Preview: Jam Sessions DS

Ever wanted to play guitar but didn’t know how? Ubisoft thinks they might have the answer.

The Nintendo DS is proving itself to be one interesting and very capable device. More than just a video game system, it can improve your memory and help you to learn new languages. Now, Ubisoft aims to let your DS do something you probably didn’t think it could do: play guitar.

Jam Sessions is — simply put — a guitar simulator. Whether you’re already a professional or maybe just an aspiring Jimi Hendrix, you can get your guitar fix with it. However, let me just say first off that this is no Guitar Hero. Don’t buy it expecting to do any mad guitar soloing. Don’t think that you’ll be able to do anything like it. It’s more of a guitar application than a guitar game.

To play, you’ll either hold the D-pad or the XYAB buttons (depending if you’re right-handed or left-handed, respectively) and stroke a bar on your touchscreen with the stylus. The buttons you press correspond to the chord you want to play and the way you make a stroke changes the sort of sound you get. Whether you glide the stylus over the screen softly or fierce & violently will change the way your strum sounds, as will the sort of stroke. If you strum down the screen, you’ll get an edgy and hard sort of sound, whereas if you go up the screen you’ll end up with a soft and acoustic sound.

Jam Sessions works in one of three ways: you can play along to songs in its database, you can train your ear to recognise chords in a game, or you can make music by yourself or with friends and record it. You can even activate the microphone if you have some headphones plugged in.

Because Jam Sessions is more of an application though, you won’t really have as much fun with it as you might believe you will. Great uses for it could include jamming with friends in the same room) or writing your own songs, but it doesn’t really extend much beyond that. While you’re given an editable palette of chords to play with, you can only ever play guitar chords. Rather than a guitar simulator, this is strictly a guitar chord simulator.

You do get some effects to play with that a regular guitarist might end up having in their pedals. The idea of the pedals is cool and how you can link them up as well as tweak them is great, but ultimately they don’t make the sound any better. This is mostly due to the DS not having the best sound capabilities. Effects like the Flanger just sound fuzzier than they ever would have in real life and while the idea of having virtual pedals sounds great, it doesn’t really become useful.

Jam Sessions does come with 30 tracks for you to learn and play along with, but it’s really not enough. You can however find lots of chords on the Internet to play with. I tried a Dishwalla and a Deftones song when I was reviewing and yeah, it kind of did sound like what it was supposed to.

One great use for it I have found through playing around is that you can basically make this device into a digital theremin by use of effects. If you’re not sure what a theremin is, it’s basically an instrument whereby your hand plays sounds that are bouncing off of the antenna that makes up the instrument. It’s hard to explain and it looks odd, but if you plug your Nintendo into your computer with a regular 3.5mm sound cable and you play with some audio filters, you can more or less create digital music by using Jam Sessions as the instrument and the filter to change the way the instrument sounds. I’ve included a one minute sample file below where you can hear what it sounds like through random settings in Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig plugin. The first sound you’ll hear is what Jam Sessions’ guitar normally sounds like followed by my Dishwalla attempt through Guitar Rig.

Jam Sessions played through Guitar Rig.

Even though it’s not really a game, there are still some things that just aren’t good about it. This is a preview, mind you, and as such these things might change by release time. You can record your own creations, but this feature is sort of short-lived as you get a maximum record time of two minutes which is barely enough time for any song. It’s also pretty uncomfortable to play. There’s a method explained in the tutorial and while it’s similar to actually holding a guitar, the size of the DS and the way you hit the notes isn’t exactly the most comfortable thing to do. It could probably do with an online multiplayer so you can jam with others.

Jam Sessions DS is a great idea, but it seems more like a concept learning tool that needs more work. There are things that should probably be changed before release, but overall it’s still not a bad tool for someone looking to make a little music without wanting to learn how to play an instrument.

Classification– TBA
Formats– Nintendo DS
URLJam Sessions DS

Previewed by Leigh D. Stark

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