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DS  header logo

Jam Sessions

For: DS

In tune

Product: Jam Sessions | Developer: Pluto | Publisher: Ubisoft | Format: DS | Genre: Music/ Rhythm | Players: 1 | Version: US
 
Jam Sessions DS, thumbnail 1
Expecting Jam Sessions to provide a traditional game experience is a bit like expecting Napalm Death to deliver a jolly Broadway musical instead of their normal headache-inducing grind. Hence this virtual music maker (originally released in Japan as Sing & Play DS Guitar M-06) should be thought of as being an interactive instrument rather than a game.

To that extent it's a bit like Electroplankton, a title that also opened up a world of musical possibilities for DS owners, although Jam Sessions is more conventional in scope. But don't confuse it with the likes of Guitar Hero - there are no levels or high scores here.

Described its most basic form, Jam Sessions is simply a virtual guitar created for the DS. Strum the thick string or strum bar displayed on the touchscreen with your stylus and sound is created. The way you draw the stylus across the string affects the volume - making a large strum from the top to bottom of the screen, for example, yields a far louder sound than a quick swipe from the centre.

You won't get far just strumming though.

Playing different tones requires you to manipulate the chord palette using the D-pad. Since it's essentially impossible on the DS to mirror the act of positioning your fingers over a guitar's strings, the game maps entire chords to the eight directions on the pad (up, down, left, right, and the four diagonals). Selecting one of these and then strumming allows you to play the respective chord. It's a neat control method that's surprisingly intuitive after awhile. You even have to hold your DS as you would a proper guitar.

Getting to grips with these fundamentals - something that's best done using the Tutorial mode - means you can go on to play any of the 20 songs included. Select a track from the song menu and you're given a music guide on the top screen with the strum bar below. The music guide isn't set out like traditional sheet music though. Instead it tells you when and how to strum (up or down), which chord to play as well as scrolling through the song's lyrics.

Helpfully, if you lose your way, you can initiate playback of the track to hear what it was supposed to sound like, although for some reason, not every song includes this feature. It's a serious shortcoming that's probably due to a lack of space on the cartridge rather than an oversight, but the learning process of specific tracks is certainly hindered if playback isn't included.

Fortunately, most of the songs are recognisable hits. Tracks range from music game staple Surrender, courtesy of Cheap Trick, to Marvin Gaye's Motown classic What's Going On and more contemporary hits like I Will Follow You Into the Dark by emo-favourites Death Cab for Cutie. There's something for everyone, although 20 tracks aren't anything like enough (see PG Tips below for a full track listing). Once you get into Jam Sessions, you'll burn through the library quickly and want more.

This is where the Free Play mode comes in. Jam Sessions enables you to play virtual guitar at will, creating songs and riffs that can be recorded and played back later. It's easily the best part of the experience. An addition to the Japanese release sees five slots available for recorded data, which is ample room to enable you to save your songs. Only the guitar audio is recorded though; a disappointment if you're hoping to lay down vocals through the DS microphone to accompany your tunes.

As you'd expect, making your own music is much more challenging than playing through the included songs. The limitations of the chord palette would have Guy Chambers struggling to pen his next Angels.

However, you can customise the palette with over a hundred different chords, plus a second chord palette can be assigned to the L button and toggled to mid-song. Most simple songs only require a handful of chords, so having 16 available is more than enough once you're used to the system.

In this way, the range of musical possibilities is almost endless. The wealth of options include being able to tune the guitar's pitch, change the direction of picking and add funky special effects like tremolo and distortion to customise the sound. You can also unlock new wallpapers to match your musical creations by performing well in Performance and Training modes.

But most impressive is the audio itself, which sounds remarkably close to an actual guitar. It's something you can make the most of by hooking Jam Sessions up to a set of speakers. Indeed Ubisoft plans on selling the game with a special amp bundle later this year, which should serve to heighten the quality further.

Of course, more songs would have been nice, but at heart Jam Sessions isn't about playing other people's music. It's all about trying to create your own. And if that idea appeals you, it's well worth checking out.
 
Jam Sessions
Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson | 24 September 2007
It's not a game, but as a neat virtual guitar Jam Sessions provides great sounds, a tons of musical options and the ability to record your own tracks
 
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