|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: Oct. 20, 2009||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
In 2007, Ubisoft made a big splash in the handheld music game world with a nifty little program that turned your DS into a fully functioning, virtual acoustic guitar. Jam Sessions was really more of a music making tool than anything else. It turned out to be a lot of fun for gaming musicians who got a kick out of crafting and performing songs on a handheld system, yet some players were left feeling a little lost due to the lack of any solid goals or gameplay in the title.
Two years later, developer Plato has made a lot of changes for Jam Sessions 2 in an effort to beef up the musical making capabilities of the program while also offering a stronger gaming component to appease the average player who might not be as inclined to dig deeply into the song-crafting toolbox elements. The differences between the two titles are stark, although some of these upgrades are more successful than others. Whether or not Jam Sessions 2 is a game you'll want to pick up instead of its predecessor depends on exactly what it is you're looking to get out of it.
The original Jam Sessions essentially let you play high-quality, pre-recorded acoustic guitar chords by strumming a single virtual string on the touch screen. You could assign chords to different directions on the D-Pad for quick changes, allowing you to jam out easily and write full songs. The core music guitar playing aspect of Jam Sessions 2 works in much the same way, except all six guitar strings appear on the screen and can be played individually. Each string is color-coded and rests at a slight angle to make it easier to tell them apart. This alone is a pretty substantial improvement, since it lets you strum portions of chords, throw in single-note riffs, and craft more dynamic and intricate songs.
This slick interface update comes with a curious tradeoff: you can only cue up eight different chords at a time instead of 16. Chords can only be assigned to the four main D-Pad directions, and the reserve palette accessed with the L button doubles that. Sure, it's now possible to arrange pre-set palettes that can be accessed relatively quickly with a few stylus pokes, although switching out palettes from a pop-up menu in mid-song is far from smooth. Limiting the songwriting flexibility by removing diagonal chord placement is a bummer, even if it was a little awkward to use. One welcome change is the addition of a virtual guitar fret board that appears when you're actually picking out the chords to place in a palette. This shows you where to place your fingers on the guitar to play the chord and what strings to play - a cool feature for folks interested in learning a little real guitar work.
Jam Sessions 2 sports an impressive recording studio and music tracking feature that's a huge step up from the basic, super limited recording function in the original. First you'll record brief sound clips of riffs and small portions of a tune to work with. Then you can enter the recording studio to piece together a full song by dragging and dropping the clips you've created into a sequence. For the first time, you can now add background instrumentation to each clip, which really brings the songs to life. There are a tremendous amount of bass and drum loops to use as a foundation for your tunes. Also, bass tracks automatically change key to match the current chord you're playing. The game also lets you drop in riffs from songs you've unlocked in the Song Book mode.
Song Book mode is Jam Session 2's attempt to reel in the players who want some actual gameplay with their rock-n-roll. In this new single-player mode, you'll strum through tiers of popular rock songs by strumming chords and individuals notes that flow down a runway in time to the music. It's a lot like Guitar Hero, except that everything you play - whether it's correct or incorrect - is heard along with the pre-recorded music. Different difficulty levels introduce more complex moves, like single note riffs, palette-changing in mid-strum, and trickier chord changes. Music from bands like REM, The Ramones, Iron Butterfly, and The Clash appears alongside other songs by We Are Scientists, Plain White T's, The Pixies, and Paramore, among others. It's a mostly great mix of enjoyable songs. However, none of the tunes are original versions, and the covers vary in quality.