Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
I realized that we've got a bit of a problem here at GameRevolution. The absolute best the PlayStation Vita has to offer hasn't been previewed yet here! Blasphemy! I'm not talking abouttUncharted's handheld outing, Golden Abyss, or even LittleBigPlanet. If the music-gaming genre hopes to survive, it had better double down on Jonathan Mak and Shaw-Han Liem.
They're the designers at Quesy Games behind Sound Shapes, a side-scrolling, platforming, music-making, user-generating charmer of a handheld game. It's hard to describe Sound Shapes in words, and even harder in screenshots, so roll the trailer below to get a better idea of what I'm about to describe.
In Sound Shapes, you control a little sticky ball, like the kind you'd throw against a pane of glass, the kind that rolls slowly down one suction cup at a time like a lumbering spider. As you traverse levels, you pick up notes. This musical loot takes the place of coins, or stars, or whatever you want to call it. Each note you pick up builds the soundtrack until you gather a cheerful, electronic-inspired melody, bassline, and rhythm.
Sound Shapes has a certain visual flair to match its musical stylings, with the protagonist sticky ball and the environment grooving and flexing with each beep, bloop, and blop. Whether you're bounding off of platforms or dropping to the ground level, the sound design will inevitably set the timing for each action, as you yourself begin to fit into a musical puzzle.
Easily the most important and intriguing part of Sound Shapes is the user-creation mode. Literally at your fingertips is the entire designer toolset. Every instrument, percussion piece, and bassline is usable in creating your levels.
When I played the game at E3, I focused on laying out a piece of music I wanted to hear first. I started with several notes, creating a melody. The height at which I placed each note determined its pitch. Putting notes closer together meant stringing several into a wind chime sound. Manipulating notes with the front touch panel of the PlayStation Vita was easy and the tech was responsive. It was almost like putting notes to sheet music. Still, I was apprehensive about designing a level where the stick ball could reach all of my music.
I've never been one for generating my own levels and content. I just don't have the patience or spark for it, but something about Sound Shapes was inherently different by design. Instead of a complicated toolbox, filled with pieces I'd never use and even more options I'd ignore, the game simply let my brain work without clutter.
I could select different geometric shapes to place in my level. Using the rear touch panel to move and stretch and rotate each shape was a snap. Something in my brain clicked and the barrier between myself and level disappeared. I started laying down geometry quickly and easily, completely forgoing the Vita's face buttons. By the end, I had a level that wasn't just awesome to listen to, but fun to play as well.
Sound Shapes gives you plenty of room to work with, with none of the endless space that could intimidate lesser designers like me. What's more, interacting with music hasn't been this novel or entertaining since Harmonix introduced the world to Frequency. If there was a game I'd recommend you buy with the Vita today, it'd be Sound Shapes.