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Review

Sound Shapes Review

  • Game release: August 7, 2012
  • Reviewed:
  • VITA
  • PS3
  • PS4

Do you feel the people sing?

by

The flames are maracas. Listen to their rhythmic shakes, but don't dwell for too long; the composition is just getting started. Roll toward the notes that lie flush against the nearby buildings. One, two, and then three drum beats layer on top, and your foot starts to tap. Missiles provide bass, pounding out a catchy riff as they fly across the screen, while the smokestack twangs a guitar melody. As the world awakens, the music begins to swell. Cities is a song that has stayed with me for more than a year, and whenever I revisit it, I'm transported once more by the infectious rhythm. The beat is so enthralling that I sit idly on rooftops, just letting it soak in. But it's the lyrics that cement this as one of my favorite stages. A platform hovers in the sky, flashing words such as "move," "twist," "hurt," and "lose" while Beck belts out the accompanying lyrics. I could listen to this for hours.

I often feel hesitant to revisit a beloved game. How could reality possibly live up to the memories I have constructed? And yet, returning to Sound Shapes so long after reviewing it for the PlayStation 3 and Vita was like curling up in my cozy bed, free from the worries that dominate my waking hours. There's a cohesion to this experience that's uncommon in games. The music is everywhere. Trees chime, saw blades tick, and janitors sigh. Such sounds aren't music on their own, merely a backdrop beat, and it reminds me of how melodic life can be. Listen to the white noise of distant conversations while sitting in a park; hear the birds chirping overhead while the waves from a nearby lake roll in. It's the music of life--the rhythm that provides the foundation of every moment--that's always around if your ears are open. Sound Shapes harnesses this energy, and the results are magnificent.

Worlds are alive. They breathe like sentient organisms, ignoring your existence as they let time carry on. But you're not just a bystander. As an amorphous blob, your abstraction allows you to blend into any environment. From the brisk outdoors to a bustling office and a bursting volcano, the environments feel like home to your nondescript character no matter how strange they become. And there are notes to collect, a way for you to contribute to the building score. So you roll along the ground, up walls and across ceilings, listening to the environment sing as you add instruments of your own. A piano is slowly added to the mix, along with a drum beat that wouldn't be out of place in a dance hall. In another land, a harp adds an ethereal quality that conjures images of angels smiling from above. The notes are all optional. You could skip them all if you merely want to reach the end. But why would you hinder your enjoyment? Every note further enriches the soundtrack, and it's a reward in itself to hear the songs evolve as you venture forth.

Listen to the white noise of distant conversations while sitting in a park; hear the birds chirping overhead while the waves from a nearby pond roll in.

Music is everywhere--everything--but the beauty of Sound Shapes goes beyond the auditory pleasures. You scout the two-dimensional environments for notes, not only because you want to add color to the songs, but because there is joy in movement. Your blob sticks to some surfaces, is repelled by others, and dies from anything that glows red. And as you learn your limitations, you appreciate how intricately designed the levels are. Maybe you ride across the treacherous pit on the tail of a missile, dropping onto an alien creature before you meet your end on a spiky trap. When you venture through D-Cade--an album whose music was created by Deadmau5--you dodge lasers being shot from the eyes of robots, moving quickly and precisely to clear each room before you vanish in a puff of smoke. By ensuring the action is every bit as fascinating as the music, Sound Shapes reaches you on both an emotional and a physical level. All of your senses tingle as you discover what lies ahead.

When I first reviewed Sound Shapes in August of 2012, I evaluated the creation tools based on how accessible and robust they were. Laying down tracks and shaping environments is so easy that even I, an admittedly unimaginative designer, could craft something that at least approached competency. But I could only guess at how a talented community would handle those tools. Revisiting Sound Shapes gave me a chance to see how the user-created library has grown, and it has cemented this game as something truly exceptional.

