Prior to this month's almost epic showing from Sony at Gamescon, you could consider the Vita to be on life support, or somewhat close to that – which is ironic for a device that's still so new to the market. Then again, barring a precious few games, there rarely is anything on the platform to pique anyone's interest. Sure, you have Gravity Rush and Uncharted, but what else?
Well, that "what else" just happens to be Sound Shapes. Or so it is touted to be. What looks like a simplistic platformer is actually a lot more. It doubles up as an interactive mix tape of sorts. Sound Shapes isn't about story. It's about making music while playing a video game. You control a blob that can stick to light-coloured surfaces but falls off dark-coloured ones. You can speed through obstacles by tapping a button, and respawning is never an issue thanks to a healthy number of checkpoints that pepper each of the game's levels. Touch anything red and you die instantly. The platforming mechanics are as basic as they can get.
So where were we? Ah yes, this is a game about making music. As you travel across a myriad of curious-looking landscapes from video game retro hells to industrial wastelands, you'll find notes to collect. Grabbing these adds new sounds to the existing music that's playing. Failing to do so leaves you with a boring, plain tune. Hence, what you hear depends on how good your platforming skills are: avoiding obstacles and obtaining notes.
Whoa, that looks rather psychedelic!
Succeed and you're treated to an aural masterpiece; fail and you're punished with dissonant tunes. It's obvious here that this is one experience that requires you to have your headphones on for maximum effect.
Each album consists of four to five songs. The placement of notes to collect differs when compared to other platformers, as dying in Sound Shapes is not a mitigating factor. As you progress through a level, the song develops further, allowing for levels that are more complicated with complex enemies and environmental hazards. Every single visual element you see is influenced by the music and has some music of its own, which is great. After all, how many games have the sound of filing cabinets in their music?
Though the single-player mode clocks in at around five albums, each level has its own unique flavour. Whether it's the Sworcery duo of Jim Guthrie and the Superbrothers with their office levels, or deadmau5's attempt at retro-designed goodness, you'll find a fair amount of synergy between the music and the visuals to the point where you'll soon realise that there isn't a bad song in the game at all.
When music and visuals collide
While the highlight of Sound Shapes is definitely its musical prowess, a special mention should be made about its visual presentation. The visuals here exude a charm that appeals to all audiences. Its uncomplicated style is endearing, to say the least.
Also, the learning curve is well thought out. You never feel too flustered or too confident as you play through. Rudimentary ideas are combined and later remixed to be challenging but never unfair. This is one of the few platformers that wants to be finished (much unlike Super Meat Boy or even Fez).
Upon completing the campaign, which you will at great speed, you gain access to additional game modes. There's Death Mode, which lets you take on single-screen editions of each level of the campaign. You must collect a specified number of notes in the stipulated time limit with only one life; this is where the game gets extremely hard. Then there is Beat School. Here, you have to replicate the music you hear by tapping the correct parts of the screen. Playing the track again checks how close you are to the original beat and allows you to try again. It's a rather satisfying affair that would keep you entertained well after you're through the campaign.
Each level you complete grants you access to more items to create levels. Much like LittleBigPlanet, there's a strong focus on creating new levels to share and play with others. Unlike LittleBigPlanet though, it's much easier to create custom levels here with the smart implementation of the rear touchpad and front touchscreen. Other games usually include this feature without much thought for usability, but that's not the case here. You'll find yourself making interesting challenges for the community in no time, which takes an estimated two to three minutes tops. Yes, it really is that simple.
This game utilises Vita's rear and front touchscreens quite well
Sound Shapes is an interesting concept that ends up being just as intriguing in terms of execution. While the gameplay is relatively uncomplicated and the visuals are adorable, the music is what sees it through. For a digital-only release, it packs in a hell lot of value, with the PS3 version being a free download for anyone purchasing it on the Vita or vice-versa. The only major difference is how level creation is handled on the PS3, which requires you to use analogue sticks and buttons. It's not as friendly as it is on the Vita, so deduct half a point if you were buying it for the PS3 version alone. On the whole, this is perhaps the only Vita title we can recommend you to purchase even if you don't own the handheld.
Updated 20 May, 2013, 8:22 pm IST
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