Sound Shapes is elegant in its simplicity, hearkening back to Super Mario Bros. with its two button control scheme: X jumps and Square (or R) runs. Adding a bit of variety to the proceedings is the fact that the little ball you control is sticky when you’re not running, leading to some interesting platforming situations. You might progress down a narrow corridor, hopping from ceiling to floor to pass obstacles, or perhaps have to run down a slope and use the momentum to reach a wall that you have to stop running to stick to. It’s simple stuff, but fun.
Platforming, however, really feels like means to an end. The real fun of the game is exploring each level and building up to a complete song.
Every coin you grab adds another note to the background music, and any sort of moving object in the environment (like lava-spewing volcanoes) will add its own beat to the mix. Touching an obstacle or falling into a pit will teleport you back to the last checkpoint you’ve touched, taking away any coins you’ve gained since. The fact that the obstacles tie to a beat makes progressing through the levels more interesting. If you time your movements to the background music, you can sneak through multiple traps (like crushers coming down from the ceiling) without stopping. Each level starts silent, but by the end of each stage, the sound of the coins combines with the escalated number of dangers and results in some absolutely beautiful music.
I was also able to play the custom stage made by Jim Guthrie of Superbrothers fame. This utilized the same mechanics as the earlier level I played, but also added switches into the mix in the form of various suit-wearing people whose heads I had to jump on to activate moving platforms or open doors. Hopping on heads also added extra notes to the environment, and once again, by the end of the stage, the music became pretty ornate… but I’d missed two coins, and by extension, two notes. As petty as it sounds, I wanted to go replay the stage just because I was missing part of the music. Although the game assigned me a grade based on my speed and coin collection at the end of the stage, I was more interested in simply hearing the completed song.
Sound Shapes will be released for the Playstation 3 and Vita on August 7th, 2012 for $15. Buying the game will allow it to be played on both systems.
Food for Thought:
While I didn’t have the chance to try out the level creator, from what I saw, it looks pretty flexible and relatively simple. The rhythm of the various obstacles can be adjusted, the height of the coins onscreen represents their place in the musical scale, and everything I saw (including the Superbrothers stuff) was available for the player to build with. Levels can be shared cross-platform via PSN.