I love videogames and music. There are only a handful of games that I’ve played that have successfully married the two into a cohesive, musically interactive experience. This is a top pick. The first time I played Sound Shapes by Queasy Games, I was blown away by its presentation and extremely novel approach to music interactivity that exists as a central facet to gameplay and the wonderful community.
In Sound Shapes, players take the role of a little round ball, the center of a record that rests at the end of a level. The game is essentially a simple platformer, tasking players with moving the little ball around, jumping through the environment and dodging obstacles. The little ball can even stick to certain-colored walls and objects to climb around hazards and navigate vertical terrain. Players can disable the stickiness for more speed to vault over larger expanses or avoid faster obstacles. Levels are separated into different frames that players navigate one at a time, similar to the old Megaman games. While traversing, players collect disc-like objects placed about the levels. The discs add sound effects like sampled instruments and melodies to the soundtrack, essentially building the music of a level as the player collects the discs. Enemies and obstacles in the environment typically add their own rhythmic and melodic sound effects as well. The result is an experience motivated by completing the musical piece as much as possible, and hearing all the sounds come together is a fantastic experience. The game comes with a set of levels created by Queasy Games, separated into albums with various artists and musicians featured (such as I am Robot and Proud and Beck).
That concept was great enough, and Queasy Games also included a terrific content creator, allowing users to create levels from scratch. All the enemies, obstacles, objects, decorations, and musical sounds in the main set of levels are available for use. Sound effects range from sampled banjo riffs, plenty of synthetic waves and 8-bit bleeps, and heavy bass and snare sounds for the construction of all sorts of musical pieces. By navigating simple menus, users can choose objects and sounds, set color palettes, and even change tempo and whether a level uses a major, minor, pentatonic, or chromatic scale (which can also be transposed up and down). Users design each level a frame at a time, and any sound effects placed in one frame will continue up to three frames away. This sets up opportunities to construct song forms across a level. The sound disks are placed according to a grid; pitch and rhythmic sounds change according to how high or low a disk is placed. A column of light travels across each panel to act as a metronome, so it’s easy to tell where in the piece you are. Custom-made levels can be uploaded to the community so that others may play and rate it. Searching for levels is easy, with search categories that separate levels into shorter or longer adventures or rating. It was a breeze for me to find custom levels that I would like.
Bottom Line: Sound Shapes is a fantastic game for people that love creating content and sharing it in a community, especially if these people love music. The gameplay itself is simple and easy to approach, and it is pretty easy to create some grueling levels by fiddling around with enemy and obstacle placement. I highly recommend the game to everyone interested in a unique experience with artistic flair.
Additional philosophical note: Sound Shapes creates a very stimulating situation. Music and game design work cohesively at the level of the community. In order to create a level, one must create a piece of music, and what they constitute goes hand in hand. As a user designs a level, the physical attributes of the environment itself must be considered as musical cues are also limited by this. Building a music track is simultaneously limited by the game’s physical environment. Ergo, one can approach building a level from either direction if there is a specific plan, or work on both elements simultaneously. It’s a chicken or the egg dilemma; what came first, the level design or the music? In my own creations, I found that I was more motivated to create a piece of music in a far-off panel, and then experiment with level layouts to bring that music in. It’s challenging, but I love how the music directly interacts with the game design when constructing a level, and there’s no other game that I've experienced that offers this.