Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Jam Sessions

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0:00 I love rhythm games, and I've heard a lot about this one. I just worry that it'll be too undirected to actually be fun.

0:03 I mean to go into the tutorial, but before I know it I'm jamming out in the "free play" mode. I immediately figure out how to strum on the touch-screen and pick chords with the d-pad. I quickly compose a little two-chord ditty that sounds surprisingly good, if I do say so myself. I even record it for posterity.

0:04 I like how the touch-screen allows for strong and weak notes. There's much more opportunity for original expression than in Guitar Hero and such. Nice.

0:06 I finally make it to the tutorial. ?Jam Sessions lets you play and sing in your own way without any experience playing the guitar.? That much is already obvious.

0:08 The ?how to play? tutorial tells me nothing I didn't already figure out in the first five minutes. It does have some nice encouraging words: ?Unlock your talents. Let's play and sing.?

0:09 The game has a tutorial for how to hold the DS... complete with a picture of how to hook your right pinky around the top screen. Lefties seem left in the cold, though.

0:10 Never mind -- the next tutorial tells me lefties can use the face buttons instead of the d-pad. It also tells me not to use ?excess pressure? when holding chord buttons. Is this a major problem for people?

0:11 ?If you make very short strokes or stab at the screen each chord will sound short and unpleasant.? Note to DS players: stabbing at the screen is never a good idea...

0:12 You can hold the stylus on the screen to keep chords going while you transition to other d-pad buttons. This was always a problem for me on the real guitar. Luckily I have a DS to be coordinated for me now.

0:14 On to ?ear training" mode, which promises that ?even without a written score, with Jam Sessions you can play songs you vaguely remember.? Oh yeah... like that one... hmmm... you know the one... with the trumpets... and it kind of goes ?la dee DOOO dee daaaaaaah.? Oh well... with Jam Sessions I'll remember it, I'm sure.

0:18 Level one of ?ear training? proves my ear isn't totally tin... I can easily differentiate between three simple chords in the key of C. Step two adds three more chords, and then I'm in trouble.

0:20 By level three I'm totally out of my depth ... too many chords to remember. I quit and move on to ?warm up? mode.

0:24 I'm surprised to find they have real songs built in here -- or at least, real sheet music. Coldplay's ?Yellow? loses a little something when you realize it's the same three chords over and over again. I bet a lot of songs do. Still, it's fun to sing along with my strumming in an empty hotel room. Probably wouldn't be as fun on the train, I imagine.

0:25 Okay, the second section of ?Yellow? is a bit harder, both rhythmically and in chord complexity. The game gives little guidance as to where the words are supposed to go in relation to the chords. Good thing I know the song, or I'd be totally lost.

0:31 Part of me likes the freedom to improvise new chords and mess with the rhythm if I want, but part of me wants more stringent grading to show how awesome I am at playing a fake instrument.

0:32 They have Death Cab for Cutie in here? That's an automatic ?buy it? in my book!

0:35 I'm not bad at switching chords, but I'm having trouble matching the recommendations for up and down strokes. Isn't there a beginner's mode that just disregards strumming direction? And yes, I know I'm a wimp for wanting an easier mode for a fake instrument and that I should learn to play the real guitar and yada yada.

0:40 The end of the song has a little smiley face and a fanfare that plays over a ?congratulations? message. Never mind how many times I screwed up the chord positioning or the timing ... as far as Jam Sessions is concerned, I'm a rock god -- speaking of which, the interface is a little sparse for me. The game could do a better job of showing you where the beat is. I guess it's nice to feel unfettered, but I feel adrift at the same time.

0:42 I waste a good two minutes playing around in the ?chord masking? menu, tweaking the sound of the notes. I love having all these mixing options.

0:44 I love the descriptions of the various after-effects. Distortion gives the sound ?that extra rock n' roll crunch,? while the flanger sounds ?like it came from outer space? -- their words, not mine. They're accurate, too.

0:47 I'm impressed with the number of guitar-alike options, including mute-picking for that sort-of silent, half-strum sound. You can even purposely un-tune the guitar, if that's the kind of thing that turns you on, you sick bastard.

0:50 After spending 15 minutes ignoring the game's suggestion to use headphones, I finally put on some and I'm amazed at the difference. The DS speakers suck, there's no two ways about it.

0:53 The option to use the DS microphone is nice, but it's a shame that the game won't record my beautiful singing voice. What a waste.

0:56 I'm noticing typos in the lyrics to ?Me and Bobby McGee.? This is blasphemous and unacceptable, but I'm having so much fun singing it, I guess I'll let it go.

0:58 "No Rain" by Blind Melon? This game is now officially THE BEST GAME EVER!

1:00 Wow... I have a new respect for the Blind Melon guitarist. I'll just sing along to the demo for now... Maybe after some practice I can manage all these chord switches.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.


Why? It's easier than learning the real guitar, but seems almost as rewarding.

This column was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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