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Gaming Review

Sound Shapes review (Vita): Create some hopping beats

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Released on Monday, Aug 20 2012

'Sound Shapes' screenshot

© Sony


Release Date: August 15 (Europe), August 7 (North America)
Platforms available on: PS3, PS Vita
Developer: Queasy Games
Publisher: Sony Santa Monica
Genre: Rhythm platformer

One of the first games announced for PlayStation Vita was Sound Shapes, a musical platformer that instantly became one of the system's most anticipated titles. Taking one part platformer and one part rhythm game, Sound Shapes is a unique meshing of genres. Now it finally arrives, cross-platform for both PS3 and its originally intended handheld, and may surprise players to discover it is almost more an instrument than a game.

At its core, players must roll a ball through musical stages, hopping across platforms, sticking to walls, and avoiding anything red that will cause certain death. The ball is able to stick to certain surfaces, climb walls and the ceiling or retract the layer of sticky goo at a press of the button and sprint across the floor.

'Sound Shapes' screenshot
However, the real star in Sound Shapes is the musical stages you'll be platforming through. Everything in the stage contributes to the soundtrack. Enemies and hazards provide the baseline, while notes scattered throughout each stage make up melodies and flesh out the track as you collect them. When at its best, every jump and movement of the ball is set in time with the rhythm, creating an unmatched interactive music experience.

There are 20 stages in the main campaign, spread across five albums each created by a different artist. Some albums are better than others, with the Beck and and Jim Guthrie albums standing out as particular highlights.

Completing all of the campaign albums unlocks Death Mode, which is sadly the low point of the Sound Shapes experience. Death mode takes a single screen segment of each level, and challenges you to collect a set number of notes within a time limit and, as the name implies, without dying in the process.

While this mode could have been an enjoyable test of platforming skill, the entire thing is undone by the fact that the notes will randomly generate around the level. Even playing perfectly, it is still possible to lose if the notes spawn too far apart to collect within the time limit. It is an exercise in frustration that is overly reliant on luck, which is best left alone aside from only the most ardent and masochistic Trophy seekers.

Also unlocked at the same time as Death Mode is the Beat School. This mode fares much better, acting as an enjoyable introduction to creating your own music with the level editor. Beat School levels will play a sequence of music, and ask players to place notes properly in the level editor solely relying on sound.



Completing the Beat School levels will give players a better sense of how to construct beats, chords and melodies with the level editor, which will hopefully lead to much richer musical stages for the online community.

It is that online community where Sound Shapes will find its lasting appeal. Like LittleBigPlanet before it, Sound Shapes is a musical toybox for players to explore. It is simple to browse through the plentiful user-created stages, sorted either by the most popular or most levels online.

'Sound Shapes' screenshot
Once you find and play a level that you like, you can mark it as a favourite for your personal collection, and choose to follow its creator to see more levels they have made. It should be noted that there are some unfortunate server hiccups, which can occasionally and inexplicably lock players out of the online community and level leaderboards. It would be better if Sound Shapes allowed you to download and save levels found from the community so that they could still be accessed offline.

The level editor itself can be quite intimidating to start out, even after completing the Beat School levels. Players can cycle through different instruments, musical themes and tempos, as well as use any object from campaign levels that have been completed.

On PS Vita, the level editor is controlled with the touch screen for placing notes and object, while the back panel allows you to move and rotate them to your liking. The PS3 version, on the other hand, makes use of both analogue sticks to accomplish the same tasks. It is a robust tool, though, and those willing to put in the time to learn its intricacies will create some stunning stages, many of which have already started to appear through the online community.

'Sound Shapes' screenshot
As a final note, Sound Shapes is one of the few titles to offer cloud saving between the PS3 and Vita, allowing you to pick up either version and have all of your progress intact. It is a fantastic feature, though the aforementioned server issues can still get in the way. It is frustrating to attempt in vain to connect five or more times to the Sound Shapes servers and continue your progress, only to be met with an error each time.

Sound Shapes is really what you make of it. The campaign, while a unique and thrilling musical ride, is criminally short and can be completed in under an hour on your first attempt.

The real value of Sound Shapes, however, comes from the level editor and online community of creators. The tools provided offer vast creative possibilities that budding designers and musicians alike will fall in love with almost instantly. Just know that much of the game's appeal relies on creating your own fun from it, rather than marching to the beat of a designer's drum.

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