Sound Shapes review
Sound Shapes may very well be one of the most astoundingly surprising games to launch this summer. I say that because despite the fact that I enjoyed it at E3 a couple of months ago, it still totally surprised me when I finally played the full version. I knew I liked the game before, but upon playing the complete game on the PlayStation Network, I fell in love with it. Sound Shapes is an ambitious title, and one that PlayStation 3 and Vita owners should immediately check out and enjoy.
When you first start playing Sound Shapes, it eases you into the experience with a brief tutorial on how to play the game's levels and how to create your own. This isn't some long drawn out tutorial; it's a basic means of teaching you the ins and outs of Sound Shapes, and once you get through these two short levels, the game lets you run free through its colorful music-filled world. While not every level is open right from the get-go, you do have access to each of the game's albums. Complete a level in an album, and you'll unlock the next. The progression in Sound Shapes is very liberal, allowing you to choose which album you want to tackle in whatever order you so desire. It's a nice sense of freedom, and one that definitely paves the way for the rest of the game.
Each of the levels in Sound Shapes has coins scattered throughout that you must obtain. Collecting coins allows you to discover the game's soundtrack. Depending on their placement, the coins result in a different pitch. Collecting coins lower on the map, for example, will result in low-pitched beats, while coins that are placed in high areas will reward you with a high-pitched beat. By obtaining each of these coins, you'll slowly hear as the level's music unveils. To make things even more audibly interesting, practically everything else in the levels makes a sound that adds to the rhythm. Jump on a flower and you'll hear a nice little chime. Missiles being shot out of cannons will also provide some musical harmony. Even enemies contribute to the sound of the levels.
Some great musicians signed on to work on Sound Shapes. Each of the campaign's albums delivers some truly impressive music from the likes of I Am Robot and Proud, deadmau5, Jim Guthrie, and even never-before-released music by Beck. The best part of it all is that you're right there at the center of this incredible music collection, adding to it, distorting it, and helping create it. The single-player campaign in Sound Shapes is neither overly difficult nor very lengthy, but it is most certainly enjoyable. You can speed through levels and try to get on the leaderboards, or you can collect coins, create a beat, and simply wait for a few seconds to hear the music you just helped mold play back. This a rewarding and therapeutic experience.
Dying in Sound Shapes doesn't come with some vast penalty. To be honest, the game doesn't really penalize you at all. Instead, you start from the last checkpoint you touched (which also makes a pretty chime) and try again. Sound Shapes isn't about brutally challenging you or punishing you for your mistakes; it's about music and art. Speaking of art, the game's visual design is absolutely stunning, with different artists at the helm for each of the albums. Whether you're seeing a corporate office inspired by Superbrothers Sword and Sworcery EP, hand drawn buildings and Beck's cries of "Aaahhh" turning into clouds you can stick to, or Asteroids-influenced enemies, the varying graphical styles in Sound Shapes come together nicely to combine with the music flawlessly.
Developer Queasy Games could have easily launched Sound Shapes featuring only its single-player mode and called it a day. But instead, the game is loaded with some awesome extras. Upon completing the campaign, you'll unlock Death Mode and Beat School. Death Mode is an ultra-challenging component that places you on a single screen and tasks you with collecting a set number of coins all the while avoiding some very dangerous and plentiful hazards. It's a tough game mode that provides a nice change of pace from the campaign. Beat School works a bit differently. The game will play back a beat, and you'll have to replicate it by choosing the right notes. Both of these modes offer one silver Trophy per level, which should provide plenty of incentive for completionists.
If you've got a creative itch, you'll be happy to know that Sound Shapes comes with a fully functional and robust level editor, which features different creation tools unlocked as you beat campaign levels. Creating your very own stages is a blast, and you can even share your work or check out other players' stages, too. Seeing what the Sound Shapes community is creating is fun, and there are some really awesome levels out there by inspired folks who really went all out to make levels that are rewarding, challenging, and entertaining.
Ultimately, Sound Shapes will provide you with as much entertainment as you want to get out of it. If you simply want to play the campaign repeatedly to enjoy the game's preloaded tunes, you can do so. If you're a Trophy hunter, Death Mode and Beat School will provide what you're looking for. If you like creating and sharing levels, you can do that. Or if you simply want a never-ending game that's powered by its players, you can scope out others' creations. Sound Shapes is a beautiful harmony of color and sound, and it lets you play it any way you want to and get what you want out of it. It's an experience that delivers the utmost catharsis, and it's just begging to be played.
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