Jam Live Music Arcade|
Back in the old days – like any time before 1999 – when a budding musician wanted to take a stab at the world of rock and roll, it required an instrument, an attitude, a group of similarly-minded buddies, and hours of practice. Even in the heyday of electronica and industrial music, musicians had to have some musical talent to live-mix multiple vinyl recordings, and compose their own midi-based drum and keyboard tracks to piece together into the final mix – generally recorded on multi-track analog-based magnetic tape. The entire process of making music was difficult, time-consuming, and incredibly expensive.
But in the early 2000’s, things changed. Personal computers made a massive leap forward, making it amazingly affordable and unbelievably easy for folks with little or no musical talent to simply weave together pre-recorded tracks, or “loops,” into studio-quality digital recordings. Software tools like Fruity Loops and Acid opened a whole new world of music composition, and the Internet quickly became host to entire communities of “Producers” sharing tips, tricks, and volumes of open-source drum tracks and samples. Jam Live Music Arcade attempts to capitalize on the world of the Music Producer, by basing an Xbox Live Arcade game around the art of mixing looped samples into amazing compositions. Think of it as Rock Band without the band – only a heck of a lot harder, and equally as rewarding.
So let’s talk about controls. When our Editor first suggested I tackle the review for Jam Live Music Arcade, we both immediately assumed that as an Xbox Live Arcade downloadable title, it was to be played sans instrument controller, most likely through Kinect controls. Wrong. While Jam technically can be played with a standard Xbox controller, it supports – and is best played – with either a Rock Band or Guitar Hero guitar peripheral. In fact, I would highly suggest against using a standard controller if at all possible – those who remember Harmonix’s (the folks behind both Guitar Hero and Rock Band) early Amplitude and Frequency games can attest to how difficult this endeavor is. Oh, and as for Kinect support – there is none.
And even with the guitar controller, getting the hang of Jam Live Music Arcade isn’t the easiest thing to do – not that the developers haven’t come up with an amazingly intuitive way to manage up to 25 tracks simultaneously. Let’s see if I can even attempt to sum it up in words:
The guitar controllers have 5 colored buttons; green, red, yellow, blue, and orange (or A, B, Y, X, RB). Each of these buttons is assigned to one of the 5 instrument types; drums, bass, guitar, keyboard, and voice, respectively. Once an instrument type has been selected, the same 5 buttons are assigned to one of 5 different tacks for that instrument. Then, simple use the guitar’s strum lever to turn the track (or tracks – as multiple buttons can be held) On and Off. Five tracks times five instruments equals twenty-five tracks. Sounds easy, right?
Well it is easy and enjoyable in the free-form Jam mode, but in the brutal Arcade mode – where the game demands specific tracks at specific times – it fantastically overwhelming. And by overwhelming, I mean a Rock Band guitar solo on “Hard” difficulty kind of overwhelming. And believe me, there is no “Easy” or “Rookie” level – it is all-in right from the start.
Jam Live Music Arcade features 32 songs a surprisingly vast array of genres and groups. From the obvious electronica and hip-hop to the unexpected indie rock of Modest Mouse and Fallout Boy, the soundtrack is remarkably diverse and enjoyable. Unlike Rock Band or Guitar Hero where the goal is perfection, with Jam Live Music Arcade gamers will be able to mix, and remix, each song ad infinitum the replay value is indefinite. Gamers can record their mixes on-the-fly with a quick tap of the Back button. Sadly, any recordings will have to stay local as there is no online play, or online sharing in Jam Live Music Arcade.
All said, for the $10 (800MS) price tag – Jam Live Music Arcade is a solid deal for gamers with even a moderate interest in music production. But I would highly suggest trying out the free demo first – as the complexity is sure to prove overwhelming for a majority of gamers. And yes, please make sure to use a guitar peripheral.