|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Plato||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Ubisoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 11, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
August 9, 2007 - It may come as a surprising to some that Nintendo handhelds have long been a popular tool for making music. Thanks to hard-to-obtain homebrew programs such as Nanoloop and Little Sound DJ, the GameBoy is widely used in the US and abroad to pump out unique electronic tunes by performers with names such as Bit Shifter, Nullsleep, Bubblyfish, and Rushjet1.
In 2006, the release of Electroplankton for the Nintendo DS piqued the interest of musicians seeking new handheld software to create sounds with, yet the program was severely limited by its inability to create actual songs. With the upcoming release of Jam Sessions later this summer, Ubisoft is seeking to fulfill the dreams of gaming musicians as well as gamers looking for a completely different experience on the DS.
Technically speaking, Jam Sessions is not really a game. Instead, the program turns your DS into a full-fledged guitar simulator with a focus on empowering you to create your own original music. A stripped-down version of the guitar simulating program was originally released in Japan as "M-03," but Ubisoft is pulling out all the stops to update and improve on the software design for its transition to North American release in September. Based on all the cool added features not found in the original, even those who imported the title may find themselves picking up a U.S. copy of Jam Sessions.
In Jam Sessions, users "play" their DS by using a stylus, or an actual guitar pick if you are really cool, to strum a virtual string on the touch screen. Each stroke emits an amazingly realistic acoustic guitar sound corresponding to a chord that's selected using the d-pad. The chord sound changes subtly based on whether the string is strummed up or down and how hard it is played. A different chord can be assigned to each of the d-pad's directional buttons. Additionally, eight more chords can be stored as backup and players can switch between each set with the L button, allowing a total of 16 chords to be used at a time. Strumming the touch screen without any chord selected results in a muted "chik" sound that can be used to add extra rhythm into your playing. Over 100 high-quality chords sampled from an actual acoustic guitar are included in the program. This essentially allows users to learn and replicate the basic chords for any song playable on an acoustic guitar. The only drawback is it appears players will only be able to strum entire chords rather than individual notes. Even so, it's a minor limitation considering what can be accomplished with the program.
Anyone who already possesses songwriting skills or basic guitar playing knowledge will likely be able to easily pick Jam Sessions and delve right in. For novice players, Ubisoft is including a robust tutorial to teach new users how to play guitar. Other play modes will teach you about chord progressions and train you to recognize chords by ear. The program will also include a selection of popular music which can be learned and sung by following a series of prompts on the upper-screen. One vast improvement on the original design is the ability to add effects. Users can add distortion, tremolo, EQ, reverb and chorus in addition to the clean acoustic guitar sound. Hitting the R button allows you to trigger the last effect selected so it is possible to go from a clean sound to distortion, for example, on the fly. The built-in ability to record and save short sessions will allow musicians to use the program as a pocket notepad for songwriting on the go.
By all means, Jam Sessions appears to be much more than a mere musical toy. It certainly has the potential to be a huge hit among a wide audience. As one can imagine, such a program has the potential to open up a whole new realm of exciting possibilities for musicians and gamers alike. Will we see entire bands comprised of a drummer, a bass player, and a handful of musicians wielding a DS plugged into a Marshall stack? Only time will tell.
CCC Freelance Writer