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Sound Shapes PS3 Review

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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Sound Shapes

Sound Shapes

Image © Sony
The two most forward-thinking and inventive games of 2012 to date have been available exclusively as downloadable titles for PlayStation 3 players who access the PlayStation Network. "Journey" was designed to connect emotionally with viewers, deconstructing the very foundation of almost all games -- a journey from point A to point B -- and offering an allegory for life's passage. Now we have "Sound Shapes," a brilliant blend of platforming and music that gives gamers a chance to express themselves through their favorite mediums instead of merely controlling a pre-scripted journey. With music by I Am Robot and Proud, Jim Guthrie, Deadmau5, and Beck along with tools to create your own game/music hybrids, "Sound Shapes" is one of the most essential PSN titles of the year.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Sony
  • Developer: Sony
  • ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
  • Genre: Music
  • Pros: Inventive Style, Addictive Gameplay, Great Music
  • Cons: Occasional Difficulty Spikes, Repetition

At its core, "Sound Shapes" is a simple, old-fashioned platformer. The player controls a ball that can stick to surfaces and rides it across multiple screens, dodging enemies and pushing levers. As the ball picks up tokens in the environment, a sound is heard. As he bounces on certain items, another sound is heard. As the background shimmies, shakes, and moves in rhythm, more sounds are heard. These sounds coalesce into music. It's the "Stomp" of video games, using environments and elements familiar to gamers in unique ways to make unique noise that becomes melodic and addictive. And once you've played through the levels designed around the new musical offerings from legends like Beck and Deadmau5, you are heartily encouraged to make your own.

Gameplay

Sound Shapes

Sound Shapes

Image © Sony

Think of it as "LittleBigPlanet" filtered through a DJ's computer. Each level is a complete track from one of the artists and they are visually tied to their designer's music. Beck's album consists of levels that feel more ethereal while Deadmau5's levels have a space theme. And if you're thinking that you're just pushing forward a needle on a record, don't underestimate the challenge. You can and will fail as drum beats and samples loop over and over again but in a way that feels organic to the music. Occasionally, a beat or transition from screen to screen won't seem quite right but it's remarkable how often the musical rhythm of the game works whether or not you cruise through a level in two minutes or take twenty.

As you play through the few levels given in the initial download, you will unlock editing tools that give you greater creative freedom when you design and share your own. Much like "LBP," "Sound Shapes" is about community, only this time it has a musical edge. Place an obstacle here. Place an enemy that makes a certain rhythmic beat there. Before you know it, you'll have designed a music platforming game of your own. When's the last time a game not only inspired you to use the hand-eye coordination elements of your brain but to consider the musical implications of how it goes together? Music isn't in the hand or the eye, it's in the heart or the soul and it's fascinating to me that it's downloadable games like "Journey" and "Sound Shapes" that are most successfully trying to tap something beyond timing and puzzle-solving.

There's just an intense creative joy in "Sound Shapes" that's hard to quantify. When I saw a creature out of "Space Invaders" on one level and knew I had to ride it to the other side, my first thought was what sound Deadmau5 would associate with it. When I used a platform that spun and changed properties in time with lyrics being sung by Beck, I had to think that increasingly rare thought in gaming -- I've never seen anything like that before. The levels are remarkably replayable (and leader boards based on time completed and coins collected help that fact) and I can't wait to see what the PS3 community does with these tools (and also hope that perhaps more music luminaries like Beck will contribute new tracks/levels in the future for download).

Graphics & Sound

Visually, "Sound Shapes" is remarkably simple but the design works. As mentioned, the levels don't just feel like tools to convey each of the musicians included but like they're a part of the music. They are thematically tied. And the sound is, as expected, just awesome. From the way a clicking chain blends with a Jim Guthrie beat or how you'll have to listen to the tempo to evade enemies, sound is a crucial part of the entire experience. The game is also available on the PlayStation Vita and seems like a perfect fit for the growing handheld and its beautiful graphics capabilities.

Overall

Sound Shapes

Sound Shapes

Image © Sony
What do you expect from a video game? If you want high-speed action, you're probably nowhere near a review of "Sound Shapes." And yet I think this is a game that really could appeal to absolutely everyone. There's so much creativity on display here and the potential for hours and hours of entertainment for a remarkably low price point. It's one of the best games of the year.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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