posted by delb2k
The hardest question to wrestle with in Soundshapes is how much the experience of a game can derive pleasure when the actual playing is so simplistic as to become almost invisible. Because in truth the reason to play this title is not because it has amazing gameplay, in many ways that particular aspect is the weakest point, but for the sonic experience and journey it provides to the player through each level. Is this in itself enough to make it a worthwhile purchase, does it do enough to massage the simplistic mechanics into something more?
The short answer is yes, but the reasoning and subjectivity behind that is something more complicated. The aim is to create music by navigating through a level collecting discs. Each level is comprised of single screen stages that link together to reveal a goal. Each screen of the level can contain a set of discs or none at all with each disc adding a new sound or beat slowly building up the soundtrack to the point where everything should fit into place, the visuals and sound now in sync on the screen. This means that the developer has a very hard line to try and judge. In order to experience what the creator wants the player to feel the simplicity of the platforming has to be balanced enough to facilitate a decent straight line of progress without providing too many barriers while also being satisfying enough to build up a degree of achievement and enjoyment during play.
Unfortunately this is never quite the case. The platforming aspects veer from the utterly simplistic to the irritatingly fiddly and while the very generous check pointing reduces the impact of the latter significantly it can still disrupt the rhythm enough to take the player out of the moment. On the other side the more simplistic actions turn a large amount of the game into a procession event, moving from screen to screen without any real stress or cause for thought. Arguably this could be because the aim is to let the player concentrate on what is being heard, not done, but the upshot becomes a nagging concern that the player impact is entirely negligible.
Which means that the reliance of enjoyment focuses on the music, specifically how well that integrates with everything that exists around it including the player. Most importantly, how it makes the them feel. And this is where the problem arises, as music is so intensely subjective the enjoyment garnered from this game is determined by how much the beat can infect them. No doubt there are some tracks that are stronger than others. The first of three songs from Beck marries the on-screen design and musical accompaniment perfectly, creating the same feeling of zoning out and going with the flow that has been seen other titles like Child of Eden or Rez.
But others are not so successful, and quality can range from the sublime to the awkward, where everything presented never feels like it gels together as it should. When the tune does not click the platforming is what comes to the fore. And that platforming is never compulsive enough to make it entertaining leaving a sensation of simply carrying out the motions so it can be ticked off as complete.
When it does work it becomes everything the player could want it to be, engrossing and unique it presents music in a new way that feels so familiar it is odd to think this has not been done before. For these moments alone the ticket is worth buying. There can be a feeling and experience this game provides and presents unlike anything that has gone before it. With the possibility of regular DLC the amount of ideas and creative talent that could be injected over the coming months could be spectacular. And that is not to dismiss the creative talents the player can impose themselves. With a robust editor there is a chance to create the music the player wants to create in a way anyone can experience with enough time and effort. With a basic understanding of the mechanics and careful placement of the assets used in game a huge variety of tunes can be created, a fact the community has already jumped on in an astonishing way.
And where the music may be a mixed platter the visuals are consistently impressive, moving between palettes and themes not just between artists but between individual levels within an artist. Taking in neon backgrounds and contrasting colours the landscape provided to the player throughout the game is stunning. Neon colours are infused with dark shades, colour palettes are swapped around and invention continues to be pushed forward in almost every screen. Simply as a piece of art it stands out as entirely unique in the current landscape.
Soundshapes relies entirely on how well the music works with the player. So the mark below is subjectively based on how much this reviewer enjoyed what he was hearing. By making the title mechanically light it moves the emphasis into something that cannot be universally acclaimed purely down to taste. For what it is worth I felt a decent amount of the tracks hit the mark and successfully transcends this into an experience far more than a game. It is worth the effort if the player wants put that effort into playing what is in front of them and another shining example of how a novel idea can provide a captivating gaming moment.