|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
The long wait is finally over, and now it's time to rock. Whether you view it as a toy for noodling around or a tool for making serious music, Ubisoft's Jam Sessions is bound to hold you in its powerful sway for a long time. No other game around - at least in the U.S. - turns your Nintendo DS into a virtual guitar that can be easily carried around in a pocket with you wherever you go. It's the next best thing to actually playing guitar, but without having to go through the tedium of learning a new instrument.
One of the cool things about Jam Sessions is you really don't have to have to know anything about playing guitar in order to jump right in. Upon first booting up the game, a detailed tutorial explains the basic play mechanics. It also provides helpful tips with diagrams on how to hold the DS, how to use the button configurations, and on the best method of strumming the virtual guitar string. An ear training feature is also included to help you learn how to recognize chords by ear. Once players familiarize themselves with the controls, there's a warm up option which eases them into the interface for learning how to sing and play one of the many cover tunes built into program.
The main controls involve using a stylus, a fingernail, or a guitar pick to strum a virtual guitar string on the touch screen. Every strum emits a realistic sounding acoustic guitar sound chord which changes slightly depending on which direction you are strumming and how hard you are playing. Chord changes are handled with the eight directional buttons on the d-pad. A different chord can be assigned to each direction, and you can switch to a back-up palette of eight additional chords using the L button. This allows you to select from up to 16 different chords in any particular song without having to stop playing. From the play screen, minor adjustments can be made using the face buttons to raise or lower your entire chord palette up or down a half-step at a time. This is handy for experimentation, but it's tricky to pull off while playing.
Switching between chords while strumming is as easy as hitting a different directional button while continuing to strum. Hitting the string without a chord selected will result in a metallic rhythmic sound which also has its own usefulness. Unfortunately, it's not possible to hit individual notes, but the program includes over 100 chord samples which can be used to construct the basic chord progressions for virtually any song playable on an acoustic guitar. Singing or humming along to add additional melody while you play is heavily encouraged.
In song mode, players can learn to play and sing a variety of old school and newer cover songs. There's a little something for everyone here, as the program includes tunes ranging from classics like Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone," Janis Joplin's "Me And Bobby McGee," and Johnny Cash's "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know," to more recent tracks from Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, Beck, and Death Cab For Cutie. Sprinkled in-between is some Blind Melon, Nirvana, Cheap Trick, and even James Taylor, among others. In this mode, the top screen shows the chord changes, strum pattern, and even the lyrics for the song each song, once it's selected. The screen scrolls down as you play along on the touch screen.
Playing cover tunes is a great way to get started, but before long most players will find themselves itching to start putting together their own songs and experimenting with Jam Sessions' deep free-play mode. This is where the program really gets interesting. Constructing your chord palette using the built in editor is done through a simple drag-and drop interface. Clicking on any note from a small piano on the right side of the screen opens up a sub-menu with 10 different chord variations for that note. You can hear what each one sounds like by tapping it. When you find a chord you like it's just a matter of dragging it over to chart which shows the eight primary and secondary spaces on the d-pad. Once you have a suitable chord palette you can simply jam on it until you come up with a song structure you like. A great deal of the fun of free-play mode comes from messing around with different chords to come up with a song, then practicing it, and finally recording the track once it's written.