Sound Shapes Review
There’s just something so surreal and relaxing about Sound Shapes. It’s an interesting contrast because I’ve just come off my Dyad experience and while both titles boast a heavy emphasis on music, one is hectic and involving and a little out of control, while the other is subtle, almost soft, and oddly entrancing. Despite the loose platforming (which sadly drove me absolutely insane), this original and highly accomplished title from Queasy Games is very impressive on a number of different levels.
First is the visual presentation, which plays a big role in the aforementioned relaxation. Here is a world that seems like a rhythmic parallel universe where each environment is distinctly different and yet, strangely similar due to the lulling, ever-present music and one important fact: This really is a platformer at its core. Therefore, you’re always sort of doing the same thing, even if the mechanics alter a bit there and there, and the highly creative landscape changes. It’s just so beautifully designed that you’ll be smiling at the screen, wondering what you’ll come across next.
And on top of this gift for the searching eye (especially the eye that appreciates such a quirky form of artistry) is that gorgeous soundtrack. It can get a little repetitive if the control fails you and you keep insta-dying, but that can’t diminish the variety and overall quality. It bends and pulses, enveloping you with a persistent yet not uncomfortable quality; it’s almost sensual in its understated warmth. Make no mistake, it’s the incomparable audio that will keep you playing, stage after stage, world after world (worlds are called “albums,” but whatever). Toss in a bevy of crisp, complementary sound effects and you’ve got captivating audio that continually enhances.
As I said, though, this really is a platformer beneath all that appreciated artistic flair. You will take control of a bizarre, amorphous blob that is, for some reason, always in danger of imminent demise. There are traps and enemies everywhere and to add another layer of oddity, your entire universe appears to rely on rhythm to function; things move in time with the beat, and you’ll find that you can build upon the existing music. By leaping to grab hovering notes, you can make the music more complex. This can involve adding new instruments, such as a bass guitar.
Everywhere you look, everywhere you go, music has infused the environment. The developers manage to blend it all together in a way that reminds me of Dyad; the audio balancing in both games is phenomenal. With so much going on in Sound Shapes – from weird little creatures squealing or beeping when you come into contact with them to the soundtrack you keep altering – you would think it would all devolve into a painful mess. Something would have to take precedence; a particular sound or set of sounds would have to be dominant occasionally, right?
Nope. You never feel overwhelmed with a rising tidal wave of sound. You’re always enjoying what you hear, you’re always interested in building upon the struck chords, and you’re always glued to the screen. Each stage includes different challenges, and each “album” features a different composer and artist, so the amount of creative diversity is absolutely mind-blowing. Plus, the music isn’t merely a wonderful addition to the experience; it also dictates part of the gameplay. For instance, enemies attack you based on the rhythm you hear, and that’s an interesting idea.
The pacing is great, the level design is great, and the concept is fantastically unique. I only have one problem with the whole thing, and it’s a significant one— The control just seems loose and unreliable. Despite all the beauty that infuses this game at every turn, at the center of this adventure lies a pretty simple platformer. And that simple platformer is, unfortunately, a little flawed. I just can’t get past the fact that a basic construct of the game, the essential foundation of the gameplay, feels a little less than solid. That’s a major gripe of mine but I will say that some may not have any issue at all.
In more difficult sections, you may find yourself dying quite a bit and cursing the somewhat eccentric control, and what makes it worse is that the music has to be rewound each time you die. So this only adds to the frustration and repetition. I should also add that the game can be beaten in probably only three hours or so, so that might scare off some consumers. However, after completing the 20-stage campaign, you will unlock plenty of reasons to keep playing, so bear that in mind. Those who want to get all the Trophies will certainly have to invest a lot more time.
Featuring creations from the likes of CORPOREAL, Beck, Vic Nguyen, I Am Robot, and deadmau5, Sound Shapes is one of the more innovative and atmospheric titles of the generation. In addition to the platforming issues, I had some problems with online connectivity, but both complaints are (relatively) minor. All in all, you’re looking at a completely original experience that combines a number of different elements into one undeniably appealing package. It’s beautifully presented and although it lacks a little in execution, it is absolutely a triumph when focusing exclusively on its merits.
Why? Those merits are very special. Don’t forget that.
The Good: Pretty, artistically charged visual presentation. Amazing soundtrack. Original and innovative approach to rhythm-based platforming. Plenty of incentive to keep playing after finishing. Test your hand at editing and level design.
The Bad: Music is always a subjective thing. Iffy control leads to frustration. Some connection issues.
The Ugly: “…damnit blob, you’re really, really not doing what I want you to.”
8/9/2012 Ben Dutka