Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jam Sessions

Jam SessionsA year ago I was introduced to "Sing & Play DS Guitar M-06," a guitar simulator for the Nintendo DS available in Japan. Huh? Yes, that's what I thought, especially because the video I viewed didn't make it look too exciting. I vowed to play guitar on my guitar, and forgot about it.

Fast forward one year, and the title is now available in the USA as Jam Sessions. I took look-see on the tubes of the Interweb, and was a bit more intrigued by what I saw. The reviews are beyond polarized: people either hate it, because it isn't a game like Guitar Hero, and they cannot "play" it to save their life. Or they love it, because they're a guitar player, and they can see the value in having something insanely portable that pretends to be a guitar. So I of course caved and bought it.

Jam SessionsFrankly, I'm amazed at what it can do. Jam Sessions is capable of playing just about any chord you can think of by "fretting" with the DS's direction pad (you can alter this "palette" with an editor that allows one to drag-and-drop chords onto it) then "strumming" by moving your stylus or finger across the strum bar depicted on the touch screen. If you move fast across the strum bar, the guitar sound is louder and more aggressive. You can get up-strokes (the strings will ring out from high to low) by moving the other way across the strum bar. You can simulate muted strings by simply not pressing the direction pad. Hell, you can even add effects: among them is distortion, chorus, flanger, delay, and tremolo (all completely configurable).

Anyone who plays guitar can sort of play Guitar Hero, but that doesn't compare to Jam Sessions. If you are a guitarist, you will be rocking with this "game" in almost no time flat, mouth agape because you won't believe that it's actually akin to playing a real guitar, realistically reacting to nuances in your playing. If you don't play guitar, it'll be almost useless and you'll probably through your DS against the wall. It does have a tutorial which plays some popular songs at you and explains how to choose a chord and strum along, but I think it's only going to be minimally helpful to a novice. Basically, you need to know how to play the guitar already, else you're climbing Mount Everest.

At first I screwed around just stringing chords together, then played a bit of "Desire" by U2 (three chords and the truth, baby), and the rhythm to "She Sells Sanctuary" by The Cult. Experience with the thing has shown that Jam Sessions works best with slower songs that don't need tons of fast strumming action, so the other day I decided to learn "Pigs On the Wing" by Pink Floyd (which, by the way, I've never played on a real guitar). And lo, it worked. It has enough chord changes that it's not as boring to listen to as some of the videos you'll find on the web. I dig!

No, it can't do power chords or single notes, but it does a damn fine job of allowing one to play chords with individual style. If you're not a guitar player, then it might be better to pick up Guitar Hero or learn how to play guitar instead. But if you're a musician that owns a DS, I highly recommend Jam Sessions.


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