Have you been looking into buying a PlayStation Vita lately but can’t justify its (crazy) price? Or do you already own a Vita but find it a wasted purchase? First off, shame on you for thinking like that, and second, fret not mon amie; your prayers have been answered.
Sound Shapes is a platforming, aesthetic splendour developed by the fine people of Sony Santa Monica (those who brought us the God of War series). It’s a game that engrosses the player, using its visual vibrancy and aurally-stimulating cleverness with an almost absurdly easy-to-learn level-creation mode that encourages those who finish the game to participate in its community. Featuring original compositions from the likes of deadmau5 and Jim Guthrie, Sound Shapes is a game that basks in its own experience without feeling repetitive or frustrating.
From the get-go, players are introduced to the game via two quick tutorials; how to control the game throughout the campaign, and how to utilise the level creator. Both literally take about a minute to complete each, and that’s really all you need (despite most games with a creation suite requiring quite the learning curve). In terms of the campaign’s gameplay, gamers control a translucent ball that defaults with the ability to stick to certain surfaces, not unlike the Metroid series’ sticky Morph Ball mode. Holding the square button though will make the ball hard and roll faster, like a regular run ability in most platformers. Along pressing X to jump and using the left stick/D-Pad (preferred) to move, that’s practically all there is to learn.
During the campaign the game demonstrates how beautifully the Vita’s OLED screen can display images (the Superbrothers stages are particularly gorgeous). Each set of levels (organised as vinyl records) features its own distinct style and atmosphere, both visually and aurally. The point of the game’s design is that actions depicted on-screen by either the environment, enemies or direct player input have an effect on the current soundtrack. What makes the experience richer is that the game does well to depict this, especially in later levels. An example is when the player is faced with an onslaught of visual distractions, which then make it harder to listen and concentrate on a route to take, thus increasing difficulty.
The creation mode, on the other hand, couldn’t be simpler. Depending on which system you’re playing on, the control schemes are different – but both still work very well. The Vita utilises its touch interface to control objects/musical cues on the design grid (which, when analysed, is a visual representation of 1 bar of music in 4/4 time); touching the front screen selects where to place an object, whereas the back screen manipulates its placement, angle and size. That’s pretty much all there is to know about creating levels.
Of course, creation tools in a game are next to useless without a community behind them to make great things. As it stands right now, however, community-created stages are lackluster and uninspired. That said, the same was true of LittleBigPlanet and ModNation Racers at first, but now those title have quite a strong legion of fans supporting and innovating on the service. With time, there’s no doubt that Sound Shapes will also see a wealth of cool levels, and it’s up to the people to make them.
When not experimenting with the level editor or playing the (increasingly difficult) campaign, there’s also the option to have a hand at the game’s Beat Mode. This mode requires players to pay close attention to a short, looped musical example and replicate it using the game’s compositional tools. The examples range from basic rock drum beats to complex techno mixes. Those who lack musical talent needn’t be worried, though, as this mode is still very much enjoyable and may even help develop some skill.
Sound Shapes is one of those seemingly small games that will undoubtedly be talked about for some time to come. Not many Vita games have been released since launch earlier this year that could be considered “the reason” to own one, and if Sound Shapes was exclusive to the handheld, it most certainly would be. Thankfully, this game is part of Sony’s crossbuy catalagoue in the PlayStation store, meaning that buying one version also nabs you the other. So if for now your only option is to buy the PS3 version (which is still fantastic), you’ll have the opportunity to play the Vita version, too, if you get one down the track. Whichever Sony console you have, just do yourself a favour and buy this game.
Will you be getting into Sound Shapes? Is this the kind of Vita game you’ve been waiting for? Shout out to us below or roll over to our forums.
Sound Shapes was developed by Queasy Games and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. A PlayStation Vita copy was purchased by the editor for the purposes of review.