* Prices may differ from that shown
The Ubisoft game that turns your DS into a guitar and the player into a musician instantly. Well okay, not instantly - but compared to how long it would take you to learn all of the songs featured and how to play a real guitar (not to mention the cost) this is pretty fast.
Essentially this is a learning game with a music theme - doing the tutorial stage is a must as it explains exactly what you are doing and how to do it. You use the control pad to determine your chord and then strum along on the touch-screen to the track.
This game has over 35 different tracks including Nirvana, Bob Dylan, Blind Mellon and Death Cab For Cutie, as well as what appear to be French and Spanish tracks (Though my foreign language skills are so poor these days I'm not certain what the tracks are called in English or who they are by) - I don't know whether the unknown tracks to the British charts were added to give it more European feel or just because they didn't want to spend any more cash on more licensed hits everyone would know but they are not an unwelcome pick. Even though I've never heard them before some are really good.
There is also a free play mode in which you can create your own music and record it on the DS, so nice for kids (and those who are kids at heart) to play at being a rock star.
It's not the most exciting looking game, and honestly if I hadn't found it pre-owned at a ridiculously cheap price I probably wouldn't have picked it up, but it is a fun game and has helped with my confidence musically. Perhaps now I feel like I can strum in time and right I'll be able to put that into practice on the real thing!
When I first heard about 'Jam Sessions' I really got quite excited. The Nintendo DS is the PERFECT system on which to build some sort of portable virtual studio - I mean, it has decent sound, two screens, and even a MICROPHONE - not to mention touch screen control.
You see, the idea of a portable studio that I can take anywhere with me, on the bus or on the train, and record song ideas that I have, is so appealing! Especially because most of the time when I come up for ideas for songs, I'm travelling somewhere.
Jam Sessions is basically a guitar simulator. Not guitar as in guitar hero - we're not talking about flashy guitar solos here, we're talking about solid chords and strumming.
The way that the game works is that you use the stylus to strum the guitar on the screen, at the same time you use the DPad, buttons and shoulder buttons to produce a variety of chords. With a bit of setting up, there are over 100 chords available so you'll be able to play most songs to some approximation.
There are two main modes - songs and free play. There are only a handful of songs available, and you must play along with these accurately and correctly. The game shines more in free play, where you can do anything you like, and also record your efforts.
Unfortunately for some bizarre, unknown reason, despite the DS having a microphone, you cannot record your own voice. This severely limits the worth of this software as a portable demo recorder, or as anything really. This really disappoints me because it would have been so much easier to add this feature!
The other rubbish thing about the game is the sound. Although the default acoustic setting is fairly convincing, you can also add effects such as distortion. These effects all sound really, really bad. They add nothing to the experience and just make things sound messy and unprofessional.
To add insult to injury I'm not incredibly keen on the actual gameplay when you are playing the guitar. It feels awkward, and a difficult control scheme with which to keep up a rhythm, as well as a difficult control scheme to smoothly transition from chord to chord.
So err, overall, somewhere there was a good idea here. Unfortunately, this is a game that is full of missed opportunities, that doesn't really do what I hoped it would do, and doesn't really offer a game that is good enough to really be fun. Oh well!
In my opinion Jam Sessions is not a computer game. You do not progress through different levels with a defined purpose, there is no story line, there are no baddies to kill, you cannot achieve a high score and you cannot die. None of the components of a game are present and it is not one.
****What is it?****
Jam sessions is a piece of software that turns the DS in to an acoustic guitar. It is ideal for those budding guitarists and song writers to use when they do not have their guitar to hand, such as on a train, bus or plane.
****How does it work?****
The touch screen has a horizontal string running through it, representing the 6 strings of a guitar. In order to get a chord you need to strum the DS by swiping the stylus up or down. Swiping down plays the chord starting on the low E string, whereas swiping up starts with the high E string. This is just like a real guitar.
The 8 chords are achieved by strumming whilst pressing the D pad (for right handed players) or the A, B, X, Y buttons (for left handed players). This arrangement is quite difficult to get used to once mastered it does work quite well, although some button combinations (I am left handed) are a challenge and not always hit accurately. Just persevere and you'll get there.
An additional 8 chords are achieved by holding the right shoulder button down (if you are left handed) or the left shoulder button (if you are right handed). The total number of chords available is 16 per song.
When you are not in the free play mode it is possible to map chords to specific directions or button combinations, as well as swapping present chords for different ones. The manual states that doing this frees up 120 possible chords, which to me seems quite a large amount.
Other options include:
i) The ability to play left handed or right handed
ii) The ability to add effects, such as distortion or delay
iii) The ability to swap backgrounds (although this really doesn't do anything)
iv) The ability to alter the strum responsiveness
****What can you do?****
The software provides 17 songs that you can play, from Bob Marleys "No Woman No Cry" to Coldplays "Yellow". The song choice is quite limited but you should be able to find something you like.
The included songs clearly shows the chords required and the pre set button configuration to achieve these chords, as well as the lyrics enabling the user to sing along. This means that non-musical and non guitar playing people can enjoy this aspect of Jam Sessions.