The core levels of Sound Shapes use a combination of music and difficulty to steer emotions. My sense of discovery was piqued in Corporeal as I chased cats to trigger platforms while viewing the corporate world through an abstract lens. Beyonder removes the shackles of gravity by placing me in a spacecraft, whereas D-Cade's amped-up challenge makes my heart race. The wide spectrum that the albums encompass is riveting, so much so that I have played through these tracks a half-dozen times just to feel those emotions again. But it's in the user-made levels that I now understand how much can be communicated through these simple tools.

Melancholia stands out from other stages in the greatest hits library of user-created stages. A crying child serves as the thumbnail, and there's a puddle of blood near his feet. The first section is ominous, making my breath catch in my throat. Half of the screen is filled with a red, pulsing gravestone. Etched on the face of it are the words "In Memory of My Beloved Son, Tom, 2009-2012" and "My Dear Wife, Liz, 1980-2012." Tombs dot the rest of your view, with white crosses marking each burial plot. Tom passed away when he was only 3 years old, and Liz was only a year older than me. How utterly heartbreaking. As you move onward, you learn the horrible events that have defined the last year for user jool2306: a lonely hospital room, a woman perched on a rooftop, and the depressing thoughts that must swirl in the mind of anyone who has suffered such losses. Was it possible that Sound Shapes provided an outlet for a grieving father and husband?

Revisiting Sound Shapes gave me a chance to see how the user-created library has grown, and it has cemented this game as something truly exceptional.

Community-made levels encompass a vast array of emotions, and many stand proud next to the developer levels. In A Walk in the Park, I rolled past snapshots of the quiet moments that I too often take for granted. A mother duck and her duckling ignore those around them as the mother passes on the secrets to survival to her hungry kin. In another scene, someone happily flies a kite, content to be alone in nature doing an activity that he loves. A couple walks hand in hand, off the beaten path into the trees where serenity thrives. In another level, Bastion, two robots wait for you to move, and they fire crisscrossing lasers if you try to sneak by them. These are just three of many incredible stages I discovered, and the range of emotions they deliver and the quality of the construction were impressive. So many games have amazing creation tools that are interesting to use but rarely result in anything worthwhile to play, but in Sound Shapes, you experience excitement or grief or any other of a wide range of emotions that makes you eager to see what else is out there.

Sound Shapes is a remarkable convergence of music and platforming. Because I've played through the main albums so many times, the levels didn't hit me as powerfully as they once did. But the community levels hammered home just how singular and enthralling this game is. There is so much personality infused in these stages that I felt as if I understood the people who designed them, at least a little. And that's what great tools, and a great community, can do. Sound Shapes is a transcendent experience in so many ways. Maybe its most important contribution is giving a voice to the world through music and action.

The Good
Incredible and diverse soundtrack
Clever and varied platforming challenges
In-depth level editor and easy sharing tools
Amazing user-made levels
The Bad
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Sound Shapes

About the Author

/ Staff

Tom has never been gifted musically, so he seeks out people who can fill that empty place in his heart. He is thankful that Sound Shapes exists, considering how important both music and platforming are to him. Tom played through Sound Shapes in a few glorious hours, and then designed his own stage before checking out what the community had created.

Discussion

48 comments
youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

I'm convinced Tom gets paid by the adjective.

dipdish
dipdish

10/10. Amazing game! I've played it both on PS3 and PS Vita. 

Gixzr
Gixzr

3:35 ...yeyeee kid death & suicide is why i play games.  [wth]

KanameGaming
KanameGaming

I love the music on this game it makes you feel in the mood of playing this a deserved 9 for me

Turico187
Turico187

Damn! can't wait to play this on ps4. 1080P, 60fps! this is gonna be great!

koolkat14
koolkat14

I really should get it. Although if I buy it on the PS3, would it be available for the Vita and PS4 as well? I'd hate to buy it again, even if I do end up liking it.

sakaixx
sakaixx

worth more than 9 but less than 10

Mommas_b_o_y
Mommas_b_o_y

I just can't take these game "reviewers" seriously anymore. Do they all get high before these reviews?

