E3 2012: Sound Shapes hands-on (Vita)

Sound Shapes Screenshot - 1108614

I spent a lot of time checking out indie games at E3 this year. One of the titles I was looking forward to playing most was Sound Shapes, the upcoming music platformer from developer Queasy Games. I had read a lot on the game, and I had even seen some screenshots prior to my demo session, but this was my first time actually playing it and seeing the levels unfold. I didn't really know exactly what to expect, but I ended up leaving the booth really satisfied.

In Sound Shapes you play as a small yellow ball, and you need to guide the ball from left to right, avoiding obstacles, jumping over pitfalls, sticking to walls, and collecting coins. Snatching up coins is the most essential part of the game as this is how you make music. When you start a level, all you hear is silence, but upon collecting that first coin, you begin creating a soundtrack, and the music grows as you collect more coins. Additionally, different obstacles you encounter continuously add to the beat. So if you enter an area with flowing lava, you can expect a nice addition to the background music that reflects that new hazard.

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The positions of coins are a major focus in Sound Shapes. If you grab a coin that's lower on the stage, it will deliver a much different beat than if you collect a coin higher up in the level. This is where your sticking ability comes into play. The ball you control can roll around pretty much any platform, so different levels will require you to jump around varying ledges to collect coins. The stage I played during my time with the game had a few tricky jumps, but it wasn't too punishing. That said, I can definitely see later levels delivering a much higher degree of challenge.

Sound Shapes has a very minimalist look to it, and the graphical design really does a good job of complimenting the music, which starts out fairly minimalist in its own right and then eventually becomes more harmonious and complex. Like the art style, the controls in Sound Shapes are also very minimalist, relying on two buttons and the left analog stick or D-pad. Jumping is mapped to the X button, while dashing can be executed by holding down on the square button (or the R button, but square feels a lot better).

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While sticking to a wall, you can't dash; doing so will make the ball fall off whatever angled or vertical surface you're on. This adds another layer of strategy to the game, because there will be times where there are platforms below that you need to get to, so sometimes hitting that dash button is necessary to fall to the next platform. I actually found myself accidentally hitting the dash button a few times in an attempt to get through an area quickly, but I ended up falling into some spikes or lava below. Oops ...

Upon clearing the level I was demoing, I got to play back the melody I created. It sounded great, but I could definitely hear the the parts where I missed some coins. That aspect alone will warrant replay value. Additionally, Sound Shapes will feature a full level editor, and though I didn't get the chance to test it out myself, most reports have indicated that it's pretty intuitive and easy to use.

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Sound Shapes provides a nice spin on the platforming genre, and it really left a lasting impression at E3. You won't have to wait too long for it, because the game is scheduled to launch on the PlayStation 3 and Vita on August 7, and it will support cross-platform play, which is something I'm very glad to see more developers doing with their games on Sony's line of consoles. Sound Shapes will be priced at $14.99, and with music from Jim Guthrie, deadmau5, and more, it certainly seems like a nicely valued PlayStation Network download with some great tunes.

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