E3 2011: Sound Shapes
QUICKTAKE: Jonathan Mak, creator of indie darling Everyday Shooter, is back with a brand new game for Sony's upcoming handheld. Sound Shapes, a quirky music-platformer, feels like a game that's designed from the ground up to take advantage of everything the PlayStation Vita has to offer. Not only does Sound Shapes utilize both the front and back touch surfaces, it embodies Sony's "play, create, share" mantra, letting you easily create and share musical experiences with others. Addictive gameplay combined with a compelling creator sold me not only on the game, but the system as well.
BOOM video 9438
THE DEMO: I was allowed to play one pre-designed level before jumping into the game's creator. The platforming is relatively simple: your character can jump and must avoid getting hit by various enemies and obstacles. All the while, you'll collect orbs that add depth to the music playing in the background. What makes Sound Shapes feel rather different is your character's ability to cling to surfaces. That means you can wall jump with relative ease, and walk all around a circle -- even hang on, upside-down.
After getting to the goal, I was able to see how a level is created. Using a simple tools menu, I was able to see a small level constructed within a few moments. Of particular note: you can place orbs all around the map, and they'll correspond to a note, based on their coordinates. I took over, placing a few notes on the screen, creating a melody. Then, within minutes, I was able to add some platforming elements and enemies and... voila! A new level was born.
DETAILS: If you're familiar with Everyday Shooter, then you'll understand how music can transform a simple experience into a complex one. With headphones on, I was taken aback by how mesmerizing the score was. To hear and see it transform as I progressed through the level felt incredibly empowering. Already, I see it as a perfect portable game: I could see myself playing a level or two as I catch a subway ride somewhere.
Playing the game is fun, but what really sells the experience is the ability to create your own music. Because the creator feels like an instrument in and of itself, it's incredibly satisfying to play with, even without constructing an actually playable level. I love how everything either adds to, or reacts to, the music that plays in the background. For example, an object that shoots lasers will do it on the beat. Create a level with a faster tempo, and the laser will fire more frequently, making for a greater challenge. I also love how easy it is to create a level using touch: just pick an object and place it on the screen. That's it. If you want to change its properties, you can swipe gestures on the rear touch panel. This way, you'll be able to rotate the object and change its size without having to accidentally touch the wrong object on the front screen.
You can also create some really massive levels within Sound Shapes. While you can only edit one screen at a time, you can link hundreds of screens together, should you wish. The grid I saw was massive, and should be able to contain even the most ambitious of levels.
Sound Shapes is a mesmerizing audiovisual experience with an incredible level editor that should provide endless gaming opportunities. While Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048 impressed me technically, Sound Shapes is ultimately what sold me on a Vita. While so many other games are just PS3 games on the go, Sound Shapes is an experience totally unique to the platform ... and an experience I'm willing to buy new hardware to try.
Watch the Shacknews E3 2011 page to follow all our coverage of this year's show. You can also subscribe to it with your favorite RSS reader.