Sound Shapes E3 2011 Hands-On Preview -- The World's First Symphony-Building Platformer?By Jake Gaskill - Posted Jun 13, 2011
The PlayStation Vita had a solid showing at E3 2011 with a nice variety of well executed and impressive titles that did a fantastic job of showing off the new handheld’s technical wizardry. For me though, the standout title was Sound Shapes, a music-based platformer that feels like a spiritual mashup of the Bit.Trip series and LittleBigPlanet.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward since all you have to do is guide a suction cup-covered ball capable of sticking to certain surfaces around each level, avoiding threats along the way. The kicker is that as you progress through levels, you collect orbs that correspond to musical instruments and notes. Even the levels themselves are built in such a way that platforms and objects make music as well. So as you play the game, you’re actually “playing” the score too, and when you’re building levels, you’re also building an interactive symphony too. Nifty, huh?
It sounds a bit trippy, and it is, but when you see it in action, you can’t help but grin. As I hopped my way through several levels, watching and listening in amazement as the platforms bouncing between posts served as a bass line and laser beams acted as cymbals. And because everything is timed to the same beat, each new piece you activate fits perfectly and listening to the score being built piece by piece is just fantastic.
Building levels will be relatively familiar to anyone who has seen or spent any time with LittleBigPlanet’s level editor, albeit on a much smaller scale. Using the Vita’s rear touch pads, you can stretch and pull blocks to your preferred specifications and then place them around the level. The collectible orbs that you scatter around levels can be assigned a wide variety of musical properties (drum, guitar, piano, synthesizer, etc.), as can hazards like a laser-shooting beacon or even platforms. You use the front touchscreen to drag the objects around the level and then hold them down to snap them to the level. If you want to see how your level plays, you simply hit play, and you are instantly dropped into the space.
There are dozens and dozens of empty levels for you to build in, and each one flows into the next, allowing you to essentially build a massive musical score consisting of all of your levels. Each level’s music also carries over into each new area, but only to a point, so as you move from level to level, the earlier portions will start to fade out, acting as a kind of level-based crossfader. It’s a wild concept, but it also happens to be damn cool.
There weren’t too many surprises at this year’s E3 but Sound Shapes was definitely one of the biggest. It’s hard to say what its mass market appeal might be, but for potential Vita owners looking for something original and innovative, Sound Shapes should most certainly be on your radars.