And you need to master how to use your sprint ability because Sound Shapes doesn't hold back the difficulty. Timing is paramount to success, which ties in beautifully with the rhythm that follows you wherever you go. For instance, you may find yourself swinging precariously from a chain. Red frogs spring forth from the lava down below, and you have to time your swing so you can safely reach the other side. Or maybe you find yourself bouncing chaotically on the back of an alien creature. Ricocheting to higher ground while avoiding the laser that's tracking your movement takes a bit of practice, and it's so rewarding when you pass through these dangers unscathed.
New elements are continually introduced. However, Sound Shapes doesn't halt the action to explain what each new object and enemy does. Instead, it presents them in a punishment-free way so you understand their capabilities before their dastardly potential is unveiled. One early example of how smartly designed the difficulty curve is crops up in the first world. Blue missiles flutter across the screen, and because they're a color that means safety, you grab onto one and ride it to a new section. The next time you see a missile, it's red, meaning you should avoid it at all costs. Finally, blue and red missiles mingle on the same screen, forcing you to jump from one blue missile to the next without making contact with the deadly projectile swarming dangerously close to your backside. Sound Shapes introduces and then builds upon a number of unique objects throughout the adventure, continually forcing you to think in new ways as you make your way through to the end of each world.
Platforming is always at the forefront, but sometimes you have to put a bit of thought into how to progress. The second world introduces puzzles, and though these are far from head-scratchers, they add another layer in a game already bursting with ideas. This world takes place in a bureaucratic establishment full of ordinary office workers in need of a change from their dry routine. Bumping into these lackadaisical people may cause them to open an elevator door or lower a floating platform, and figuring out how to trigger these actions is eminently enjoyable. At one point, you scare a cat, causing it to run through a tiny hole and into the back of a person nodding off. The frightened worker drops his remote control, opening a path to the next room. It's moments like this that show just how willing Sound Shapes is to get creative with its core elements.
Plowing through the five included worlds takes only a few hours, and though every second spent climbing and leaping is enjoyable, a couple more albums would have been welcomed. But don't think this is a short game just because the campaign doesn't last long. Once you finish that last level, a harder mode opens up that puts the previous challenges to shame. Built upon the foundation of previous levels, Death Mode forces you to collect a specific number of notes as quickly as possible. All the platforming tricks you learned during the campaign are used to their fullest here. Knowing when to sprint and when to lay off the gas is paramount if you want to complete these tough objectives, and the smooth controls ensure you never have to worry the game was at fault for your frequent failures.
While Death Mode tests your hand-eye coordination, a separate unlockable mode called Beat School hones your hearing. Here, Sound Shapes gives you a song and you have to place notes to match the rhythm. It's a simple concept, but one that meshes beautifully with the overall experience the game is trying to provide. Remember, Sound Shapes isn't a passive adventure. You craft the music while you play, and Beat School pushes that idea even further. By accurately placing the notes, you slowly begin to understand the basics of music composition, which is an indispensable part of building levels in the editor.
The editor is an extraordinary tool that lets you quickly create and share levels with the world. And if you play through Beat School and Death Mode first, you have a great understanding of how to craft a level that both sounds good and plays well. As you complete worlds, you unlock dozens of parts you can use. Snapping together your own stage takes only a few minutes because the tools are so easy to use. Choose what instruments you want to use, place notes along the screen, and then lay down a few obstacles to slow down your progress. When you're done, upload it so the community can check out your hard work. The powerful editor lets you create anything seen in the campaign, so if you spend a few hours building a level, you can make something truly special. And because it's so easy to share levels with the community, there's a never-ending stream of new content to check out.
Sound Shapes is cross-platform compatible, so you only need to shell out the $15 one time to play this on your PlayStation 3 and Vita. The created content is shared between the two versions, and there's little difference in how they play. Touch-screen note and object placement on the Vita is replaced by an analog stick for the PlayStation 3's creation mode, but otherwise, these games are virtually the same on both systems. No matter how you choose to play, Sound Shapes goes beyond its inventive musical premise to keep you invested. The platforming is just as well executed as the score, and the flexible editor lets you extend the life of this game indefinitely. Sound Shapes is an impressive adventure that's as much fun to play as it is to listen to.