queasy Games (with the assistance of Sony Santa Monica studio), and published by Sony. It was released on the PS3 and PS Vita in August 2012 and on the PS4 in November 2013. MSRB is $10. I played the PS Vita Version.

Everyone knows that a good soundtrack is important for a game’s overall experience — the right music is vital for creating atmosphere. Is this a romantic scene between the player and an NPC, or is it a tense boss fight? The music, done right, will immerse the player into the emotion of each situation. Usually a game composer handles such a task, the music taking up a background element that a player can only appreciate passively. But what if you could make that soundtrack part of the interactive experience? What if the player arranged the soundtrack as they played through the game?

In Sound Shapes, you make the soundtrack by collecting the notes.

Such is the premise of Sound Shapes. You play as a little blob that navigates incredibly stylish 2D Platforming levels all commissioned by independent artists. The big twist is that the main collectibles are music notes, and by acquiring them you gradually build that level’s soundtrack. You essentially compose songs piece by piece, beat by beat. The loops and chords build upon each other until they crescendo to epic proportions.

Thanks to all of the guest artists and musicians, each world feels unique, both visually and musically.

These aren’t just generic songs that you’ll be building, either. Several musicians lent their talents to this game, including Deadmau5 and Beck. I’m not the biggest fan of Electronic music, but I was bobbing my head the the beats of these tunes and I frequently had them stuck in my head afterward. Knowing that I was filling out a song gave me an extra incentive to go out of my way and nab every note.

This is where I’d play all of the fan-made levels, if I could go online!

At first glance this song/level mechanic may sound only mildly interesting, but it’s actually far more deep than that, and I didn’t really understand until I started dabbling in this game’s level editor. Like with LittleBigPlanet PS Vita, beating each level will reward you with items to fiddle around with in a robust level editor that you can share online (or, you could share them, but the Vita’s servers are down). It was a bit difficult getting used to the editor controls, but eventually I did, and I actually liked this level editor more than LittleBigPlanet. Every note has its own pitch and timbre based on its location — high notes will have high pitches, and vice versa. This means that every level in the game is more or less a visual graph of the song, which I find fascinating. It was no simple feat designing levels that way. I give serious kudos to the designers.

Sound Shapes was made for the PS Vita. Thanks to that OLED screen, every psychedelic color pops all the more. The controls are tight and responsive, and each level develops cohesive ideas. Overall it’s a unique 2D Platformer and arguably one of the best on the Vita.

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