Music envelops you like a warm blanket. The rapid tap of a snare drum provides the delicate rhythm, while an ethereal harp exudes a peaceful melody. Songs spring forth unabated, sprouting organically in the environment from the beaks of chirping birds, the engines of zooming missiles, and every other singing object you come across. Creating music as you leap through abstract worlds draws you in from the first moments, but Sound Shapes goes much deeper than its incredible soundtrack. Platforming is at the heart of this downloadable offering, and the various jumps you perform demand precise timing and exacting dexterity. Sound Shapes deftly blends its intoxicating musical composition with intricate platforming challenges to create an enriching and delightful experience.
Strip away the clever musical backbone and the eye-catching visual design, and Sound Shapes resembles a typical platformer. You control an amorphous blob in a world populated by all manner of dangerous traps and enticing collectibles. Jumping, climbing, and sprinting make up your limited moveset, and you use your humble repertoire to navigate treacherous obstacle courses to reach the hallowed beat box at the end of each stage.
Basic mechanics create a welcome accessibility but don't hinder the potential of Sound Shapes in the slightest. This is an expansive adventure that expertly uses the core tenets of platformers to create an experience that continually redefines itself. Jumping and climbing hardly appear novel at first glance, but the game overcomes this apparent simplicity early on by using an exquisite music creation system to make you care about your actions. Collecting floating notes adds layers onto the soundtrack, giving you a tangible reason to nab all the dangling goodies. Guitar may be added onto a percussion backdrop, or a bass may set the rhythm, and it's a great feeling seeing your moves have such a powerful impact on the mood.
Notes aren't the only parts of the environment that add to the sonic delights. Just about every element has some effect on the sound, creating a living, breathing world in which the many fluttering beings have a song in their hearts. Soaring projectiles utter a pleasing tinkle when they shoot from the wall, benevolent creatures beep when you bounce on their heads, and scurrying spiders squeal when you leap on their backs. Sound Shapes expertly combines these disparate elements into a cohesive whole, avoiding a chaotic cacophony that could have arisen with all the competing effects.
And this musical system isn't just a silly gimmick, either. Enemies attack and platforms move based on the rhythm, so you could time your jumps with your eyes closed if you wanted to. Red missiles in the city move with every strum of the bass, and watching them dance in the air is delightful enough to distract you from their potential for evil.
Stages are composed of a series of single-screen challenges. The music slowly builds as you progress through the world, adding instruments in each new screen you visit. Hearing the music morph from a simple melody into a vibrant, bursting song is an empowering feeling that never dissipates. Each of the five themed worlds has a different composer and artist, and the varied styles offer enticing variety. Cities by Beck is particularly impressive. As the music builds, it shifts from a background element to something that has a more immediate impact on your experience, giving you new appreciation for the many pieces that make up the incredible song. Sound Shapes has an extraordinary understanding of how to pace each stage. Peaceful sections stripped of enemies let you enjoy the music you put together, and then the difficulty ramps up so your fingers can receive as much pleasure as your ears.
And that's the real beauty of Sound Shapes. It's easy to look at the serene aesthetics, listen to the catchy soundtrack, take in your modest moveset, and assume Sound Shapes is built on artistic delights rather than cunning action. But that couldn't be further from the truth. A large part of the reason Sound Shapes is an excellent game is its impressively constructed stages. The rules are simple enough. Anything painted red kills you with one touch. It doesn't matter if it's a protruding piece of wall, a skirt of leaves worn by a birdie, or a pointy spike; if it's red, it'll finish you off in a flash. Plentiful checkpoints ensure backtracking is kept to a minimum, and infinite lives keep you plugging away, but the suddenness of death means you could find your progress halted at any time. Thankfully, the happy little ball you control is imbued with a stickiness that makes climbing a cinch. Any object not outlined in black can be latched onto, letting you scurry up walls and across ceilings in a pinch.
The trickiest part of this simple scheme to master is the sprint ability. By holding a button, you move faster, and this is necessary to clear certain jumps or avoid patrolling enemies. But you can't grab onto a surface when you're running. It's a tough rule to wrap your head around because there are many instances when speed is imperative while you're grabbing onto a vertical surface, and you momentarily forget that tapping that tantalizing button will send you spiraling down into the abyss. Once you come to grips with how to properly navigate, smoothly alternating between the buttons provides an agreeable feeling as you dash through the environment.