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As I've made pretty clear, I'm a music geek. I love to hear new, unique music, and I love to see music presented in new and fascinating ways. Whether its iPad visualizers, Beck's latest album (which is just sheet music given out to fans to interpret and play however they would like), I love innovation in the music scene. When that innovation crosses over into the gaming space as well, then I get very excited.
So needless to say, I have loved Sound Shapes since it released in August. If you're unfamiliar with Sound Shapes, it's a very simple platformer where you play as a little blob trying to get from point A to point B. Along the way, you will pick up notes that echo a specific sound on beat. Combined with all the other objects in the world, these notes eventually form a song (or in the case of some user created levels, organized noise). It's an added element to the traditional platforming formula that may seem cursory but it actually ends up adding a lot of depth to the game, but more on that later.
The mechanics of the game are simple. Your blob can stick to light colored walls and objects but not dark colored ones. A press of the shoulder button allows you to move faster, but it also makes you un-sticky. Due to the sticky mechanic, the platforming never feels floaty and eliminates any feeling that your death was due to poor controls. Of course, the one thing that can harm your little blob is any object that is the color red. Oftentimes, the game's challenges will require you to not only watch for obstacles but to listen for them as well. Timing jumps often becomes much easier when you pay attention to the beat.
The five worlds (or albums) in the campaign are all designed and soundtracked by different artists and musicians. The Capy levels are all composed by Jim Guthrie and the result is a look and feel similar to that of Capy's excellent iOS title Swords & Sworcery. The Beck levels are my favorite, not only because I'm a big fan of his work, but also because the look of the levels naturally combines with the sound of the levels. It's hard to explain how this dynamic works, and it's almost something I'm hesitant to elaborate on because discovering the ways music and gameplay are combined is one of the greatest pleasures of Sound Shapes.
The problem with the campaign is that it's very short, and not all that challenging. Each level looks and feels completely different from the last, but it certainly leaves you wanting in the end. Which is exactly why Sound Shapes comes with one of the best level editing tools I've ever encountered in a game. The tool set is simple and inviting, though it still allows for a great level of depth for those who want to really delve into it.
The amazing thing about the level editor is that, looking at it, it seems almost too simple, but the designers used the same exact program to create the campaign levels which shows the layers of depth possible. In fact, the community has already proven just how versatile the level creator is. Some user levels are simple songs built strictly from the notes, with nary an obstacle on screen, while others will be complex visual feasts with tricky platforming challenges where the music notes combine in perfect harmony with the enemies and props to create an aesthetic masterpiece. Some users have even created complex puzzles in the framework of the tool set.
The user created levels are really where this game shines. The community is very strong, with over ten thousand levels created already. Levels are sorted by either new releases or greatest hits, which are the top levels at the moment (which developer Queasy Games keeps rotated at a nice pace to ensure the best levels all get a chance to shine). I consistently return to the Sound Shapes community to see what new, creative ideas might be in store for me. This is also one of the best places to find the most challenging levels for those players who like their platformers high on danger and tension. But don't worry because everyone needs to be able to complete their level before submitting it to the store.
That's not the only place that Sound Shapes offers a challenge, however. After finishing the campaign mode, two new modes open up: Beat School and the appropriately named Death Mode. Beat School is essential for those who want to understand how to create music in the level creator, but may be daunting for anyone who can't carry a beat. Then Death Mode is absolutely insane. This mode is a series of bite sized challenges that will test your platforming skills to the limit.
Sound Shapes has been one of the most rewarding games I've played all year. Whether playing on the Vita or PS3, this is a must have game for anyone who enjoys music, platformers or just admires great game design. Hopefully Queasy will continue to support it with new objects and tools for the level creator and possibly new campaign levels, because I'm not done playing it, and I don't know that I'll ever want to be.
Now watch this video of my favorite level in the campaign titled "Cities" by Beck. It's a perfect representation of the harmonious synergy that makes Sound Shapes so compelling to play. Oh and as always...
Stay classy Game Informer!