I've been looking for something to get me to use my Vita for a while now. After burning through Gravity Rush in a little over two weeks it's been a slow summer, and November and Persona 4 Golden are a good ways off. Thankfully Sound Shapes by Queasy Games and Sony's Santa Monica studio is one of the most enjoyable platformers that I've played in recent memory. Featuring a refreshing take on the aged genre, it infuses music to make an interesting mix of genres that has players making their own levels and in turn making the accompanying soundtrack to the stage. It's a bit much to take in initially, but after a short introduction and playing through some stages created for artists like Jim Guthrie, Beck, and Deadmau5, gamers will hopefully see the genius in this game that I have.
The gameplay of Sound Shapes couldn't be simpler, collect coins throughout a stage and in turn build the musical track that goes along with the experience. Through the 20 available stages players will embark on a musical adventure, with no real driving force behind it, other than to unlock new tracks by each artist and to unlock objects and musical instruments present in the stage. The end goal in completing the campaign is to reward players with the tools to be able to build their own stages, which can then be shared and played online by other players. There is some peril and danger in the stages that offer a reasonable challenge in the form of dangerous objects that are colored red. If I had to give a silly analogy to it, anything red is lava, and you don't want to touch lava (duh!). Players can stick to any surface that isn't colored black, and using this mechanic are able to get around some of the perils present. Completing the main campaign offers up a death mode where players are required to collect a specific number of coins in the time allotted. These stages are only one screen in terms of size, but offer up a significant challenge for those feeling masochistic.
Building a track is a pretty simple affair, using a grid system users can place notes on a track that can either be a backing track, or can be part of a track that players can complete by picking up coins over the course of the stage. As I previously stated, playing through the campaign will unlock a large number of sounds that can be used for creating tracks, giving players a great variety in the genres of music they can potentially build, as is evidenced by the tracks currently available in the community which also allows players to follow a specific user, and tag their favorite tracks.
Sound Shapes has some pretty great visuals, what with being a 2D game and all. The guys at Queasy Games got some assistance from some very talented individuals like Colin Mancer, PixelJam, Pyramid Attack, Vic Nguyen (from Capybara Games) and some guys called Superbrothers who did artwork for a little game called Swords and Sworcery. Their contributions help give each musical artist's stage a unique feel and give user generated levels a bunch of tools that I don't think anyone originally intended for, which makes user created levels all the more interesting. The color spectrum makes great use of the PS Vita screen and looks incredibly bright and vibrant.
The touch controls are kept to a minimum, used mostly for menu navigation and track generation. Surprisingly using the touch controls when making tracks is really intuitive and totally makes sense when used in practice. Even the main menu's four screen options feels like a clever use of touch controls with its simple implementation.
Sound Shapes offers up a great deal of content at a really reasonable price. Pairing that with a wealth of user generated content will give gamers a great deal of value and play time. Provided the community is able to produce a continuous stream of content, Sound Shapes is one of those games that will constantly be worth playing. It's great for a pick up and put down session, which isn't that common today in most hand-held games, and it's a weird thing to think about now, but I greatly appreciate being able to play this game in short bursts, rather than for protracted periods of time. Really, PS Vita owners, stop reading this review right now and go pick up Sound Shapes, because there's nothing else like it anywhere, and in a world of portable apps that threaten to bury gamers, that's a really impressive feat.