"Everything is Singing"
In many respects, the earliest video games were rhythm games. They may not have had complex music, or even sound beyond rudimentary blips and bleeps, but they relied on a sublime understanding of movements in accordance with a precise "beat" —i.e moving right when enemies come from the left, or jumping up to reach a higher platform. This sort of synesthetic routine has been lost in recent years, as games have become much more complex and actively cerebral. However, the industry has seen a new wave of retro-style games that celebrate the fusion of simple gameplay with 8-bit reminiscent "chiptunes", such as Bit.Trip, Patapon, and now Sound Shapes. The latter may be the best mix of music and gameplay yet.
Like many classic games, Sound Shapes is easy to learn but difficult to master. Your character is just a little ball steered through the levels with the analog stick / D-Pad (depending on your preference). The only other moves you have are to roll faster, jump, and cling to certain surfaces. The goal is to get to the end of the level by avoiding all obstacles, particularly red things that are conveniently color-coded as hazardous. Along the way, you can collect coins that add notes to the background music. This feature is not only vital to your success at Sound Shapes, but the key element that makes the game so excellent.
Everything in Sound Shapes has a tune, and the entire worlds are made of music. All of the obstacles move in accordance with the beat, and if you don't synchronize your movements with the flow of the song, you won't get anywhere. The levels are vibrant and colorful, and while the shapes are simple, everything has animation both visually and aurally. An ideal Sound Shapes session feels like entering a meditative trance, where all you feel is the beat and all you see is your player character ball. This is helped by the excellent soundtrack, which includes such high-profile talents as deadmau5, Jim Guthrie, and the one and only Beck.
If that wasn't enough, Sound Shapes is also loaded with extra features. The game is playable on both the PS3 and Vita, and if you happen to own both systems, you can seamlessly transfer game saves between the devices via the PlayStation Network's cloud storage. You can also use the PSN to post your scores on the leaderboards, play levels created by other players, and submit your own creations. The level editor opens up a whole world of possibilities for Sound Shapes, allowing musicians and gamers of all stripes a chance to bring their works into a 2D platforming world. Even if you're "anti-social", the game provides plenty of single-player fun, with the super-hard "Death Mode" levels that unlock after completing the campaign. There's even a unique "Beat Mode" that tasks players with deciphering and recreating a musical beat with the level editor's score —a unique challenge, if one that can easily be solved via online FAQs.
Sound Shapes is a superb game on both PS3 and Vita. Both versions are largely identical, with the only substantial gameplay difference being the size of the TV to which your PS3 is connected. The Vita version has a slight edge with the level editor, as clicking and dragging items is easier with the touch pads. However, Sound Shapes is equally fun on both platforms, and you get both versions when you download the title. Sound Shapes is synesthesia in digital, playable form, and if you haven't experienced that beautiful mixing of sensations, you need go to the PS Store and download this game.
GameDynamo's Score for Sound Shapes (PS Vita)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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