Red things are dangerous.
That is all you need to know, and all you should know before going into Sound Shapes. The rest is nothing short of a delightful experience that no one who owns the PS3 or Vita should miss out on. If you could just take my word for it, stop reading this review, buy Sound Shapes, and experience it. For those who must know more, read on.
Sound Shapes is a side-scrolling platformer, where you take on the role of what looks like an eyeball surrounded by something, uh, sticky. You can stick to light-coloured objects, jump with X, and roll fast (but lose your sticky ability) while holding R1. Red things are dangerous, so you avoid them as much as possible or spawn at the most recent one of the generously placed spawn points. This description is as apt as saying whiskey is a beverage (because it is so much more!).
The heart and soul of Sound Shapes is music. It was born out of the love for music. It flows in every tiny detail of the game, right from cassette tape shaped slots of saving levels that you create, to the vinyl record player that serves as the start and end point of every level.
The campaign of Sound Shapes is divided into five albums that feature music by some of the biggest names of the music industry, such as Deadmau5, Beck, and Jim Guthrie. Each album features its own theme, and multiple levels based on the theme. The objective in each level is to collect as many musical notes as possible that are spread across it. As soon as a note is collected, it begins playing as an overlay to the base music that is a combination of background score and rhythm-based environmental objects and obstacles.
The levels move from screen to screen, and the music of a note collected in one screen plays out for three screens. This way, the music changes across the level as you move forward. The more notes you collect, the fuller the track that plays across the level.
And you will want to collect every note, because Sound Shapes is ultimately all about the music. The developers put in a lot of effort in building congruity between the music and gameplay. Everything moves to the beat of the music, and while it doesn’t always work, there are these awesome moments where everything falls into place. The environment, the music, even your movement – everything is synchronized into one. At these moments, it ceases to be a game, and turns into a song; s song that you ‘play’. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting to your feet while playing and feel that twitch run across your shoulders and through your legs, before you nervously look behind to check if someone was watching.
The graphics design does not lag behind the excellent sound design in any way. The graphics follow a fixed theme within an album, and more often than not do an excellent job at telling a story that only comes out as a sum total of one’s experience with the game. From grey and drab corporate environments that takes a genuinely trippy turn in the final two levels of Jim Guthrie’s Corporeal, to the ebullient colour palette and pixelated monstrosities in Deadmau5’s D-Cade, the game is an absolute joy to behold.
One might complain that the campaign length is too short – a little under two hours, but the quality and variety of content in it is well worth the price of admission. The game also features additional game modes once the campaign is completed.
Beyond the developer-created content, the game also features a very user-friendly level creator and editor and an active community that features some very interesting levels. The game’s focus on music acts as a very vital pivot for level creation. Unlike LittleBigPlanet, where there is a plethora of options and a rather steep learning curve, Sound Shapes has a limited range of objects that you can use to create levels, neatly divided into categories. But the number is by no means a hindrance to creativity, as is evident by many of the users – who have not only recreated classic games in the image of Sound Shapes, but also levels that are driven by stories told through sound and music. That is something entirely unique to this game.
The level editor screen is divided into grids, making it relatively easy to create simple melodies. The remaining objects in the level can be built around the placement of these notes, and further enhanced and deepened by using musical objects within the levels. The level creation tools are, hence, compelling enough for everyone to try out at least once.
I discovered Sound Shapes at a friend’s place. I played one level and I had to get the game for myself.
Why aren’t we talking about Sound Shapes? It is a labour of love by people who love both music and videogames. It shows in every nook and corner of the game, and represents a beautiful synergy of the two art forms. Get Sound Shapes. Play it. Listen to it. Experience it. Move with it. Talk about it.