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Preview: Sound Shapes (PS Vita)

5:15 PM on 10.21.2011 // Steven Hansen

Brought to us by the mind behind the PlayStation Network hit Everyday Shooter, Sound Shapes is a PlayStation Vita game many are pointing to prove the system’s promise of quality titles early in its lifespan. But a lot of people still seem to know little more than its title, which might have something to do with it being a bit odd to conceptualize.

The game is a music-based, 2D platformer, whereby you play music by actually playing the game and interacting with the environment. If you’re thinking something along the lines of the floor piano in the Tom Hanks movie Big, you’re thinking way too simplistically. Did that clear anything up? Probably not, but you can read on as I try to explain myself more clearly, as well as tell you why you should definitely be excited for the game.

Sound Shapes
(PlayStation Vita)
Developer: Queasy Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
To be released: TBA

Sound Shapes, at its more rudimentary level, already plays like a unique take on the platforming genre. The game’s “character” is a suction ball thing that may remind some readers of those neon colored balls made of suction cups that you could throw at glass and watch roll down. The controls are simple. The left analog rolls the ball along, X makes it jump and holding Square causes it to retract its suction tendrils, precluding it from sticking to things and letting it roll along a bit faster. The ball’s ability to stick to most non-dangerous surfaces already changes up traditional platforming conventions, encouraging and requiring players to use all parts of the platform, not just the tops.

While these mechanics alone could make for an interesting platformer, what sets the game apart is its focus on and interconnectedness to music. The manner in which you traverse levels essentially writes the score that you hear, encouraging you to experiment with your play style and interact with all the friendly elements of the level. I’m a layman when it comes to music, outside of knowing what I like, but Destructoid’s own Editor-in-Chief and accomplished musician, Dale North, highly praised this aspect of the game, as well as explained it in a slightly more technical fashion in his earlier preview. As for me, I was happily tapping my feet along to the good beats while I guided my sticky ball through perilous platforming segments. I was tapping the touch screen, too, because every element in the game can also be directly tapped to produce sounds as well.

Back on the platforming side of things, the levels seem to be divided into a compilation of segments that fill the Vita’s screen, as opposed to one continuously flowing level, typically with one or two checkpoints per screen. A vinyl record -- with which you can interact, indulging your inner DJ -- acts as the hub from which you select levels, with each groove in the record representing a level. Further, each record features a unique musical theme. There are also blue, floating collectibles, which are music samples that can be used in the game’s level creator mode.

Each level in the game is made with the same tools available to players in the level creator. Picking up all the collectibles in the main game’s levels grants access to all of those same elements in the level creator, which is definitely one of the most intriguing elements of the game. I was a bit nervous when I got into the level creator, remembering deep, tutorial laden create mode of LittleBigPlanet, but my fears were quickly allayed.

A simple menu system allows you to choose what you intend to place in a level, be it a note or a platforming object. To place objects, you simply hold down on the Vita’s touch screen on the spot you want the object, and multiple objects can be placed at the same time with the Vita’s multi-touch capabilities. Touching on an object allows you to interact with it using the back touch pad, with which you can change an object’s size, rotate it, or move it, all without cluttering up the screen with your fumbling fingers. Getting the hang of it does take some time, but it works well and I was able to use the level creator to put together an entirely playable, entertaining level rather quickly.

In fact, I was surprised that in the short time I messed around with the level editor I was actually able to make something cool, even if this is partly because the game isn’t physics-based, allowing platforms to float freely wherever I felt they should go. A two finger swipe on the creation screen advances the screens either up or to the right, so I elected to go three screens vertical in my level, taking advantage of the ball thing’s stickiness, some roving platforms and a couple bounce pads. Despite my lack of knowledge of musical composition, I also made something that sounded pretty rad, rather than the cacophonic mess I might have expected. It’s easy to click on an instrument to sample and then click on varying heights of the level, each of which produces a different note, to see how things will sound before you place them and it’s easy enough to make a solid beat.

Aside from the Vita’s touch capabilities abetting level creation, it’s also incredibly easy to test levels. A soft button on the touch screen immediately spawns your ball and you’re free to move the spawn point to whatever section of your level you’re working on if you only need to test those sections. In addition to making level creation a painless procedure, a lot of effort is being put in to make sure the community thrive. Much like LittleBigPlanet’s LittleBigWorkshop, Sound Shapes will be getting its own online community for creators to meet up, collaborate, and share their work. One other incredibly cool feature is that custom levels, should the creator choose to leave them unlocked, can be remixed by anyone in the community, with the product of the remix clearly directing back to give the original author their due.

The unique platforming elements have me excited to play through Sound Shapes premade levels, but I’m most excited to get back into the level creator, given how easily I was able to put together something I was actually rather proud of. Similarly, I’m excited to see what people much more talented than I are going to do with the system, especially from a musical perspective. I can already imagine playing through recreations of the score from John Carpenter’s The Thing (because I watched it again a couple of weeks ago and it’s still fantastic), platforming to some of my favorite Final Fantasy tracks or just discovering an entirely fresh, rocking piece of music.

Steven Hansen, Features Editor
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Steven watches anime & sports, buys meat out of trucks, dates a Muppet, and is only good at cooking. He stands before you bereft of solace and well on the road to perdition. ('^ω^) more   |   staff directory

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