Game Review: Sound Shapes (PS Vita)

Sound Shapes PS Vita

Sound Shapes is a rhythm and music based 2D side scrolling action platform game available for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS Vita, PS3 and PS4. Sound Shapes has been award winning game since it was first shown at E3 2011 were it was nominated for best of show and won two Game Critics Awards for best mobile game and best casual game, alongside winning best handheld or mobile game and best song in a game for Cities by Beck at the Spike Videogame Awards 2012, while also garnering mass critical acclaim.

The campaign consists of 22 levels spread across five albums with each album consisting of between three and five levels including: Hello, World; CORPOREAL; Beyonder; D-Cade; and Cities, alongside two levels in Tutorials. Sound Shapes will have you jumping from platform to platform and timing your jumps to perfection to avoid objects such as flame pits along the bottom of the level, swinging objects or objects that progressively become larger with each beat of the music. No matter what shape, size or position the object may appear; dangerous objects are usually distinguishable due to a dark red tint and must be avoided as if you touch any of the red coloured objects; you will be sent back to your previous checkpoint.

You have completed a level when you have reached the vinyl player at the end of the level, although you have only really successfully completed the level when you have collected all of the collectable notes. There are collectables in every level with as many as 92 notes in a single level, but when you collect a collectable it creates a musical note that adds to the background music that accompanies that particular level, so you are actually affecting the music as you play. The notes are small circular shapes, while the larger circular shapes represent checkpoints.

Death mode has that name for a reason as it provides you with a series of tough challenges, such as collecting a certain amount of notes within a particular time limit. You are attempting to achieve your objective as dangerous moving objects stand in your way resulting in precise jumping being an absolute requirement, alongside speed and aggression to complete the level as quickly as possible. Pretty much all of the levels provide tough challenges, such as collecting thirteen notes within twenty-seven seconds, although you should be wary that the positioning of the notes are randomly generated, so it is unlikely for you to actually experience the same positioning of the notes on any given level more than once.

The beat school game mode challenges you to matching the melody that is played at the start of each beat school level. It is simply a case of hearing a note and attempting to replicate that particular note, which is a great change of pace and really showcases something that is unique from the rest of the game; as this game mode is more about musical notation as it ties into the music and rhythm side of the game, rather than the action platforming found in the campaign and death mode game modes.

Sound Shapes features a level creation suite that allows you to be as imaginative as you want to be with the design of your levels. The level editor allows you to choose sounds from other albums and implement them in your level; the ability to customise the beats per minute (BPM) of the music, alongside the type of scale and transpose of the music. The help feature is quite useful as it takes you through the touch screen and rear touch pad gestures and general controls required to scroll, resize, move and rotate objects, alongside an overview of the HUD icons as they are essential to the experience of creating what you wish to with minimal complications, so you should not feel to daunted by the prospect of a level being too difficult to create as you will find yourself producing rather creative levels with very little practice. You can test your level and tweak it as often as you want to and when you are happy with the level you have created; you can then upload that level and share it with the entire world, while you can also download the creations that have already been uploaded by any of the other players across the world. The level editor is an amazing and thought provoking design choice that elevates Sound Shapes above many platform games that have not implemented such a feature and solidifies Sound Shapes position alongside Little Big Planet in the play, create, share category.

There is a lot of downloadable content available for Sound Shapes in the form of the acoustic sound pack; drum kits sound pack; curved terrain pack; 8-bit sound pack; do you wheelie want to hurt me album pack; 80’s sound pack; dub step sound pack; old school sound pack; vocoder sound pack; and city art pack, which are available from the European PlayStation Store for just £0.79 each with the exception of the do you wheelie want to hurt me album pack, which is £1.19 and the curved terrain pack, which is free to download. Each of the downloadable content packs with the exception to the curved terrain pack provides you with five beat school challenges, while the do you wheelie want to hurt me also provides three additional campaign levels. Each of the downloadable content packs provides a great amount of content and exceptional pricing given that all of the downloadable content is also cross-buy.

Sound Shapes supports cross-buy and cross-save between the Vita, PS3 and PS4. Cross-buy presents a superb amount of value as it means that you will be purchasing the Vita, PS3 and PS4 versions of the game with just a single purchase. The cross-save functionality allows you to sync the progression of your save file from your Vita to your PS3 or PS4 and vice versa, so you can start playing the game on your Vita on the way to and from work, sync your save game when you return home and then resume were you left off by loading the save game and continuing via the PS3 or PS4 version. The cross-save feature is made possible by uploading your save file to the cloud on one console and downloading it from the other console.

