Genre: Other Developer: Queasy Games Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Classification: G Release Date: 15th Aug 2012 Platforms:
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Every couple of years we get a new musical experience - an abstract tool for making music through gameplay. Titles like Electroplankton, Rez and Child of Eden, Chime and the excellent Lumines series all feature music as an integral part of the experience. At the same time, almost every console has had some sort of straight up music generation software - the PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo devices all had the MTV Music series and the Nintendo DS even had its own KORG DS-10 software. This is software for people to actually design and create music. And now we have Queasy Gamesí Sound Shapes, which is the amazing baby of the two.
At its core, it's probably easiest to describe Sound Shapes as LittleBigPlanet with music. A side scrolling platformer, you move a little circley guy through each level, collecting coins and avoiding anything red. The coins you collect however, represent notes - once collected, they play to a beat, with their pitch and timing decided by where they exist in a level. You begin each level in silence and as you make your way through to the end your sparse and singular notes turn into a song.
The notes you collect on your way through each level arenít the only things which make music however - everything makes music. If it isnít the black outline showing you the borders of the stage, itís probably contributing to the music in some fashion, or capable of contributing to the music when you touch it. In Beckís Cities, missiles fly in formation across the screen adding a guitar riff to your song and large speech clouds both print and sing the word AHHHHH. In deadMau5ís Galaxanoids, jumping on the angry brown... asteroids? Plays a musical dying sound effect - adding and changing the song.
And thatís the real beauty of Sound Shapes - making music as you play. The game comes with several Ďalbumsí - collections of levels - with songs by the artists Beck, deadMau5, Jim Guthrie (who did the outstanding music in Superbrothersí Sword & Sworcery EP) and I Am Robot and Proud - an Indie Electronica artist out of Canada I had never heard of before (not surprisingly, given how little I listen to music these days) but nevertheless an excellent addition to the game.
While my formative years as an awkward and weird nerd resulted in me rushing to check out Beckís album first, each artist only has three to five songs per album and I had quickly blazed through all of them. Thanks to the blend of music and gameplay however, playing through songs a second or third time is like listening to a song again and in no way a chore.
If you asked me my favourite song from the game, I would probably be currently tied between Beckís Spiral Staircase or I Am Robot and Proudís Thermogenica.If you asked me my favourite level however, I would have to go with Jim Guthrieís Research and Development. In part this is because Guthrieís Corporeal album is more puzzle solving than platforming, but itís also because of the excellent graphics designed by Guthrieís artist - the aforementioned Superbrothers.
Each album features not only a different musician, but also a different artist - making each album uniquely beautiful. deadmau5ís D-Cade album is filled with homages to Amiga games like Asteroids and Space Invaders designed by PixelJam (best known for the incredibly addictive Dino Run flash game.) Beckís Cities album features outstanding artwork by studio Pyramid Attack and I am Robot and Proud teams up with Colin Mancer for the outstanding Beyonder and Vic Nguyen (better known as Capy) for Hello, World.
All in all, Sound Shapes would be a fine little game if thatís all there was too it - several different albums by excellent musicians set to platformer levels with excellent artwork. But Queasy didnít stop at giving you a bunch of levels to play through - you can also create your own.
The best part about it is that designing a level is incredibly easy and you are able to do it the second you are finished the short tutorials. In the level editor, the screen is divided into a grid and a white line moves from left to right, playing the notes as it reaches them. You can place coins wherever you please - place them towards the top of the screen for high notes and towards the bottom for low notes - as youíd expect.
Once youíve chosen which instruments you want your coins to play once they are picked up, you need to make sure the player can reach them. When you start out you have a limited selection available, but playing the songs in the campaign albums unlocks new objects for you to use, with a, to be honest, slightly overwhelming amount available to choose from once youíve completed every available song.
Sound Shapes is available for the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita - and excellently, buying one nets you the other as well. Both have the same content, but the PS Vita version adds in touch based controls - especially useful, if difficult to get used to at first. It uses the back touch plate to let you move things around your level, which means your finger isnít obstructing your view, but is a little strange to do until you get used to it.
Iím not going to say ĎIf you like music, get Sound Shapesí because it definitely wonít appeal to everyone. If you only listen to Cradle of Filth or Jay-Z you will probably find very little to enjoy about the game. But if you like your music a bit softer and a bit more electronic and if you like the idea of making music and then sharing it with your friends (and the world) I canít imagine a better game for you.