The first 10 songs have a demo that you can listen to in order to check that you are doing it correctly. I do not understand why the demo feature is not available for all the other songs included in the software.
If you have guitar tabs (chord progressions for songs that can be found online fairly easily) then it is possible to play any song you like. Doing this you will have to be innovative if you don't play the guitar or can't read music. The chords will have to be written somewhere and then it is a case of following your handwritten notes.
The software also gives you the ability to write your own songs and record them. It should be noted that only 5 songs can be stored at any one time and there is no scope to increase this limit.
The visuals are very, very basic, however, this is not such a bad thing since it does keep things simple. Besides, this software is all about the audio.
The audio is very good. The guitar does actually sound like a proper guitar, although it is very quiet. It is best to play with your headphones on or with the DS plugged in to some speakers. Maybe an amp would be good, although it is a bit difficult to carry around (and power up) and amp offsite.
One thing about the audio is the additional effects are awful. Personally, I would not even bother with them.
The lack of included songs is a big disappointment and something that the producers should have though of a bit more carefully. A good feature would be the ability to go online and download additional tabs. This would mean that non guitar playing people could search out their favourite tunes and learn to play them with the assistance of just the DS.
Whilst you can record your own songs it is not possible to record your own voice, which is a shame. The DS does have a microphone so I can't see any technical reasons why it can't be done.
This is a bit of software aimed at musicians or guitar players. In my opinion, it is not a piece of software for the general public.
I am not a guitar player and hired this game on the assumption that the DS would play the music and indicate what buttons needed to be pressed to get the chord, and it does but only for 17 songs. I found the chords a challenge to learn but once I mastered them they worked quite well. With my ability to get the chords I managed to play all the 17 songs to, what I consider, quite a good standard.
However, I am now stuck and can't do any more with this piece of software. I have downloaded additional tabs from the internet and hand written the chords (whilst I don't read music my other half is a semi professional flautist and does so very well) and tried to play them, but I just can't get the hang of it. I find Remembering the button configuration of 16 chords a real challenge and have not got the patience or perseverance to keep at it.
I have tried writing my own songs and the results were dire. I am not musically trained, nor have I got a musical ear and it was more of just a 'play' with the software out of curiosity to see how the recording feature worked. It is not something I would spend time on since it is not my thing.
I think that this piece of software will have a limited audience. Whilst I am sure the budding musicians of this world, and those that enjoy composing their own songs will enjoy it I don't think the world at large would.
Jam sessions enables you to turn your nintendo ds into a guitar! You start of by using the tutorial first where it shows you some demo songs, and you can learn the techniques of using the stylus and arrow keys to play the guitar on screen. After that there is a list of songs which you could play. There is the option to play the song to kear what it sounds like then you play on your own with just the cords. You can be creative and make up your own tune. You can also record the songs which you play which is quite good. You can be a composer and make up your own song by just experimenting. I absolutely love this game and play it when i just want to chill out and have fun creating a bit of musical havoc. I would recommend this game for any budding guitar player as it is practically a guitar fitted into the small portable nds, so you can play where ever your are.
About the Game
Released in 2007 by Ubisoft, Jam Sessions isn't actually a game as such. The cartridge turns your Nintendo DS into a fully playable acoustic guitar.
On starting the cartridge you are presented with a menu that offers you the option to run a tutorial (which is essential for the first time player, a warm up song, a selection of songs to play along with or free play.
It's advisable to take the tutorial as it provides you with some really useful advice. Included in this advice are how to hold the DS when playing the guitar, using the D-Pad and shoulder buttons, strumming the guitar and a section on ear training.
The ear training exercise is useful as it trains you to identify chords by listening to them.
Theoretically, with a trained ear, you can listen to songs on the radio and then play them on your NDS guitar.
To play the guitar the DS displays a horizontal bar in the lower screen that represents the guitar strings and in the upper screen shows a box displaying 8 guitar notes. The position of these notes relates to their position on the D-Pad. Using the stylus to repeatedly stroke (strum) the strings and at the same time hold down the D-Pad in the position of the chord that you would like to play. This is initially quite difficult and requires practice.
You are not limited to playing only 8 chords, as there are over 100 included on the cartridge. In each song you can play a maximum of 16 chords. You can swap between palettes of sounds by pressing the NDS shoulder button. It is also possible to change the default palettes of chords and build your own. Just remember not to write a song with more than sixteen chords or you will be in trouble. Fortunately, being an old school punk I only require three!!
The guitar sounds give off an acoustic sound, but fortunately there are built in guitar effects that you can apply to your guitar sound to give it a different feel. The effects include distortion, low and high cut filters, delay, chorus, flanger and tremolo. You can use two of these effects simultaneously and store them in one of 6 user banks.
Quickly walking through the effects the first effect is the distortion.
The distortion pedal two settings that allow you to control the amount of drive (think growl and fuzz) and the mix between the clean and distorted signal. The distortion is rather harsh and I found it difficult to get a sound that didn't resemble a poorly tuned radio receiver!
