Aug. 9, 2012 at 3:31 PM ET
There's a famous quote that goes, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Those words are dancing about my brain as I sit here trying to summon the sentences to to fully describe the sublime new music-infused video game "Sound Shapes."
Writing about a music video game is like ... totally giving me a brain cramp.
How to describe the gorgeous melding of sound, interactive play and graphic art this game delivers? How to describe just how exciting it is to see game developers pushing the creative bounds of the medium to new places?
Having spent the past two evenings playing "Sound Shapes" -- which you can download through the PlayStation Network for either your PlayStation 3 or your handheld PlayStation Vita for $14.99 -- I can say that this game is a beautiful, absorbing thing that deserves a place in every discerning gamer's library.
"Sound Shapes" is collaboration between indie game developer Jonathan Mak (the man behind Queasy Games and the superb "Everyday Shooter") and indie electronic music artist I Am Robot and Proud (aka Shaw-Han Liem). They are joined by music stars Beck and Deadmau5, who were excited enough about this fusing of music, gaming and art to create original songs for the game.
At the heart of "Sound Shapes" lies what is, in many ways, a traditional 2-D platforming game. But no, "traditional" is not quite the right word. "Sound Shapes" works like this: You carefully maneuver an orb through each level, avoiding things that are red (because they will kill you). You leap over obstacles, jump on otherworldly creatures, stick to surfaces and, as you go, you collect spheres. Collecting spheres unlocks musical notes. The more notes you grab, the more you unlock the song that is building throughout the progression of the level.
But "Sound Shapes" doesn't merely present you with musical gaming made by others. It turns you, the player, into a game designer and song-maker as well. That is, when you complete a level, you unlock the music, shapes, characters, colors and landscapes found in that level. You can then use all those items to craft your own levels and your own songs and soundscapes. And you can share your creations through the "Sound Shapes" community.
Already, "Sound Shapes" players have flooded the community portal with hundreds of levels to try. But here, take a look at the launch trailer to see what I'm dancing about:
All in all, the game includes five "albums." Each album offers up a group of four or five levels built around the works of a musical artist and a graphic artist.
The album "Cities," for example, is created around the music of Beck and artwork from Pyramid Attack. Rolling through these apocalyptic cityscapes you'll find Beck's lyrics taking on physical form -- they become platforms to jump between and sometimes to avoid lest you want to bite the dust. Here, take a look:
Meanwhile, Deadmau5 and PixelJam deliver the album "D-Cade" which pulses with a thumping electronic beat while challenging you to maneuver through a world that pays tribute to old-school games such as "Breakout" and "Space Invaders."
I'm a huge fan of the cult iOS game hit "Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery" and so I was thrilled to see that the Superbrothers along with their musical partner-in-crime Jim Guthrie lent their talents to the "Sound Shapes" album known as "Corporeal." In these mysterious "X-Files-esque" levels, you puzzle your way through a labyrinthine office-like hell as Guthrie's gorgeous, eerie music builds and ebbs, worming its way into your ear and deep into your brain.
All in all, each album starts off relatively easy. But work your way into the album and you'll find the levels grow increasingly challenging. I have died so very very often. But fortunately, the developers have crafted each level so that you usually re-spawn at a relatively recent point. And just when you need things to ease up a bit, they do.
Ultimately, the game walks a careful line between being absorbingly addictive and controller-grippingly challenging. But the music, the art, the level design ... it simply pulls you deeper and deeper. You will want to put "Sound Shapes" down. And you will absolutely not want to put it down. Give it a dance. You'll see.
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.