The Shape of Games to Come
After a long hiatus, Mak is back with his partner Shaw Han-Liem, and now Queasy Games has presented us with Sound Shapes, carrying on the grand tradition of blending the gameplay with the music, only this time they are tackling that platformer genre.
Sound Shapes is a simple little game, where you, a small round blob, traverses across a few short levels avoiding the baddies and collecting notes (also represented by small dots) while working your was towards the exit. There is some light puzzle solving and the occasional bit of danger (represented by anything RED in the world) but for the most part, an experienced gamer will zip right through each of the 20 levels in about 5 minutes apiece. Sounds somewhat mundane? Well, it isn't!
The real beauty of the game lies in the integration with the music. Each of the five worlds is based around the music of some exceptional talents like Jim Guthrie (of Superbrothers fame), Deadmau5, Beck, and the Queasy guys themselves. When you start the level, you'll get a bit of a backing track, and as you collect notes in the level more and more will be added to the song (including vocals on the Beck levels) until you've got a nice jam going. Parts of the environment will pulse and change shape in time with the music too, bring a little extra bit of that synesthesia to the proceedings.
It's actually quite hard to put this experience into words, so check out some of the videos here on the site to get a better idea of the game in action. While you will burn through the whole thing in under 2 hours if you have even the most basic skills, don't think that's all there is to it. To begin with, there is a fairly robust level editor that you can play with to create your own levels/music and share them all your pals out there. It starts out with a somewhat limited selection of pieces to work with, but beating the campaign levels unlocks plenty of new stuff, and by the time you finish there will be an abundance of parts to work with. Purchasing either the Vita or PS3 version will give you access to both, and levels are fully transferable between the two so there is already plenty of new content of varying quality to keep you occupied.
Beating the campaign will also unlock two other modes, the first being "Beat School" which is a fun (albeit very short) little puzzle game where you get a blank grid of squares, with the rows correspinding to different beats and the columns acting as a timeline. You'll listen to a 10 second or so loop of music, and then attempt to recreate it on the grid. Much like everything else in the game, there isn't really a "fail state", so through enough attrition you'll work out the patterns even if you have a tin ear. I really thought this mode was great fun, but a good listener can finish each track in a minute or two, and there are maybe a dozen of them, so the fun is short lived.
The other mode that unlocks is "Death Mode". Death Mode is the only real challenge in the entire package, but boy does it bring the pain. Each level in the campaign has a Death Mode, where you are plopped into a single screen and challenged to grab anywhere from 15-30 notes in a very short window (generally less than a minute). Dying resets everything forcing you to start over. These levels aren't lifted from the campaign, and are instead diabolically designed little areas full of traps and pitfalls that you WILL run into, over and over again. There is no time to take care in your movements, because time is at an absolute premium, and not going all out every second will leave you short of time before you grab all the required notes. Far and away this was the most time I spent in the game, and while there was a time or two I wanted to smash the Vita, I enjoyed the intense challenge of Death Mode (and beat every last one of those levels too!). The only complaint I had was that at times it was random luck if you could finish the level or not, sicne the notes are randomized each time and some layouts are simply impossible to get through in the given time. Still, with only 45 seconds or so per attempt, you can't get all that upset.
Sound Shapes is yet another example of indie gaming not being afraid to break new ground and shatter the mold of violence that, lets face it, is the backbone of gaming. Those of you that might want to unwind with a fun, relaxing game that is both a visual and aural sensation shouldn't hesitate to check out this game.