The PlayStation Vita queue at the recent Eurogamer Expo was a sight to behold: as the first opportunity for the UK public at large to play with Sony’s new handheld, two lines of people formed on either side of the demonstration area. Early in the day, nobody wanted to give poor Sound Shapes a chance, presumably many were holding out for the big guns like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and LittleBigPlanet. A Sony representative desperately wandered down the queue, trying to spark up interest, and we stepped in without missing a beat. It was a sound decision.
Sound Shapes continues Sony’s series of games that let you unleash your creativity: part music sequencer, part platformer, a huge portion of the title appears to be geared towards encouraging user-generated content. Initially the sequencer appears to be nothing more than a mess-about mode, running your fingers around the touchscreen to create sounds, but press and hold in a specific place and you lay down a note that will play each time the music loops. You can select different instruments, combining keyboards with bass drums, guitars with harps. Experiment a little further and it becomes apparent that you can drag shapes and mysterious obstacles into the picture, moving and resizing them intuitively with the rear touch pad.
Then you hit the play button and the extra elements make sense, the creation transforming from a sequence of notes into a platform puzzle starring you as a little sucker ball that can attach to, and navigate, surfaces of any orientation. The notes you have carefully (or not) placed become collectable squares, invigorating your loop into life as you collect more of them. The shapes are your platforms around the screen, and the obstacles... well, they’re trying to stop you from attaining your goal of grabbing the goods before rolling into the turntable exit. You realise that your sequencer experiment has made for an unplayable stage: you go back in and adjust, adding more shapes, removing a beat. You try it again, back and forth, altering it into something fun or challenging, something that works. When you’re eventually happy with it you can save and upload it to the online community for all to play. If you’re not a musician by trade, don’t worry — you can place pretty much whatever you want and it’ll sound good. Pay more attention and it may become excellent.
Sound Shapes might focus on forming tunes with the touch of your finger tips, but there's also the promise of a plethora of pre-made puzzles to perplex over and perfect. Your ‘character’ — if that’s what you could call a featureless sticky ball — rolls around the stages on the command of your analogue stick, the main aim being to sweep up all the yellow note squares that are dotted around strategically and then to escape in one piece. With each collection comes a new section of the backing music, building the soundtrack into multi-layered brilliance. What starts simply could end with a complex array of beatboxing and strings, the music constantly evolving the further you progress through the multi-screened stages. Sound effects also tie in, with regular checkpoints chiming out, dangerous lasers thudding to the beat as they fire and springs adding their own flourishes when leapt upon.
As in other platform titles, enemies scurry around Sound Shapes’ environments too. Combat is not an option here, however: instead you have to make clever use of your avatar’s adhesive abilities, bouncing and attaching to ceilings and walls to avoid threats. The simplistic art style makes plain what's going to cause trouble and what's not: anything that pulsates red should be avoided. It’s a good job, too, as the game looks prepared to be fiendish without the visuals interrupting proceedings. One level we played was extremely easy: a dash to the top of a vertical shaft, dodging rhythmic pneumatic presses along the way, followed by a slide down a tiny gutter. The other was more challenging, requiring deft timing and positioning to hop across a trail of platforms — some crawling with enemies — over a river of lava.
Sound Shapes might not be the blockbuster game that attracted so many to test PlayStation Vita at Eurogamer Expo, but it was probably the most inventive title in the line-up. With huge potential for community content, smart use of audio and some of Vita’s headline features, plus sharp platforming, Sound Shapes could be on track to become a smash hit.