Next up are the high and low level filters. These basically shape and equalise your sound to remove the bass and treble frequencies from your sound. Taking away the low frequencies gives you a crackly guitar sound whereas remove the high frequencies will give you a more muffled bass sounding guitar. I couldn't find any benefit in either filter when in use.
The third effect is the delay pedal. This gives the sound a repeated echo sound. If you are familiar of the works of U2 then this effect should give a similar sound to that of their guitarist the edge. There are two controls on this pedal, one to control the mix and one to alter the time between the echoes. Unfortunately you are unable to play individual strings on your virtual guitar so I found the resultant echo of the whole guitar a bit excessive an unusable.
The fourth effect is the chorus. The effect should give you an effect of multiple guitars being played simultaneously and make the overall sound bigger. This works to some extend; though the effect is achieved by slightly detuning the signal so that the multiple guitar sounds can be distinguished. It's a useable effect though.
The fifth effect is the flanger. This effect adds a warp and spaciousness to your guitar sound. There are options to mix the clean and flanged guitars, plus you can change the amount and speed of the effect. On full settings your guitar sounds a cross between a space ship and a Dalek!
The final effect is the tremolo. This effect is used a lot in old rockabilly songs and makes the guitar sound fade away and then come back quickly. To emulate this effect you can shout a-a-a-a-a-a-h-h-h-h-h-h-h and then move your hand on and off your mouth in a Red Indian style movement!
So now you can play the chords and apply the effects you have a few options. You can either use free play mode which will allow you to play the guitar to your hearts content and even record up to 5 compositions of your own. Or you can go into songs mode.
Before launching yourself into song mode, which is a selection of songs for you to learn and play, it is worth taking the warm up option from the main menu. This will step you through a demo song, Coldplay's song 'Yellow' and get you familiar with the tablature and method of playing along.
Playing along with a song takes a bit of practice but is quite straight forward when mastered. The top screen will display the chords that you need to play and also display the lyrics. The lower screen displays the chord mapping of the notes on the D-Pad. As you strum along in time to an inbuilt metronome the chords and lyrics screen scroll in time so that you can progress through the song. It takes practice but is relatively straight forward.
I played a Nirvana song to my six year old and she recognised it!
Graphics are not really an issue here as there are no fancy sprites or blisteringly fast animations on this cartridge. There are options on the cartridge to change the colour schemes if required. The overall look is clean and well laid out. The fonts are easily read, though personally I would have preferred a bolder and defined font for the lyric sheets in the included songs.
Sound and controls
The sound of the guitar is reminiscent of a steel string guitar and has a very bright sound overall. The effects can change the sound somewhat though overall it does sound like a tinny acoustic guitar.
As for controls most of the buttons are used. The shoulder keys are used for note palette change and the D-Pad for chord selection. The stylus and touch screen are used for menu selection and for strumming the virtual strings. The strumming is quite quick to respond though moving between chords on the D-Pad can sometimes be awkward.
Overall it is quite a unique cartridge for the NDS.
It should be stressed that it is not a game, and people expecting a music based game such as Rock star or Elite Beat Agents should look elsewhere. Unfortunately there are a couple of omissions from this release that could have made it a killer application. The inclusion of a drum machine instead of a metronome and the addition of some auto accompaniment would have been welcomed. The other problems is that the output of the unit is rather quiet, which puts me in a quandary. If I put on headphones the sound is louder but I cannot hear my singing! The other option is to plug the unit into an amplifier (with the purchase of an additional lead), though this defeats the purpose of portability. I would say that the cartridges target audience would be the musician on the road who would like to knock a few chords together to develop new material.
So to summarise I would say that Jam Sessions is a fun cartridge for the musician on the move.
Additional details, Price & Availability
The game was available for around £5 from the Amazon marketplace at the date of writing (20th August 2008).
Copyright M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
The sound capability of the DS is quite impressive for such a small, low cost unit. I am surprised that there aren't an abundance of applications like EJ / Fruity Loops that make making music on the PC easy, simple and fun.
Jam Sessions turns your DS into a guitar. You get to strum the strings with the stylus and choose the cords with the direction pad. You can add effects such as waw-waw, reverb etc using the shoulder buttons.
The "game" consists of playing along with the chords in a kareoke manner, strumming the strings and choosing the correct combinations of chrods and effects.
In "Jam" mode, you can literally pick up the DS and use it like a semi-acoustic guitar.
I could not help but find the whole experience some what unrewarding;- OK you can record your rendition of Stairway to Heaven, but the lack of any sequencing tools to add beat, percussions and other tracks, makes the result plain and one dimentional.
Guitar Hero - it's not.
However, all that said, my 6 year old loved it and it makes a welcome change from Lego Star Wars.
Jam Sessions is a ground-breaking music experience that transforms the Nintendo DS system into a portable guitar. Players will literally strum the guitar via the Touch Screen and select chords with the Control Pad. Now even the most nonmusical person can become an instant rock star!