Since its relatively impressive launch last February, there's been a disconcerting lack of quality software titles available for Sony's powerful portable. Sure, there's a few notable games on the horizon including LittleBigPlanet, Call of Duty, and Assassin's Creed, but it's the downloadable efforts that really hold the true potential of the system.
Sound Shapes first debuted at E3 2011, where it headlined Sony's debut of the Vita. Since then it has slipped under the radar, quietly being developed by Queasy Games and Santa Monica Studio.
Now with the game ready to go, we're wondering if Sound Shapes is the shot in the arm that the Vita needs or if it's a disappointing casualty of its own hype machine.
Sound Shapes was pitched to me as a game that's one part platforming and one part music-making. But in reality, Shapes is an artsy LittleBigPlanet-inspired rhythmic experience that is fresh enough to warrant the price of admission.
Debuting on both the Vita and PlayStation 3 simultaneously, Sound Shapes combines addictive and challenging platforming action with the layering of electronic music. As you progress through a level, you unlock more of the stage's song. Collecting all of a level's musical items is the closest you'll get to a full completion, although you can always attempt to dethrone other PSN players with the fastest time.
What I really like about Sound Shapes is the variety in graphical styles and music. Each playable "album" (or world) introduces a new graphic artist/musician tandem that collaborated together for the game. Sound Shapes packs in plenty of star power, too, featuring musicians like Deadmau5, Beck, and Jim Guthrie, and graphic artists like Superbrothers and PixelJam.
Gameplay out of the box may only take you so far with the default levels that are packed into the game, but Sound Shapes offers a fairly easy-to-use touchable interface for the sculpting of custom-made levels. It's here where Sound Shapes' value skyrockets, just like the crowd-sourced level designer games like LittleBigPlanet and Trials Evolution. Leeching onto this model is the most promising detail Shapes has going for it.
As an overall package, Sound Shapes provides plenty of satisfying platforming along with a great bumping soundtrack. Its true legacy rests in the hands of the almost always impressive and capable user community that seems to grow out of the earth alongside such titles that encourage creativity. For $15, it's well worth it for every Vita owner to get in on the mashup fun.
The PlayStation Vita is a platform in search of good games. It's not the hardware that's at fault with Sony's handheld, not at all; in fact, it's an excellent device. It's just the software development that lacks imagination and diversity, especially compared with the explosive diversity available in Apple's App Store.
Sound Shapes is an arrow toward a solution. This indie game developed by Queasy Games is abstract, odd, infectious, and cool enough to make you want you to show it to your friends. The idea in Sound Shapes is simple: you control a basic platforming game that's enhanced by musical notes and riffs that play as you play, giving you the synesthetic sense of music turned visual and even tactile. If you've ever played Everyday Shooter or a game in the Bit.Trip series, you have an idea of what you're in for. It can feel like animated graffiti, or a simple retro 8-bit game, depending on the music and art style of any level.
Sound Shapes is more about style and art than pure gameplay. The artists and musicians employed, from Deadmau5 to Beck, are legit. The game's other clever trick -- an ability to let you make your own musical landscape levels and play user-created ones online, like Sony's LittleBigPlanet -- makes it a creative doodling type of app as well, and a game with lots of nontraditional replay value.
Sound Shapes, as a digital purchase, gives you both the PlayStation 3 and Vita versions. Cross-platform bundles like this should start becoming the norm, not the exception -- it's a great way to add value and build a library.
The most important part of Sound Shapes, though, is that it represents the curated indie games that Sony develops, an art-house side of gaming that needs to continue, and thrive. Games like Journey, Dyad, Echochrome, and the upcoming Unfinished Swan are part of this side of Sony. I love this creative spirit, and I sincerely hope it continues. The Vita's true killer apps of the future lie more in experiences like Sound Shapes than in ports of console titles like Uncharted. Or, maybe it needs a little of both. Sound Shapes couldn't have come at a better time, but the Vita needs a lot more of this to survive.