'Sound Shapes' a unique experience

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:08 PM ET

There will come a day when passively listening to a piece of music will seem hopelessly archaic. Interactivity, when done right, lets us connect heart to art in ways that simply watching or listening can't. And what's more interactive than a video game?

Developed by Toronto's Queasy Games, the microstudio behind Everyday Shooter, Sound Shapes is a 2-D, side-scrolling platformer with a unique hook: as your blob-like avatar navigates peril-filled worlds and collects coins, new notes and chords in each level's accompanying song are unlocked.

The more coins you grab, the more of the song you hear. Touching anything red - lava, laser beams, crimson cockroaches - means instant death.

On both the Vita and PS3 versions of the game (the $14.99 price allows you to download either or both), Sound Shapes has five "albums" that contain three, four or five stages apiece, with contributing musicians that include Beck, deadmau5 and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery composer Jim Guthrie. A different palette of visuals accompanies each game world, with some beautifully minimalist while others are crammed with moving parts, trundling enemies and blinking laser beams.

The Beck album, for example, has two stages in which the music, art and action sync up in delightful ways, showcasing Sound Shapes at its best. (The middle stage between them is a bit of a dud, sadly.) This is what makes good music games so euphoric: that moment when we're playing - in the video game sense - a song.

With just 20 stages that last five to 10 minutes apiece on the first playthrough and level design that is a bit hit-or-miss in terms of actual gameplay, Sound Shapes relies on its intuitive level creation tools. It's fun and satisfying to craft your own stages and songs, and the game allows you to easily browse the growing selection of user-created levels online.

But unlike LittleBigPlanet with its staggering 7 million user-created levels, I suspect Sound Shapes will attract a relatively small following, and I'm not sure it will stick with most players once the novelty of its ingenious mechanics have worn off.

Still, $15 is not a lot of cash for a unique experience that's part playable art, part digital toy and part musical instrument. The game doesn't quite hit all the right notes, but its art is in the right place.

Bottomline: Sound Shapes' novel mechanics and fantastic art direction are somewhat undone by uneven design and a small selection of out-of-the-box levels. Still, it's well worth a look (and listen) for anyone who loves the melding of music and games.

Top 3 music games from the past year

The golden era of plastic guitar games seems to have ended, and having two left feet prevents some of us from getting down with most dancing games. But music games don't always mean whaling on a fake Fender or shaking your moneymaker along with an on-screen avatar. Feast your ears on three of the best music games from the last year or so.

Symphony (PC - $9.99)

Symphony is a new twist on the ages-old shoot-em-up, one that transforms the songs in your computer's music library into levels you can play. With enemies that attack faster as a song's tempo rises and an incredible array of unlockable, upgradable weapons, it's a weird, wonderful mesh of intense action and aural pleasure.

Sequence (PC, Xbox 360 - $4.99)

Sequence blends the follow-the-rhythm gameplay of a Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution with a tongue-in-cheek role-playing game. Think Puzzle Quest, but with songs instead of gems, plus sarcasm, sass and a storyline that will keep you interested enough to see it through to the end.

Groove Coaster (iOS - $2.99)

Music games are plentiful on the iPhone, but Groove Coaster takes dead-simple gameplay (tap or occasionally swipe along to the rhythm) and makes it both trippy and challenging, as you surf along a string of light to the beat of Japanese electronica. The paid power-ups are a bit of a drag, but otherwise this is one of the best mobile music games ever.

 

 


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