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Sound Shapes review

Launching on Vita and PS3 last week, Sound Shapes offers one of the most inventive gaming experiences this year. However, a few issues keep it from reaching true greatness.

As a huge fan of music gaming, my enthusiasm for Sound Shapes was palpable. The latest game from Jonathan Mak, the man behind Everyday Shooter, this eccentric platformer promised to combine music creation with platforming to create a brand new experience. Not only would gamers be able to play interactive "albums" from Jim Guthrie, Deadmau5, and Beck, they'd be able to create their own as well. In many ways, the vision has been successfully executed. Launching on Vita and PS3 last week, Sound Shapes offers one of the most inventive gaming experiences this year. However, a few issues keep it from reaching true greatness. The campaign in Sound Shapes is a marvel. Comprised of five separate albums, each dressed with a totally different sound and aesthetic. Hello World by I Am Robot and Proud and Capybara eases you into the platforming mechanics of the game. With bright colors and soothing sounds, it's immediately contrasted by Corporeal by Jim Gutherie and the Superbrothers, with an edgy anti-corporate "narrative." But then, all of a sudden, Beyonder transforms the game into... a shmup? D-Cade by Deadmau5 and PixelJam brings in aspects of classic arcade games, like Breakout. And it all culminates with the absolutely brilliant Cities by Beck and Pyramid Attack. To reveal anything about that album would be a disservice, as it fuses together music and gameplay in such unique ways.

The Beck levels are truly spectacular

Although the game offers 20 levels across all its albums, Sound Shapes feels much too short. It's a testament to how exciting each level is. Once you reach the end, it's hard not to say "but I want more!" Theoretically, the game can offer so much more, thanks to the game's unique level editor. The entire screen becomes a virtual "instrument" of sorts, with higher notes placed higher on the screen. As you progress through the campaign, a variety of samples become available for you to use. By the end of the campaign, you have a pretty significant plethora of sounds to choose from. Unfortunately, while there is a tutorial, music creation involves significant trial-and-error. Whereas LittleBigPlanet and ModNation Racers lets you easily and quickly create playable content, Sound Shapes is really for the musically inclined. Making a new level is akin to handing someone a blank piece of sheet music and telling them, compose. The game tries to ease players into creation a bit through "Beat School," a series of twelve challenges that has you attempting to recognize and recreate musical tracks through the in-game editor. But, unless you have perfect pitch, it's quite a daunting task.

The UGC community is still revving up

I'm quite certain that, eventually, people will get a grasp of Sound Shapes' unique creation tools and make levels as extraordinary as the ones featured in the game. However, one week since release, it's clear the community has yet to tap into the editor's true potential. Many levels (unsurprisingly) attempt to recreate popular video game tunes... rather unsuccessfully. Few levels work musically--and even fewer work as fun levels. Finding new levels can be a struggle, as Sound Shapes has the same surfacing issues that the original LittleBigPlanet did. You can "follow" specific PSN users, and find specific levels, but it's difficult to find content outside of the few that are featured in the game menu. And while you can bookmark certain levels, there's no real community rating system that could automate finding exceptional user-created levels. While exceptional UGC will take more than a week to surface, players could go into "Death Mode," the game's post-campaign challenge mode. Unfortunately, these hard-as-nails levels aren't much fun. Sound Shapes may be an interesting music game, but the controls are definitely not adequate for such demanding platforming experiences. Imagine Super Meat Boy without the tight controls... or Sound Shapes without the shapes that make sounds. It's a rather soulless experience, one that feels entirely tacked on. The campaign of Sound Shapes is everything I had hoped it would be--and more. It's not often I'm compelled to play an entire game in one sitting, but that's exactly what happened. It will take quite some time before truly exceptional UGC appears, as the community comes to grips with the daunting, but powerful, level editor.
This review of Sound Shapes is based on retail Vita and PS3 code provided by the publisher. The game was primarily played on the Vita, with additional testing on the PS3. Both experiences are nearly identical, however cross-platform cloud sync currently has issues. Sound Shapes is now available on the PlayStation Network for $14.99.

Andrew Yoon was previously a games journalist creating content at Shacknews.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 21, 2012 8:15 AM

    Andrew Yoon posted a new article, Sound Shapes review: worth playing.

    Launching on Vita and PS3 last week, Sound Shapes offers one of the most inventive gaming experiences this year. However, a few issues keep it from reaching true greatness.

    • reply
      August 21, 2012 9:55 AM

      Just finished the campaign a couple days ago and I loved it. I hope they release more albums eventually!
      I'm starting to mess around with the editor now. It is really hard. I am able to get some cool sounding stuff out of it but creating a level around the notes ends up being quite the challenge.

    • reply
      August 21, 2012 10:55 AM

      i really dont like user generated content in games. even in LBP, anything i ever tried to play was sub par and not worth playing. also it worries me that you could play through the campaign in one sitting and with not wanting to make my own content or play some shitty ripped off mario levels, that it is going to cut the legs off this game for me.

    • reply
      August 21, 2012 11:34 AM

      Death Mode is frustratingly challenging!

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