Toronto’s burgeoning independent gaming scene has dished out a number of unique releases over the past few years, but Queasy Games’ latest musical platformer for the PlayStation Network sets a new standard.
When Queasy Games’ Jonathan Mak first decided to team up with artist and co-developer Shaw-Han Liem in 2008, little did they know their collaboration would gradually evolve into a full-fledged video game for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. Back then, Mak had just developed his successful Everyday Shooter project, while Liem was busy producing and performing electronic music under the name I Am Robot and Proud. The duo began working on an audio visualizer for use at live concerts and, with music as their common interest (and with the help of a government grant), they eventually developed the next big experience in Toronto indie gaming.
Sound Shapes is the result of their four-year collaboration. Mak and Liem’s initial idea of creating a game that worked with user-generated musical content mutated into a bigger project, encompassing work from various Toronto and international-based visual artists, developers, and musicians. At its core, Sound Shapes is a new take on the classic 2-D platformer: The player navigates through levels while collecting musical beats; as more beats are collected, the dynamics of the level gradually change and add new dimensions to the background music. Sound Shapes also gives players a reason to finally pick up their PlayStation Vita, a device that has been sorely lacking in innovative titles; the game utilizes the Vita’s features to its maximum potential with stunning but minimalist visuals, a seamless weaving of gameplay and music composition, and a suite of creation tools.
Queasy Games’ Sound Shapes is a true representation of the fresh ideas Toronto has to offer to the international gaming industry—but, in case you’re still hesitant about investing your time and money, here are five reasons why you should:
1. It’s essentially a video-game mixtape: The game’s campaign features worlds called “albums” that were designed by different visual artists with music composed by various musicians. This keeps the game fresh, as each album has its own distinct look and sound. In one album, Toronto’s Jim Guthrie reunites with Superbrothers to create a series of levels that look strikingly similar to their previous project, Sword and Sworcery EP. In another, North Carolina–based indie developer* PixelJam designs the aesthetics while electro producer Deadmau5 provides the jam. Other featured artists include Toronto-based studio Pyramid Attack and Beck.
2. It speaks to the composer in all of us: Mak and Liem realized early on in the development process that they wanted to create a game where creating music seems less intimidating. Sound Shapes‘ level editor speaks directly to that desire: Players can customize their own levels using the game’s easy-to-use creation tools, and even compose their own music using the provided beats and instruments.
3. It reaches out to a new audience and goes beyond mainstream gaming norms: It’s only after the player beats the game that Sound Shapes truly shines. Completing the campaign unlocks two modes—Death Mode and Beat School—and gives players the chance to earn 32 Trophies. Death Mode is made up of intense challenges with the objective of collecting a certain number of items in a given time; in Beat School, players use their ears to match the recreated beats on screen. This was created in the hope of inspiring less musically inclined gamers to use the level editor and create their own music. “With the help of the government grants, we can take that money and create new and interesting experiences that aren’t part of mainstream gaming, but could eventually become that,” says Mak.
4. It’s a cross-platform title: For $14.99, players can use the game on their PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Vita, while cloud syncing makes it easy to collaborate using both platforms. “You get two copies that can interact with each other,” says Liem. “If you start making a level on your PS3, you can take it and put in on your Vita and continue working on it.” Players can also sync both devices to share their campaign on both copies. (At the same time, this feature could be viewed as a liability for the Vita; if the game was a Vita exclusive, it could have helped promote hardware sales.)
5. Players can share their creations within the game’s community: Sound Shapes gives users the ability to share their level creations with the greater community, and Mak is eager to see what users come up with in the level editor. “I don’t think we created [the game] for a certain demographic,” says Mak. “Our hope is that people who are sort of afraid of writing music, or who think that it’s some magical talent that you are born with can consider diving into this game and be like, ‘Wait a minute maybe I can write music too.’”
CORRECTION, AUGUST 13, 2012: The original version of this article mistakenly stated PixelJam was based out of Toronto when it is, in fact, based in North Carolina.