Review: SOUND SHAPES turns platforming into a musical extravaganza, giving you the power to build a tune as you progress through its levels. Do videogames kill the radio star, or help transform them into something even better?
Mixing music and platforming, Sound Shapes puts the conductor’s stick in your hand, giving you the power to bring its vibrant and uniquely designed levels to life with musical scores as you progress. Notes are scattered throughout the levels and everything makes a sound: from the rhythmic pulse of deadly obstacles to the dinging of a checkpoint, and it all layers together to unveil full-blown musical tracks from famed artists.
Playing as a ball, you can roll and jump through levels, sticking to certain surfaces as you do so. It’s all very basic, and while the idea of building up the musical track as you collect notes is an interesting one, the actual platforming leaves a lot to be desired.
On the ordinary levels it’s not often challenging, mainly due to the frequent checkpoints, which mean you rarely find yourself having to perform more than a few jumps in a row without hitting a safe point. You will find difficulty in the unlockable Death Mode, where you’re challenged to collect as many notes as you can in a limited time period, but the unresponsive controls and generally slow movement of your ball make these sections frustrating.
That’s usually where the most most challenging part of the platforming comes from. The timing of your jumps is so unpredictable and the infuriating collision detection means you’ll often find yourself dying despite being sure you avoided the glowing red obstacle of death stood in your way.
And that’s the biggest problem with Sound Shapes: the idea of music meeting platforming may be good, but when your main component is merely average it doesn’t contribute to making a special whole. The music’s good and the levels all look pretty, but they don’t leave any lasting impression, so they’re never able to really overshadow the lacklustre platforming that plagues the majority of the game.
Stuck playing the triangle
Beck’s levels are where the idea really works, and you’re really shown what Sound Shapes was supposed to be about. While the other levels link imagery and music to an extent, with DeadMau5’s heavily influenced by classic videogames such as Space Invaders, and Sword & Sworcery composer Jim Guthrie going for a robotic office vibe, they never feel quite as synergised as Beck’s.
With Beck, his lyrics float across the screen; his “Aaaahs” escape his lungs to become physical platforms; his emotional words have life breathed into them as the objects in your path, obstacles switching from safety to danger every time “hurt” escapes his lips. It’s at these points the platforming works because of how tied it is to the music, but it’s rarely seen during other artist’s levels.
You only need to buy one copy to get the game on both PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, but the handheld is where Sound Shapes belongs. This is most evident in the creation mode, where you can craft your own soundscapes. On the Vita, it is made beautifully effortless thanks to the front and rear touch screens, allowing you place and resize objects with a few prods and swipes. Using a traditional control scheme to do this is much slower and clunkier, and not really worth the hassle.
The community-created levels are currently miss-and-miss, offering you the choice of replicated theme tunes which sound impressive but lack any actual platforming, and those that have all the tenants of a good platforming level but don’t quite grasp the musical nature which makes Sound Shapes so unique.
This means the game currently feels very empty, as the genuinely interesting levels are the ones created by the developers. Unless Bowie and Bjork spend their free time playing a Vita, it doesn’t look like anything special is going to come out of the community and it’ll always be filled with lacklustre theme tune knock-offs.
Sound Shapes is a nice, unique premise, but it feels shallow. As you travel through the levels, It doesn’t feel like the music and level design ties together quite as organically as it should, and it was only on the Beck levels that I really felt the synergy between sound, vision, and action. When this does happen, it’s a fascinating experience – it’s just a shame that it’s confined to such a brief and fleeting area of the game.
Sound Shapes, from Queasy Games and Sony, is out now for PS3 and PS Vita (both tested).