Sound Shapes hands-on preview with the music/level creator

Like the idea of creating your own electronic music but find the actual process of fiddling with software a bit tedious? Sound Shapes for the PS Vita makes use of dual touch panels to allow quick and intuitive song-making, with the added bonus that your songs are also playable 2D platforming levels. We played the game recently and got to focus on the song-creation aspect, and we’re thinking Sound Shapes is looking like another contender for best early PS Vita game, and one that even the musically challenged will find to be a powerful sonic creative device.

Above: The yellow thing is you

The platforming gives you a little octopus-like ball for a character, which can jump and stick to many surfaces. Almost everything your ball touches emits a musical note of some kind, with collectible “dots” initiating looping sounds so that once all dots are collected on a level, the background music is complete. In order to build your own level/song, you go into the editor and start with a blank screen with a grid background. You can build objects in any order you like, but we wanted to ensure a pleasing song, so we laid out the dots first before bothering with platforms and obstacles. See, where a dot is placed on the grid determines the timing of when its accompanying musical note is played, and also its pitch. As in Lumines, a glowing vertical line starts on the left side of the screen and wipes across, activating the dots as it goes. So you can plop down a dot, decide from a huge menu what kind of sound it will be – keyboard, drum beat, weird space noise – and then how you lay out each dot horizontally determines the rhythm. Then sliding each dot higher or lower changes the pitch, creating melody.

The gliding line loops all while you place objects, so you can hear the melody change in real time allowing you to make tweaks if a note doesn’t sound quite right. We created a wavering, spaced-out trip-hop melody, and then began building surfaces for the player to traverse. You want the player to be able to unlock the entire song, so you want to build your platforms so that every dot is in reach. Alternatively, you could build a stage based purely on gameplay design, and then add the dots afterward to produce a surprising melody you couldn’t expect. Either way, the game somehow cleverly keeps songs from sounding horrible, at least in the time we played with it. We didn’t even tweak our base melody much and it sounded beautiful.

Hazards placed in levels also produce their own sounds – deadly vertical lasers fire off, sounding like hi-hats – so placement gets a bit tricky as you try to balance a cool sounding song with proper platforming challenge. At any time you can tap a button and you go from editing to playing your level, so it’s easy to see if the gameplay works or not, allowing for quick adjustments. It literally took us five minutes to create a beautiful song accompanied by a (simple) level populated with floating blocks, laser traps, and moving platforms. Spend a bit more time and you can create a multi-screen monster of a level and get a really complex song out of it.

Above: Anything red is bad, but they also make cool sounds

Sound Shapes looks like it’s going to be infectious whether you decide to be creative or not, because the existing playable levels are well-designed with some awesome beats to get your head thumping. We imagine few players will be able to resist creating at least one level of their own, though, as playing the game provides plenty of inspiration for your own ideas.

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