DukeRay
DukeRay

So, with this review and the one for Flower, I'm not seeing ANY reference to the upgraded graphics or anything else comparing the experience on PS4 with the original.  What gives, friends?

TehUndeadHorror
TehUndeadHorror

Hah, loved the Sword and Sworcery art style in one of the levels.

chapan17
chapan17

Why does Tom McShae sound like he is performing his own personal Haiku collection as he reviews. Its quiet interesting.

iskaroth
iskaroth

True next gen experience

snaketus
snaketus

Looks a good game, but I think not really my cup of tea.

iansoup
iansoup

Wow, this is amazing!

timthegem
timthegem

Excellent job on the review, Tom.

pete420630
pete420630

scoring system is jacked up killzone 7.0 this crap 9.0 c-mon man

jflkdjs
jflkdjs

WOW! Awesome review, Tom :)

Zevvion
Zevvion

I have this on Vita. It's a great fucking game. I just don't like how the music stops when you enter another screen. Anyway, I hope this one is cross buy? Not sure, but I don't think it is?

noirtenshin
noirtenshin

Looks like an experience that would be a waste to miss. Thou i must admit, the level with the tombstone kinda shook me a little. Just proves that sounds and visuals can still be used to share emotions (where AAA titles have fallen to a generic blob of crispy visuals and sound, resulting in a loss almost all identity they had) 

sugrim
sugrim

Indie games is the only thing to get on the PS4 apparently, everything thus far is quite mediocre.

NeverMore0
NeverMore0

I just don't see the appeal, but I'm not really a fan of platformers.

dmastor
dmastor

PS4 the true indiestaion 

jer_1
jer_1

This looks really cool, will have to grab this one!

Sundberg_man
Sundberg_man

Awesome ^^ I'll deffo get this one for vita ^^

cavs25
cavs25

We have now gone full hipster...

Congratulations gaming community!

cousinmerl
cousinmerl

I'll add this to the list of games - for why to get a vita.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Mommas_b_o_y  

You may want to realize it is just you not liking the games that others like. Having different tastes doesn't make other people druggies.

Duke_51
Duke_51

@DukeRay Well, Resogun definitely takes advantage of the PS4's power, I don't think reviews have come out for that one yet though. Apart from that all I can say is wait a few months. Launch titles, to me anyways, aren't really system sellers.. not to mention that developers are still learning how to use this technology its fullest.

Skele7or
Skele7or

@Zevvion It is. Buy it once and its yours for PS3, PS4, and vita. 

MAD_AI
MAD_AI

@dmastor 

Indies that sign exclusivity contracts with either Sony or Microsoft loose the meaning and  spirit of being an indie developer, in my opinion anyway. 

Forcecaster
Forcecaster

@dmastor It will revitalize the platform and the industry as a whole if we are lucky. If the indie titles are so damn good that it will generate a lot more revenue than the first party or other third party games, than those big developers will try to keep up with the pressure. If Sony Studios will be the ones who will make first party titles great because of those indie titles, than Microsoft will have to follow suite if they don't wants to loose customers. It's a win-win situation. It will take time, but something good will come out of it.

PutU2REM
PutU2REM

@Forcecaster @dmastor Microsoft doesn't have to "follow suit," because it's Sony that's playing catch-up, here. The Xbox 360 was the first console to really provide a place for small-budget titles.

And BTW, both are playing catch-up to the PC, where indie games were seeing artistic and commercial success years before Sony or Microsoft even considered offering non-AAA titles.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Mommas_b_o_y

I am not suspicious, but that's because I don't wear a tin-foil hat and I actually acknowledge differences in personal opinions. I doubt that you can say the same though.

Sound Shapes More Info

First Release on Aug 07, 2012
  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation Vita
Sound Shapes has you play, compose, and share in this side-scrolling platformer, where you create music with your actions.
8.3
Average User RatingOut of 163 User Ratings
Please Sign In to rate Sound Shapes
Developed by:
SCEA
Published by:
SCE Australia, SCEA, SCEI, SCEE
Genres:
Music/Rhythm
Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
Everyone
All Platforms