JAM Live Music Arcade Review
Tired of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but could never bring yourself to get rid of your plastic guitar collection? Well that stubbornness and/or laziness has paid off in a way, because there's a new music game designed to be played with that old five fret button guitar of yours. You just won't be using it to play guitar...
JAM Live Music Arcade is part musical toy, part rhythm game. You begin play with the game part locked, primarily because the game wants you to make your way through the tutorials in its Jam mode first. Not to worry, though, the tutorials are pretty quick and painless and you actually are better off for playing them first because without them you'd have a pretty rough time figuring out what you're supposed to be doing. Even if you start off by blazing through the tutorials it's probably a good idea to spend a little time with the Jam mode and its freedom from failure before taking on the challenging Arcade mode.
When playing the game, the bottom of the screen looks somewhat like a mixer. There are five track groups (guitar, bass, vocals, keyboard, and drums) further divided into five tracks each. Each track and track group corresponds to one of the fret buttons on the guitar controller (the game can also be played with a regular controller if you're lacking a guitar). To select one or more track groups you hold down the corresponding fret button(s) and pull up on the paddle switch. You can then start looping one or more of the tracks in the groups by holding down the corresponding fret buttons and pushing down on the paddle. Selecting a looping track and pushing down on the paddle will stop the track from playing. Some songs support multiple banks of tracks, and you switch between these by holding down a fret button and pushing down on the whammy bar. The controls take a little getting used to, but soon you'll be able to play around with creating your own remixes without much trouble. However, it doesn't as much feel like you're playing an instrument (or the videogame facsimile of one) as it does that you're just using a really large controller to select which tracks to turn on an off.
Jam mode is basically a free jam mode in which you can play around with the mixer on one of the game's thirty-two included songs. The game does "score" your performance in that you're awarded points for starting tracks on a downbeat as indicated by a beat meter that sits at the top center of the mixer, and you're awarded a gold, silver, or bronze rating depending on that score. However, the game will just run the songs for ten minutes or until you quit, whichever comes first, and you'd have to actively try to not earn a gold rating while spending ten minutes on a song. The game also allows you to record your mixes for use in the Arcade mode, but there's no way to share or export your creations which is a pretty big oversight. As for the songs themselves, they draw from a number of genres in an effort to please everyone, which means that unless you like everything from rock to pop and techno to hip hop you're actually going to find yourself playing with a smaller subset of the total song list. There are hints that additional songs will be made available via DLC, but there aren't any additional songs available at the time of this writing and no obvious hooks in the game for a song store.
Arcade mode is where JAM Live Music Arcade actually becomes a game. In this mode each song has a preprogrammed remix that you have to attempt to recreate. Track lines are added to the screen that rise vertically from the mixer board. Horizontal bars ascend from the mixer that indicate which combinations of tracks should be turned on or off when the bar reaches the top of the screen. The points that you score for each of these bars depends on how closely to the play line you toggle the designated tracks. However, if you miss, the play line drops lower on the screen giving you less time to react to the next bar. To raise the play line back up you'll need to successfully hit the tracks on the next bar.
Arcade mode is actually quite challenging. There is often very little time between successive bars and for each bar you essentially have to play two different chords, one to select the correct banks and the next to select the right tracks. Miss one and it becomes hard to recover because the play line will quickly push downwards giving you less and less time to see what's coming and get back on track. Also, when you're playing songs in other music games the songs themselves serve as guides to what you need to play next. Familiarity with a song helps you get familiar with the chords and their timing in the song, but with the remixes in JAM Live Music Arcade the track changes are all rather arbitrary and you feel more like you're reacting to the bars moving up the screen than you are making music. In this mode you're far better off playing the mixes that you recorded in the Jam mode because you can control the pacing of the track changes yourself.
JAM Live Music Arcade works less as a game for music game fans and more of a track remix toy for music fans. If you love playing with loops to make new remixes, then it's worth checking out. However, if you're looking for the next great music game you'll need to keep waiting.
Final Rating: 66%. JAM Live Music Arcade works better as a toy for jammers than an arcade game.