Craft Your Own Mad Beats – JAM Live Music Arcade Review
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360
In a world full of music-based games, it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd. Enter JAM Live Music Arcade, a title looking to do just that. While it makes use of the five-button guitar peripheral, it takes the genre in a totally new direction. The question is though, is this title worth raising your hands in the air, or will you just not care?
In traditional music-rhythm games, especially those centered on the guitar, players are given a number of songs to play through on various difficulties. These riffs and melodies are already pre-programmed and gamers simply play along in an attempt to hit 100% of the notes. JAM Live Music Arcade throws this idea out the window, and instead tells the player, “You get to make the song!”
There are two game modes for you to mess around with: Jam and Arcade. With the latter locked at first, a good chunk of your time will be spent on Jam mode. In this mode, though you may be using a guitar controller, you’ll feel more like a producer or DJ than a guitarist. Players aren’t given a front-to-back line of music to play, but instead a series of loop tracks that can be turned on or off at their own whim. A phrase will continuously repeat, and a meter near the bottom of the screen shows how long you have left until it starts again. Within this ever-looping metronome, you’re free to turn on or off any line you see fit.
Which tracks and instruments you’ve access to depend on the individual song, but can consist of guitars, drums, percussion, keyboards, and vocals. However, there will be no more than five different instruments available at any time, and each contains five tracks within it, one for each fret-button on the controller. Each track brings a different sound, style, or melody to the table as well. For example, vocals may have the main melody on one line, and harmony or back-up singers on another. With this style of gameplay, players are free to remake or remix the song as they see fit, and can spend an unlimited amount of time doing so.
In some songs a second or third set of tracks for each instrument is available, and usually takes the style of a chorus or bridge. This allows for jams to get considerably more diverse and complex. A fade-out may also be used when you wish to end your jam session in style. If you’ve found a combination you really like, or have developed and memorized your own remix, you have the option to record it. Simply hit the record button when you’re ready, and then hit it again when you’re done. Recordings can be as long as you want them, and can even be used in Arcade mode (more on that later).
To help you learn the ropes of each aspect of gameplay, challenges are available and must be completed in order to unlock new songs and the Arcade mode. These tests give players a quick tutorial on how various features work, then tasks them to use these mechanics a set amount of times to finish the test.
After all the challenges have been completed, the Arcade mode will unlock. Here, players will be able to engage in more traditional-styled gameplay. Each song has a default, pre-constructed jam that players are tasked with recreating, flipping on various loops across different instruments at specified times. If you have a remix you created in Jam mode that you’re particularly proud of, you may also recreate it using this mode, making the total hours of potential playtime virtually limitless.
However, not everything is right on beat with JAM. The learning curve for the title is quite massive, which is mostly due to the controls. The same buttons used to toggle tracks are also used to switch between instruments and sets, with the direction of the strum paddle or whammy bar determining which is activated. This control scheme can get terribly confusing and difficult, especially in Arcade mode where track changes can come quickly and frequently. Players will find themselves hitting the wrong strum direction or frets quite often. Early in the game the guitar peripheral is a fun and easy way to play, but becomes quite clunky and difficult later on.
For those without a guitar controller, your PS3 or Xbox 360 controller may be used instead, though the game stresses the need for a guitar. Unfortunately, this method also suffers in terms of playability. The controller’s face buttons (A, B, X, Y/X, Circle, Square, Triangle) and a single top button (RB/R1) are used in place of the fret keys, with up/down on the D-pad imitating the strum paddle. For messing around with Jam mode, where you have unlimited flexibility, I personally found this to be my preferred input method as the guitar controller felt out of place in the production/DJ setting. In Arcade though, trying to match what was played on screen will be nearly impossible since many buttons are often needed to be pressed at once, and you only have one thumb after all.
Overall, the title feels like it would have benefited from being a PC exclusive, using the keyboard as the main method of input. That would have allowed track changes and instrument switching to be handled by different keys, making the entire game play a lot easier. While the current system can be mastered on either of the current inputs, it takes a lot of time and practice to figure out. Perhaps mind-racking, challenging controls were the goal, but many gamers are going to find it cumbersome and not worth the challenge to truly master.
Visuals also play a part in making Arcade mode more difficult than it needs to be. The way JAM presents track changes goes something like this: a rectangle with five circles within it heads from the bottom of the screen to the top, towards a grey line. Whichever instrument bank it comes from is the instrument that needs to be turned on, and bright pillars of coloured light also help show this. If multiples of these rectangles and light come up at once, it means more than one instrument is required to be on at the same time. These circles may have coloured rings within them, showing which frets need to be held when you hit the strum paddle. If no rings are present, no frets need to be held, but a strum is still needed.
Sounds a little confusing right? Well it is, and it gets worse from there. The darker rings are somewhat hard to see against different backgrounds until the instrument has been selected, meaning you may not see a certain fret is needed until it’s too late. On top of that, a darker pillar of light becomes present when you hold down a fret, regardless of whether you’ve switched on the instrument. This means that though you’re only holding down the first fret to change a track, the instrument is now glowing as well. When things get hectic, this creates a very visually confusing environment.
Graphically though, the title is soft on the eyes. Various backgrounds can be switched between while playing, from an interstellar lightshow to the bouncy atmosphere of a club. These react to the music in various ways, presenting beautiful and engaging visual presentations to help liven up your jam. If you don’t care for them or find them distracting, you may also switch them off.
JAM’s soundtrack is very well conceived and diverse, with music stretching across both time and genres. Be it the punk rock riffs of Fall Out Boy, the techno styling of Fatboy Slim, or the retro sound of Lipps Inc., there is something for everyone in this setlist, and fans of multiple genres will find it to be a little slice of heaven.
Overall, JAM Live Music Arcade is a fun and unique music experience, allowing players to either play through some cool remixes or mash out one of their own. However, it’s held back in some areas due to its less than intuitive controls, and a few design choices that hinder more than they help. If you’re a fan of rhythm games, and have an ear for fiddling with tunes, this is a title you’ll swoon for and sink many hours into… which may be due to the learning curve. However, if you’re just looking for another guitar game, and don’t have a fair deal of patience, you may wish to look elsewhere.
Final Score : 3.75 / 5.0 and a silver painted plastic guitar.
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