Real Talk By: Steph-O
JAM Live Music Arcade is a small musical sandbox game recently released for XBLA and PSN. JAM’s trailers boasts that it allows you to ‘explore an open world of music’ in an effort to bring fresh perspective to recent ‘follow the leader’ music games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero. For someone like me who does not ‘jam’ on any sort of regular basis, I rather enjoyed being able to experiment with the different instruments and songs without having to really know what I was doing. However, I can imagine that someone who does enjoy music, jamming, or recording mashes and remixes, may find JAM to be limited or frustrating, but then maybe they are not the target audience.
JAM has a rather steep learning curve (I don’t think anyone could just pick up the game and play) but the tutorials that guide you through game play do a nice job of getting you introduced quickly and easily, while also encouraging you to experiment with the 32 available tracks (as you unlock them) and record your own jams. One of the really nice features of this game, and the reason that it has a learning curve, is that as a single player you are not limited to just one instrument- you have a whole ‘bankset’ of instruments, sounds, and even vocals available for every track. You can activate and deactivate the samples within each bank to experiment with different sounds and create your very own ‘jam’. There is a scoring system, based mostly on staying on beat, and you are rewarded ‘medals’ for achieving high scores in your jam sessions. I found the scoring system to be rather useless however, and could do without it. Another rather minute detail that I unfortunately found to be rather annoying was that the volume of the music while you were selecting a song from the menu was much louder than when you were actually jamming, which made me want to just select a song and venue as quickly as possible.
JAM is compatible with game controllers, but a gaming guitar is the preferred method, and it is easy to see why. Much like trying to play Rock Band or Guitar Hero using only an Xbox controller, it is difficult to press multiple button colors at once on a game pad while still remembering what other buttons correspond with the strummer, whammy bar etc. I was able to experiment with Jam mode while still using a game controller, but Arcade mode is a whole other beast…
Arcade mode is back to the traditional ‘follow the leader’ game method, except that now the five instrument banks, each containing five samples, become a horrible burden rather than a useful tool. In order to press the correct buttons at the correct time you first need to activate 1-2 bank sets, and then 1-3 samples within those banks all on time. And even worse, if you miss a note your time bar drops and you are given less time to press the next note correctly. So the worse you play, the harder it gets! The pressure and difficulty of this mode (even on the easiest songs) make it extremely frustrating. The only somewhat redeeming quality of Arcade mode is that you can play tracks that you yourself have recorded previously in Jam mode, making you feel almost like a game level designer. A neat feature, but unless you have grown board of being a Guitar Hero whiz and are looking for a new challenge, I recommend avoiding Arcade mode altogether.
JAM also boasts that its a great game for a party environment (although I did not have a chance to test this myself). I can imagine that everyone sitting around listening to one person jam would be rather similar to everyone gathered around a computer watching a YouTube video that one person wants to show everyone else. It seems great when it’s your turn, but it can be rather boring for the rest of party. There are a few different ‘venue’ options for gameplay though, and I have to say that they do provide some nice visuals without getting too distracting for the player. This, combined with the overall aesthetic of JAM’s interface make it something that you will at least feel proud to show your friends. Considering that JAM is a rather unknown game right now (“Hey I have this game JAM, you’ve probably never heard of it.”), you can feel like a magical indie game hipster in front of all your friends.
Jam mode is definitely where the heart of this game lies, and with its infinite possibilities, not to mention the promise of DLC in the future, it is something that can be revisited again and again.
JAM Live Music Arcade gets
Out of Five
+inexpensive (only $9.99)
+tutorials guide you through the game quickly and easily
+fun to mess around in Jam mode, easy to make own recorded songs sound good
+gaming guitar not required (although it makes game play easier)
+many indie songs, which is good exposure for those artists, and maybe frees up your mind for remixes
+interface is easy to navigate
+can record own song and then play recorded song in Arcade mode
+has good replayability, especially with future DLC is considered
+background visuals are fun without being distracting
-Not too many recognizable songs, so remixing well-known favorites is limited
-sound levels in menus and game are very different which can be annoying
-Arcade mode is insanely difficult and complicated