It feels like we’ve been here before recently haven’t we? Another download game for the PlayStation Network that uses music and visuals in tandem to create an experience. Before you rolls your eyes and make assumptions, it’s well worth taking some time to become acquainted with the world of Sound Shapes, from Queasy Games.
The aim is simple; guide a blob across various different levels which are grouped into “Albums” (for those of you under the age of 25, go ask your parents) collecting coins and avoiding obstacles/solving puzzles until you reach the end of the level. The player, in their default state, can stick to light coloured surfaces but not anything dark. A press of the square/R1 button can turn you into a sphere which sacrifices stickiness in favour of speed. Anything red in colour is to be avoided, as this brings about instant death, but thankfully the player can jump by pressing the X button in an attempt to avoid an untimely end.
Initially there’s this weird sensation of wanting to keep in time with the beat of a level, almost approaching it like the seminal Nintendo series Rhythm Tengoku. However, doing so will mean beats are missed as Sound Shapes is more in the vein of a traditional platformer, with an ever-evolving approach.
The four Albums included (Hello World, Corporeal, D-Cade and Cities) consist of three to five tracks for the player to tackle. Each has their own distinct musical and visual style that evokes many different feelings and ideas. The abstract optimism of Hello World sits alongside Corporeal’s office slave vibe, while D-Cade’s style is firmly 8 and 16-bit era visuals. Cities, with its mixture of bold almost Fritz Lang futurism, gives way to whimsy and a whiff of nostalgia as disinterested metallic avatars lounge on clouds.
By having such distinct styles for each Album, Sound Shapes allows the player the freedom to play a game dependant on their mood. Looking to warm up before heading out? Well D-Cade will suit you perfectly. A bit of unwinding after a stressful day? Hello World provides the perfect chill out. The execution is flawless and it’s hard not to be impressed with just how exquisite everything is.
Cities sees renowned artist Beck provide the sonic accompaniment, which mixes effortlessly with the visuals created by Pyramid Attack. Having to dodge missile batteries, bounce off antenna into the actual vocal refrain which is only onscreen for a short period of time, watching the words become platforms, is so inspired and so utterly compelling that it sucks the player fully into the experience. One track in particular, Spiral Staircase sees Mr. Hanson back on fine form with what sounds like his most compelling work in a long time. That it’s actually part of a game is quite striking.
Even the usually irritating beyond words Deadmau5 has managed to contribute something that is a beautiful accompaniment to the on-screen visuals. But don’t dare think this is just the preserve of those who like repetitive beats, as glitchy electronica sits happily beside the gentle plucking of banjos evident in Rowdy Cloudy. Ending with Grimes-style vocal harmonies sung by adorable clouds, it’s a bit special.
There’s a real sense of joy when playing Sound Shapes, as the synergy of visuals and music mix to create a simple, joyous effect on the player. If anyone is sat in front of this and they isn’t enjoying it, there is something deeply flawed with the pleasure centres in their brain.
All this makes the player want additional Albums as downloadable content, with visuals by guest artists curated by Queasy Games or other guest artists to expand and build on the initial batch contained within. There’s a feeling that the only limit to what could be created, is imagination.
Along those lines, all those coins the player collects during the campaign mode pay dividends, as they are also unlocked to help create their own levels, which can in turn be shared seamlessly with others by means of a slick level editor. The editor itself has an ease of use that brings to mind the one found in with Trials Evolution, with a drag and drop interface that makes it easy to add or remove elements and test creations on the fly. For adept users, and those looking to merely dabble and mess around, as simple level concept will sit happily beside those with more depth and complexity.
And if the player is one of the three people who bought a PS Vita, Sound Shapes allows them to download a copy for their paperweight… sorry, hand-held… and effortlessly sync their data and levels between systems, providing them with the means to never be without the ability to indulge in a quick game on the move. The way that the experience can change from hand-held to big TV and surround sound in a darkened room certainly shows the strength of it.
Sound Shapes is a triumph, quite clearly a labour of love which encompasses games and music, bringing both together for an experience which is quite unlike any other. It’s heart is pure, and the fun it delivers is precisely that, coming in highly recommended.