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‘Sound Shapes’ DLC review: The painful sweetness of the single

Sound Shapes Review 1

Back in the day, it wasn’t easy waiting for new music from your favorites. That band, that DJ, that MC—the one that soothes the soul like no other. A brand new album is the only thing that could scratch that itch for new material, the venerable LP. Sometimes the wait was lengthy, and the pop musicians of the past fifty years have employed two regular stopgaps to tide fans over: The single and the remix. A single promises familiarity plus a b-side rarity in the old school 7-inch record tradition. The remix can be a look at fresh new material made more meaningful and potent thanks to the perspective of your favorite artist. Neither is as good as a new album, but they’re satisfying in their own right.

For fans of Queasy Games’ mastermind Jonathan Mak, it was a long wait between his debut “album” video game, the rock-and-roll shmup Everday Shooter in 2007 and his collaboration with Shaw Han Liem Sound Shapes. The wait was worth it. If Everyday Shooter was Queasy Games’ Birth of the Cool, Sound Shapes was its Kind of Blue, which blended Queasy’s musical talents with amazing collaborators like Beck and the Sword & Sorcery EP duo of Superbrothers and Jim Guthrie. It was one of 2012’s finest games, but even with a thriving community creating new levels and songs, it’s hard not to want more of the real stuff from the creators of Sound Shapes. This week, Queasy Games dropped both a proverbial new single for Sound Shapes as well as a remix. The single especially is strong, but it’s hard not to want more.

Sound Shapes Review 2

First the single: Queasy Games’ “Car Mini-Album and Creator Pack” DLC runs for $2 on the PlayStation Network and nets you two full new song levels in the campaign based around the automobile vehicles as well as all the tools to build your own car-based levels.

There are technically three levels in the new campaign single Do You Wheelie Want to Hurt Me, if you count the brief tutorial on how to use the cars, but it lasts just a few seconds so it’s hard to recommend it. The actual new levels made by Queasy Games are worth the price of admission alone. “Hard Drive” feels like Queasy going full Daft Punk, with streamlined futuristic aesthetics and a nice driving dance beat cooking through the car-themed level. As a lesson in how to build levels around fast momentum—holding down the run button drives the car forward after the little ball in your control hops in—it also hits the spot as you fling around collecting notes to push the song forward.

It pales in comparison to “Heck On Wheels,” though. Calling back to Mak’s hard rock tracks from Everyday Shooter, this level goes heavy metal and introduces the skull-shaped stunt car. This level, all fire and skulls like the stage show at an Iron Maiden concert, is wildly different than anything else in the Sound Shapes campaign since the vehicle can potentially kill you. If you land upside down in the skull car, it’s game over, so jumps are about rotating the car with L and R triggers, Excitebike-style to nail a landing. The skull car also roars when you accelerate, adding a sweet discordant tone to the music. As soon as it kicks into high gear, it’s over, cutting short what feels like the beginning of a brand new phase for Sound Shapes.

Sound Shapes Review 4

The free Version 1.05 update for the game introduces substantially more content than the DLC from one point of view. The Community Milkcrate, Queasy’s proverbial mixtape, adds six albums worth material into packages sort of like the campaign. These aren’t proper campaign entries, but themed collections of user-created levels compiled by Mak and Liem. Keep Calm and Roll On, Short and Sweet, Temp Run, Face the Music and Playing With Ideas get their own cover art and liner notes composed by Queasy to describe how they tie into the chosen theme.

On the whole, it’s a great way to celebrate the devoted Sound Shapes community. There are hundreds of great levels to be had online, but it’s sometimes hard to sift through and find the best nuggets. The Short and Sweet levels, some of which are only a few screens long as the name suggest, can be spectacular as WARDEN-OF-PSYCHO’s “Triangles,” which is a killer song outside of the solid platforming design. It pairs nicely with the following level by ONE2THR’s level “Into the Music” as well, adding to the mixtape flavor. Playing With Ideas cool high concept levels, like user gezouten’s level that takes place entirely inside a boombox is also deserving of its highlight. All six albums share one common factor, though. Even the chilled out beats of the Keep Calm and Roll On levels are uncommonly difficult to playthrough. Queasy evidently felt that the best of the user levels were often some of the hardest.

Sound Shapes Review 3

As with all remixes though, the Community Milkcrate is no substitute for the real thing. The user generated levels, great as they are, almost never capture the same polish and sheen as those made by Queasy Games themselves. This new DLC broadens the creative palette offered by Sound Shapes in exciting ways, but the excellence of Do You Wheelie Want to Hurt Me is almost matched by its painful brevity. Sound Shapes is an amazing game, but we’re still waiting for that new LP.