Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 (reviewed), PlayStation Vita (reviewed)
Sound Shapes is an interesting take on the rhythm game. Instead of matching notes on a plastic instrument you’ll be platforming through various levels grabbing coins and collectibles in order to change the music. In a way, it is a bit like the Bit Trip Runner series as what you do and collect will continue to evolve the soundtrack throughout each level. The more items you collect, the more filled out and dynamic the score becomes and when the game really gets into a groove it is an absolute delight to play. Unfortunately, finding that groove can be a bit hit or miss throughout the experience.
Sound Shapes is broken down into two sections, the campaign and the level editor. During the campaign you’ll play your way through five different albums (unique worlds) featuring music from the likes of Deadmau5 and Beck. Within each album there will be anywhere from three to five levels to make your way through. Most levels will take you in the range of three to eight minutes to complete (your first time through), so there isn’t a ton of content to be found in the initial campaign and it can be completed in just a couple of hours. There is some replayability to be found if you’re into leaderboards, as you can try to get each collectible on every level and shave down your completion times.
While the initial campaign is a bit lacking, once you finish it Death Mode will be unlocked. This gives each level you played in the campaign a mode where you must collect a certain number of notes in a designated time frame. They don’t call it Death Mode for nothing because most of these are tough, actually verging on rage-inducing in some cases. So while trying to complete each one can be addictive, eventually I just moved on after only completing a few because it was just too frustrating. I’ve never been one to shy away from brutal platformers (Spelunky and Super Meat Boy are two of my favorite games), but Sound Shapes is lacking one specific thing that makes most other platformers great – tight and precise controls.
Sound Shapes’ most important aspects, the platforming and the music, also turn out to be its biggest hindrances. The controls made the platforming a bit of a drag at times and just felt sloppy throughout. During my entire run through the campaign I never completely felt comfortable with the controls and always felt like they were holding me back from truly enjoying myself. There are times where things click and you get into a zone and all feels right, but those times are few and far between. Mostly I just felt like I was fighting to stay in control. I will say that this isn’t such a big deal during the campaign because the checkpoints are forgiving and there is plenty of room for error. Where the control really rears its ugly head is in Death Mode. You need far too much precision and speed here and you just can’t get it with the sloppy, sticky platforming.
The other big issue I had with Sound Shapes was the soundtrack. Obviously, the music will connect with different people in different ways, but for me only a couple of the albums actually featured music that I enjoyed listening to. Some albums grated on my nerves so much that I had to mute the game. With so much emphasis on music, this definitely took away from the experience. Granted, this will be different for everyone, but it is worth mentioning. If you’re not into the music, you’re probably not going to have a very good time.
Outside of the campaign you’ll find (arguably) Sound Shapes best quality, its level editor. Here you’ll be able to not only create your own levels (which you can upload for others to play and rate), but also compose the music you want in the level as well. I’m by no means a game designer, which is why I tend to avoid most level editors (LittleBigPlanet comes to mind) and leave that for the people with talent, but I was still able to have fun with Sound Shapes’ take on it. You’ll get a good variety of instruments, terrain, enemies and more to fill out your levels (unlocking more and more as you complete campaign levels), so aspiring designers could spend a good deal of time here. Honestly, I spent quite a bit of time just creating beats. As a somewhat casual musician I would create a beat within the level editor, let it loop and just jam on the guitar along with it. This was, by far, the most fun I had with Sound Shapes.
In the level editor you’ll also find the Beat School, which is basically a puzzle mode where you listen to a beat and then attempt to recreate it. It’s a fun little diversion that adds a little more bang for your buck and if you’re into collecting trophies, it offers up 12 easy silvers (plus a ton more through DLC).
Sound Shapes had a lot of potential and lived up to it on occasion, but imprecise controls and an uneven soundtrack held it back from being something I could comfortably recommend to everyone. If you’re a musician, music lover or someone who enjoys designing your own levels in games, the level editor could keep you busy for a while. All said, the game will assuredly click for some people and be a very enjoyable experience, so if it sounds interesting, give it a try. If not, don’t feel bad about passing on it, as there are far better gameplay options available.