Any game from Jonathan Mak, the developer behind the excellent PSN SHMUP Everyday Shooter, is a cause for celebration... and it's clear that every shred of his 2D pedigree is being leveraged into his first Vita title. Sound Shapes takes the increasingly popular concept of player actions creating organic music and sound (used to devastating audial effect in ES) and takes it to the next level: making each level a song in itself.
In this 2D platformer, players control a rotating wheel that bristles with sticky pads that allow our circular hero to stick to any surface. These suckers can be retracted to provide fast, frictionless movement, but naturally you can't latch onto anything while enjoying your burst of increased speed. The intricate levels are packed with floating platforms, lava and spikes - and your weak jump makes working out the best routes to the exit an absolute necessity. When every wall and surface is a potential path, even the most basic platforming mechanics need to be re-learned from scratch.
The aim of Sound Shapes is to collect the huge number of pickups scattered throughout the sprawling stages; of which there are thirty arranged into tracks on an LP. This should lend the full version plenty of value, and the fact that you can complete a level without nabbing absolutely every collectible should provide serious replayability for completionists.
So far, so elegantly simple, but the musicality adds a deep and genuinely enriching slant to the proceedings. The levels begin in total (and unnerving) silence, and each subsequent pickup adds a new layer to the backing track. Drums, bass loops, melodies and riffs all gradually combine into pulsing electro anthems that made everyone in the review area tap their feet in synchronised rhythm. The feeling of creating music on the fly - through gameplay rather than tabulature - is utterly compelling.
Also, more to the point, I'd love to dance to the pulse-racing house track 'The Bloods And The Crips' in a club... if I ever frequented them. Which I don't, thanks to my Dance Central-inspired repetoire of smooth moves.
Making music is one thing, but creating it is quite another. This is where the level editing suite comes in, which allows players to intuitively assemble challenging stages and their own dance tracks in one fell swoop. After all, they're both equal parts of the experience. Design elements such as platforms, ramps and hazards can be placed and resized with the touchscreen and context-sensitive menus, and more importantly, a simple music editing suite allows you to layer the giddying number of samples into your very own music. Naturally you'll then want to assign each sample to their own pickup and populate your level - which, by this, stage is akin to a painstakingly-composed magnum opus rather than a soulless piece of architecture.
Visually, Sound Shapes is a minimalist masterpiece. Stark primary colours and black silhouettes make the action uncluttered and accessible whilst looking devastatingly attractive. Exceedingly crisp sprites and smooth animations take advantage of the Vita's OLED screen. It doesn't scream and shout with gaudy spectacle... but rather purrs at players with a truly unique motif and lures them in with subtle detail.
It's great to see imaginative new experiences rubbing shoulders with the traditional likes of Uncharted and Virtua Tennis on the PS Vita, and it speaks volumes about Sony's increasing commitment to smaller developers. We'll be sure to keep a close eye on it over the coming months.