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A little ball with one beady eye doesn’t seem like a likely platforming hero, but his (or her, I guess) simplistic and understated presence helps make the real star of Sound Shapes shine: the audio.
Most music games, like Guitar Hero, are about timing button presses to match the beats of popular songs. And then you have games that are about music. Sound Shapes is the latter. Of course, people get the most out of their harmonic endeavors by creating rather than just listening, so it’s appropriate that Sounds Shapes has an extensive level editor.
But is all this any fun? Yes! Oh, should I waited to say that later? You’re still going to actually read the review, right?
WHAT YOU’LL LIKE
At its core, Sound Shapes is a sidescrolling platformer, in the same style as Super Mario Bros. or LittleBigPlanet. You jump and run (well, roll in this case) while avoiding enemies and pits on your way to the end of the level. And thankfully, it’s a good platformer.
The main campaign will only take you a couple of hours to complete, but you’ll get to explore a variety of distinct and challenging settings. While most of its competitors rely on the same tired themes for stages (ice world, fire world, and so on), the levels in Sound Shapes are more abstract and unusual. A series of stages take place in an office building, using visuals designed by the guys behind Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, an artistically stunning title originally released for iOS and now available for PC and Mac.
Playing through the campaign also unlocks many of the level editor’s objects and tools, so you’ll feel properly rewarded for your death-defying victories.
My ears are happy
Of course, what really sets Sound Shapes apart is its musical aspects. Almost every object in the game emits a rhythmic sound. Each level is also filled with orbs that add a note to the background track when you collect them. This results in stages that start off silent and then build to a full-fledged song, changed slightly by whatever creatures and obstacles occupy the screen.
It’s a neat effect, one that doesn’t get old. Advancing through a level becomes as much about wanting to hear the next part of the song as it is about getting to the end.
My eyes are equally happy!
Complementing all of these delightful melodies are a series of simple yet stunning graphics. The images are clean and colorful, without relying on fancy lighting or hazing techniques.
It’s also amusing to watch how the game visualizes each sound. A vocal “AHHHH” will become a fleeting platform for as long as it is heard, while percussion beats explode in the background.
The power to create and share
Sound Shapes comes with an incredibly accessible level creator. Using the Vita’s front and rear touchscreens, it’s very easy to shape, manipulate, and organize your own worlds.
People will want to compare this system to LittleBigPlanet’s, another sidescrolling platformer with a level editor. I was never able to make anything significant with LittleBigPlanet creation tools, but even I was able to produce (moderately) impressive stages with Sound Shapes.
You can share your levels online, where any other player can try them out with little hassle. Impressively, the process of downloading a user-created level took no longer than it did to load a normal stage from the campaign.
WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE
Easy does it
While the main campaign’s levels are a great showpiece for the game’s visual and audio style, they’re a bit too easy. Some of them do actually feature challenging platforming sections, but checkpoints litter the levels, sometimes as many as three per screen.
With unlimited lives and numerous checkpoints just waiting to spawn you back into the world, you can easily rely on dumb luck to get by. If you mistime a jump, it’s almost easier to just keep randomly trying it over and over rather than actually figuring out the ideal window in which make your leap. As a result, you’re brain kind of shuts off.
You unlock a series of harder challenges once you complete every level of the campaign, but it doesn’t change that those initial worlds, while exceedingly pretty, are a bit dull to play through.
Right now, it’s hard to see exactly what user-created levels are worth your time. You can easily find the most popular stages, but these are often poorly made rip-offs of other games, like Super Mario Bros. I’m not sure exactly how the menus sort and filter levels, but doing it based off of pure popularity only encourages lazy junk like this. Hopefully, the community itself will start pushing out better content, or Sony will do a better job showcasing more creative levels.
Sound Shapes is not the best platformer you’ll ever play, but it deserves your attention for its accessible level editor and playful visualizations of sound. Sure, it’s not the best platformer, but it’s still a good one. Maestros and sidescroller fans alike should get a kick out of the special experiences this game offers.
Sound Shape is available now for the PlayStation Vita and the PlayStation 3. Sony provided GamesBeat with a copy of the Vita version for the purposes of this review.