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Published: Thursday, 8/16/2012

In Sony's Sound Shapes, Beck and deadmau5 make sure the beat goes on

Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) performs at Joonbug's Deadmau5 Unhooked New Year's Eve 2012 DJ set at Pier 36 in New York City. Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) performs at Joonbug's Deadmau5 Unhooked New Year's Eve 2012 DJ set at Pier 36 in New York City.

The platform game abides. It may have the least appealing name imaginable -- see, your character has to jump between platforms -- but in recent years the genre has attracted the interest of a whole posse of young game designers. With hits like Fez, Braid, and Limbo, the platformer is enjoying the kind of attention it hasn't drawn since the heyday of Super Mario Bros.

In Sound Shapes (Sony, for PlayStation 3, Vita, $14.99, *** 1/2), developer Queasy Games boils the platformer down to its bare essentials. Your "character" is a tiny ball that can roll, accelerate, and jump. It can stick to some surfaces, but anything red will kill it. On each screen, the object is to collect all the floating discs and get to the exit.

Those discs, however, are what put the sound in Sound Shapes. Each represents a musical note -- so, as you collect them, you're building a musical composition. As you progress through each level, the music gets more intense as the action gets more challenging.

This sort of music-building experiment isn't completely original; the 2010 puzzle game Chime offered similar rewards. But the graphics and music in Sound Shapes blend so smoothly that each of its two dozen levels feels like it's telling a story.

In D-Cade, for example, electronic music phenom deadmau5 collaborates with retro game studio PixelJam on a tribute to the arcade classic Asteroids. Corporeal, by Jim Guthrie and Superbrothers -- the team behind 2011's iPad hit Sword & Sworcery EP -- takes place in a sterile office building.

Most infectious is Cities, in which the design studio Pyramid Attack presents a crumbling city in flames while Beck's soundtrack gurgles in the background. At times, Beck's vocals turn visual and become part of the puzzle. It's one of the most joyful fusions of music and gameplay I've ever experienced.

As lovely as Sound Shapes is, it's disappointingly short: You can zip through its built-in levels in an afternoon. But the package also includes a full set of tools to build your own levels.

On Sony's hand-held Vita, I was able to whip up a functional, if rudimentary, level in about 10 minutes. More ambitious amateurs have already picked up the gauntlet. Within 24 hours after the launch of the software, fans had already created and uploaded hundreds of homemade challenges.

The masterminds behind Sound Shapes, designer Jonathan Mak and musician Shaw-Han Liem, previously teamed up on the indie hit Everyday Shooter. They've created an impressive framework, but they've left much of their game's ultimate success dependent on us, the users.

I'll certainly dig into the mountain of user-generated puzzles, but I hope Sony and Queasy will deliver more collaborations like the Beck-Pyramid Attack team-up. Until then, Sound Shapes is a small gem with huge potential.

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