For a young, indie developer, Queasy Games already have quite the reputation. Lead by the creative wunderkind Jonathan Mak, the company made a strong debut on consoles with one of the best PSN releases to date, Everyday Shooter, and has been hard at work for the last few years on their next acoustically-oriented release, Sound Shapes. Landing as a combo download on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, Sound Shapes hopes to deliver a vehicle for people to make music wrapped up in a side-scrolling platformer.
Taking control of something to move it from the left side of the screen to the right as a method of progressing through a game is a mechanic that is as old as the video game industry. Sound Shapes takes that same concept and spices it up a bit by adding in some wonderful musical elements. The moving "thing" in the case of Sound Shapes is an amorphous blob that can stick to certain surfaces, collect notes throughout the levels, and must avoid anything red in order to stay alive. Each level is based on a piece of music that is looping in the background (both figuratively and literally), and the player needs to trigger sounds to complete the piece. The more you collect the better things sound, and the better you score at the end of each level.
While the gameplay is a simplistic and enjoyable construct, it's the music that really shines in Sound Shapes. With contributions from some of the biggest names in game music (Jim Guthrie and I Am Robot and Proud) and the music industry (deadmau5 and Beck) the game's initial catalog is quite easy on the ears - it's so good, it leaves you wanting more. Here's where things start to get tricky for Sound Shapes – there's only a small helping of songs included with the initial $15 purchase (although that does net you both the PS3 and Vita versions of the games). However, along with the tiny selection, you do get access to is a potentially infinite number of levels via the game's community.
Packed in alongside the short campaign is a very simple to use level editor that allows just about anyone that picks up the game to create their own level in minutes. Using the materials that you unlock throughout the single player you can add, remove, resize, twist, turn, and do just about anything you can imagine to create a challenging level with the editor. Just one thing to note – placing the objects throughout your level is done rather awkwardly, using the Vita's rear touch panel. It makes it tricky to figure out just where things are going when you can't see what your fingers are pointing at.
Playing new levels from the community menu is also simple, easy, and, most importantly fast. Just select one, and it loads up almost instantly, allowing you almost on demand access to creative creations from other Sound Shapes owners. As long as you have access to an internet connection and a PlayStation Network login everything is free, and should keep you in original Sound Shapes creations for years to come.
Sound Shapes is an amazing game, but it's not the killer app that the Vita is still looking for. The professionally created and scored levels are outstanding, but there's too few of them. While I have no doubt that Sony will be more than happy to sell you more in the coming months, having more tracks to create a stronger base would have been a better starting point. Fortunately, the community levels balance out the gameplay hours by always having something available that's new for owners to try. A fast time on the leaderboard may not be as satisfying as collecting all the notes in a level that was touched by a multiplatinum musician, but at it's core, the gameplay is sound, and it's fun, so much so that it leaves you wanting more. What more can you really ask for from a game?