Break a little. Move a little.
Sound Shapes still confounds me. I've previewed the game several times and talked about it several times more, but I still feel like I'm not doing justice to the experience and in explaining why I'm so enthralled by it. This became exceedingly apparent when WILLS_COOL_MODE commented last week that "everything [he's] seen [of it] just looks sooooo boooooooring."
Now the music and platforming genre bender from Queasy Games and Sony Computer Entertainment of America is here, and I have to come up with some way to explain why Sound Shapes is so much fun or admit that it is, in fact, "soooooo booooooooring."
The best way to describe Sound Shapes in its final form is to compare it to a musical instrument. When you think about a clarinet or a trombone or even a snare drum, you can imagine playing that instrument or you can imagine listening to someone else playing that instrument. In that vein, Sound Shapes is a video game instrument, bringing together an entire orchestra you can conduct with your thumbs and fingers.
When you start the game for the first time, you'll play two tutorials. The first explains the platforming. That's stayed the same since the first time we went hands-on with the title. You still control a little sticky ball that can unstick itself at your command and roll faster to narrowly escape hazards including lava-spewing volcanoes, lasers, and saw blades.
While you're navigating levels, you'll pick up notes. These notes build into the soundtrack, in addition to contributing to a tally at the end of the level.
The second tutorial level teaches players how to create levels and music for themselves. Notes can be placed by holding your finger anywhere on the Vita's front touchscreen. The higher the note is placed, the higher it'll be in tone. Hazards and platforms are placed in the same fashion, with the rear touch panel allowing for movement, size, and orientation manipulation. The sheer volume of placeable objects, sounds, and enemies is astounding, mostly thanks to the high-profile contributors Queasy roped in with their stellar concept.
In order to unlock all of those customization options, you'll have to play though a just-long-enough campaign mode, comprised of several albums. Some were created by Queasy themselves, while others were contributed by the likes of Deadmau5 and Beck.
My favorite is the Superbrothers-inspired Jim Guthrie album, complete with sharp pixel art. Despite the campaign's taught gameplay and excellent soundtrack, it's what players do with all of these options that will really floor you.
Swiping down on the Sound Shapes home screen will take you to the community. Here you'll find the vast selection of levels published by other players. The first screen is filled in with any notifications you might have received while you were away (like if another player played and 'favorited' a level you created).
The next panel populates your screen with highly-rated, frequently played levels so you can immediately hop into the best tracks from around the world. The final screen is all about you, your levels, and your favorites so you can replay any you particularly enjoyed.
Finally, you can check out new releases and search for specific tags. Still, I've always had more fun playing an instrument myself as opposed to just listening, and the same holds true for Sound Shapes.
Even if I don't walk away with a satisfactory creation, creating a level in Queasy's music box is so easy and painless, half the fun is messing around and seeing what you come up with.
Sound Shapes starts you out with a blank slate and a massive toolbox. Tapping the top-right corner brings up all of the instruments, terrains, objects (including enemies), and decorations you've unlocked. You can also switch the color palette on any screen. In just under a minute you can whip up a neat track, build obstacles and platforms around it, and publish for the entire world to see. If you already enjoy creating your own levels in games like LittleBigPlanet, Sound Shapes will appeal to you immediately.
I, however, hate making my own content in games. If you sat me down with LittleBigPlanet, you couldn't pay me to wade through the menus and objects available to build my level. I would laugh in your face and walk away.
I am not a game developer. I hate feeling like I'm doing the developer's work for them. That is not the case with Sound Shapes. Creating my own levels and tracks is easily my favorite part of the game, so if I'm having fun, I'm willing to bet that you will too.
Sound Shapes exudes style, invites players to play and experiment graciously, and justifies the PlayStation Vita's absurd rear touch panel. It was the only reason to be excited about the Vita for months leading up to release and it is the only reason you need to buy a Vita today.
There is an endless amount of replay value, thanks to the brilliant tracks the community is already hard at work on. The simplicity belies a brilliance developers have yet to touch on Sony's new handheld platform.
I will say now that Sound Shapes earns its grade as a PlayStation Vita game, and while I recommend you play it on that platform, it's just as entertaining and enjoyable on your PS3. Even if you don't have one, this is the must-buy Vita title you can play today.