A soundtrack in a game is usually a peripheral part of the experience, usually just augmenting what is already there or just being outright forgettable. On top of that, it has been increasingly difficult to create a memorable soundtrack in recent years. Old school bleeps and bloops sometimes have more staying power than cookie cutter orchestral scores. Sound Shapes is on whole other turntable. Coming from the minds of only a few creative visionaries, Sound Shapes is a colorful game that fuses its musical scores seamlessly with its platforming mechanics. Both of the systems feed off each other to create a game worthy of both bobbing your head to the beat and grinning from the fluid mechanics.
Rather than have an anthropomorphic animal or cartoony human, Sound Shapes‘ hero is just a blob. Looking a bit like an over easy egg, this gelatinous globule is capable of jumping and sticking to certain materials along with jumping into the occasional UFO or participating in the “flying” sections. This basic moveset carries you through the levels and gets you to your goal. Simplicity is the order of the day and you’ll never feel overwhelmed, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Levels are forgiving and all about moving forward, but every level has its challenges to keep you suitably entertained and never angered. Good checkpoints and pacing will do that.
Sound Shapes shockingly has a lot to do with sounds and audio. What would be referred to as coins in other games has a deeper meaning more integral to the core of Sound Shapes. Coins are called notes and they just that: musical notes. When collected, each coin will add a certain note to the musical score playing in the background. Essentially, you are jumping around with a greater purpose of creating a musical track. It’s an empowering feeling knowing that you are directly influencing the current soundtrack while turning the genre trope of collecting doodads on its head. Notes only last for three screens, giving the track many times to remix and freshen up so by the time you reach the end, you aren’t tired of endless looping. In fact, if you are like me, you may even stick around just to hear the song for a longer period of time.
The way the platforming feeds and mixes with the music is something worthy of much praise, but probably wouldn’t be so if the actual music was bad. Speaking strictly about the campaign, each level in the campaign is chock full of catchy tunes from an array of different artists. Talented musicians such as deadmau5, Jim Guthrie, I Am Robot and Proud, and Beck each have an album or two associated with their name, giving the game visual and musical variety along with letting each artist flex their music mixing muscle. Even if you aren’t a fan of each artist, there’s a good chance you’ll look them up after hearing each performance they yield. I tried, but I couldn’t find a song I disliked. Every composition is a groovy mix of each artist’s respective instruments and remixes numerous times before you reach the end. The replay value will stem from both the quality platforming and the urge to hear every track multiple times. Someone needs to chop this up and throw it on iTunes.
When the campaign nears its end, the editor and user-generated content will be the next plausible destination. Like LittleBigPlanet 2, conquering levels unlocks tools and items for the editor. Creation tools in the beefy editor allow budding musicians and level creators alike to make levels with ease. Creating is more streamlined on the Vita due to the touch screens, but laying down notes first and then filling out the level with objects and hazards is an addicting, yet simple endeavor. Purely as a music creation system, it has plenty of tools to satisfy and the same goes for the level creation side.
However, I did wish some items allowed for more customization. Some of the hazards make noises whether you want them to or not, leaving some unwanted sounds in an otherwise perfect musical score. It’s a small gripe and besides the inability to just simply draw objects, the creation system and level searching mechanisms in place allow for this title to have legs.
And then there’s Death Mode. I understand that platformers want to go for an uber-difficult Super Meat Boy vibe by throwing in levels that spike in difficulty from the norm of the other levels. Rayman Origins did a great job doing just that for Skull Teeth hunters. However, when such a mode is a pure concentration of evil and frustration, it makes me ponder its inclusion.
Death Mode is basically a one-screen level that tasks you with collecting notes in a fast manner. It’s seems fair in words, but not in practice. Note placement is completely random, which leaves completion entirely up to luck. You can see where this would be an issue. Spawning in notes with no regularity can make some challenges literally impossible as the time given to complete the task is already criminally low. The movement speed, while finely tuned for the campaign, also can’t keep up with the speedy nature of this mode, making it even more frustrating. Besides hunting for trophies (half of them are directly tied to Death Mode), it would be beneficial if most gamers just skipped this pathetic mode altogether.
Watching Sound Shapes before it came out, I was a skeptic on how it would perform. Getting it into my hands, however, transformed the skepticism into pure love. The method in which the musical and visual aesthetics blend is a noteworthy achievement that both makes not only a killer title for the Vita, but a beautiful, unique game regardless of platform.
+Wonderful soundtrack that changes multiple times in every level
+Vibrant, colorful visuals jump off the screen
+Platforming is satisfying and blends well with the music
+User-generated content and editor make for a game with high replayability
-Death mode is a random, frustration-filled waste of a mode
-Editor, while great, doesn’t allow for everything to be completely custom
Final Score: 9/10