The controls are well mapped to the face buttons, although there are no control schemes that involve the touch screen, rear touch pad or gyroscopic motion controls, which would have provided great alternative control schemes during gameplay, while the level editor does incorporate touch screen and rear touch pad controls. The control scheme includes pressing X to jump; holding square or R to increase your speed as you roll along objects and the surrounding environment, while holding square or R as you move just before a jump will allow you to gain extra distance with your jump; changing the direction of the left analogue stick to move your character or alternatively by pressing the up, down, left or right d-pad buttons; and pressing start to display the pause menu.

The graphics possess a superb art style, which is almost a cross between retro and cel shading. There is a great amount of variety in the environments throughout each and every level with each album having a theme that the levels follow, while providing more than enough new content to make them stand apart and feel unique in their own right.

The presentation of the game is solid with a great touch screen based user interface across various menus such as the main menu, album select menu, level selection menus, online leaderboards, options menu and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and rear touch pad, although that is not an issue considering the other methods of navigation that are available. The background of the menu screens are in keeping with the tone and creativity of the gameplay as the menus are always bright and colourful.

The audio is purely based around the musical notes that will play from the start of the level in a basic pattern, which will be added to with new layers of beats and melody as you collect notes as you continue further into the level. Original music has been written and contributed by I Am Robot and Proud, Jim Guthrie, Deadmau 5 and Beck with my own personal standout song from the soundtrack being Cities by Beck.

The trophy list includes thirty-four trophies with no bronze trophies, thirty-two silver trophies, one gold trophy and one platinum trophy, while the acoustic sound pack; drum kits sound pack; 8-bit sound pack; do you wheelie want to hurt me album pack; 80’s sound pack; dub step sound pack; old school sound pack; and vocoder sound pack downloadable content each have five silver trophies for a total of forty silver trophies spanning all eight of the downloadable content packs. The hardest trophies have to be all twenty of the death mode silver trophies for completing the objective of collecting a certain amount of notes within a set period of time. The eight downloadable content packs that support trophies consist of the forty easiest silver trophies you are ever likely to earn from the beat school game mode and considering that there is a trophy list for all three versions of the game; you can actually class that as the 120 easiest silver trophies you are ever likely to earn, providing that you own a Vita, PS3 and PS4. I would estimate depending upon skill, a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take around ten hours to platinum the trophy list for Sound Shapes and around twenty minutes to 100% the trophy list for each of the eight downloadable content packs that have trophy support.

There are no difficulty levels, but there are certainly areas of the campaign that are difficult, although the hardest area of the game is most definitely the death mode challenges as you have to be so precise with your jumps and general movement, while moving quick enough to achieve the set objective within the given time limit. When you die and have to restart in death mode; you will notice that the notes are not positioned in the same place as they are randomly generated, which makes death mode even harder than you initially believe it is; as you are having to have fast reflexes to move for the first note as quickly as possible. Beat school will also provide a challenge to your musical ear, albeit a more explorative and enjoyable journey, rather than making you attempt the near impossible.

There are no online multiplayer features, which would have been nice to see a form of co-operative multiplayer, although co-operative multiplayer is not essential to the experience of the game, so it is not a huge loss and there are online leaderboards to add an edge of competitiveness to your performance as you attempt to achieve a better entry on the online leaderboards for each level. The online leaderboards focuses on global scores with each leaderboard containing each player’s rank; name (PSN ID); the time taken to complete the level; and the amount of notes you have collected with the positioning of each player based upon the amount of notes collected and in the case of multiple players having the same amount of notes collected for that particular level; it is then decided by the time taken to complete the level.

The replayability of Sound Shapes is outstanding as it stems from every core area of the game with three completely different game modes spanning the campaign, death mode and beat school, alongside a comprehensive level editor and level sharing system and competitive online leaderboards that will have you returning to the game for just as long as Little Big Planet.

Overall, Sound Shapes is certainly one of the most complete platform games available particularly due to a great mix of ever evolving original music contributed by professional musicians for the soundtrack fused together with excellent platforming gameplay and an amazing level editor and level sharing system that rivals the create, play, share mechanic of Little Big Planet. If you are a fan of platform games, then Sound Shapes is exactly what you are looking for and cannot come recommended enough, especially considering the excellent value at only £9.99 and cheaply priced downloadable content for all three versions of one of the best, most entertaining, most original and most replayable platform games ever to grace the world of videogames.

Jason Bonnar

At A Glance

  • Title: Sound Shapes
  • Publisher: Queasy Games
  • System: PS Vita
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: Yes
  • Cross Play: Yes (Cross-Save)
  • Online Multiplayer: Yes (Online Leaderboards)
  • Memory Card Space Needed: 1.2Gb (Version 1.08)
  • And for the end…
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