Anyone remember Daigasso! Band Brothers? The rhythm action game that was expected to launch alongside the original DS console back in 2005 but never actually found its way out of Japan? Perhaps not. But five years down the line and it's finally here, under the new Euro-friendly name of Jam with the Band. For rhythm action fans who've played their copies of Elite Beat Agents, Guitar Hero: On Tour and Rhythm Paradise to death, Jam with the Band could be just what the doctor ordered. It fuses tapping, singing and composing into one tidy package, and aside from the fact the garish visuals haven't been lost along the way, it's been well worth the wait.
The game is based around three primary modes; Sing, Play and Studio, which are brought together in the form of a music store. GB Records, owned by the buxom Barbara the Bat, is your one stop shop for playing tunes, singing songs and writing music. After signing up for a member's card, all of the shop's services are at your disposal. There's no career mode as with the likes of Guitar Hero; the player is simply urged to do whatever takes their fancy. A rating adds some incentive and reward to the experience, grading each of your performances on a star scale.
Jam with the Band comes with an impressive 50 tracks pre-loaded onto the cartridge. Although the song quality isn't fantastic (they sound like the MIDI files you might download off a dodgy website), a wide range of musical tastes are catered for. Smoke on the Water, We are the Champions, Walking on Sunshine, New York New York, Lady Marmalade and even medleys from Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda have all found their way into the game. Should you get bored of this track list, however, a further 50 songs can be added via WiFi. The game will cap your downloads once you've reached 100 tracks though, and with no option to delete or exchange, you'll need to make your choices wisely.
Depending on the song, there are 6-8 instruments that you can choose to play with, although differences between them are purely auditory. With the exception of the guitar - which is strummed with the stylus - strings, drums, synths, organs and ocarinas all require timed button presses prompted by a bar moving across the screen. It's standard rhythm action stuff, and although it might not be as authentic as playing with a plastic instrument, the game remains a formidable challenge.
While Beginner mode uses a feeble one button, the Master setting takes advantage of a whopping ten, with the L and R buttons reserved for changing octaves. Even those with the most dexterous of fingers will struggle here. I consider myself a competent Guitar Hero player, but anything above the Amateur difficulty setting simply had too much going on. The game crams an awful lot of notes into the smallest of intervals, and while this isn't a problem in console games, playing with the tiny DSi buttons made things virtually impossible for me.
The karaoke aspects of the game remove the need for such dexterity, simply using the DS microphone and your voice instead. Whilst doing this anywhere but the comfort of your own home will brand you a raving loony, there's actually a lot of fun to be had here. For those struggling to hit the notes, there's a voice training mode to help point out your mistakes and guide you into a musical style more appropriate for your voice.
The studio is perhaps the most interesting feature on offer, which presents a toolkit for aspiring musicians to create their own music. The basic studio offers two methods for composition: keyboard and humming. The former is just what you'd expect; a virtual keyboard that allows players to map a melody to a musical stave, and then add an appropriate accompaniment afterwards. For those adverse to the touch screen, there's also the option to hum your way to musical stardom. By humming into the DS microphone, the game will do its best to recreate the melody with an instrument of your choice. It's certainly clever stuff, but the results are a bit hit and miss. The expert studio is a serious step up from this gimmicky affair, allowing songwriters to drag and drop notes onto the stave itself, with options to tweak just about every variable you could imagine. For those who really want to create something unique, this is definitely the way to do it.
With your masterpiece recorded, it can then be uploaded via WiFi where it can be shared with the Nintendo community. The song also gets added to your own track list, where it can be played with any of the instruments used in its composition. Like all the other tracks in the game, it can also be played with friends. Jam with the Band supports eight-player jamming sessions; one player for every instrument in a song. What's more, if a friend doesn't happen to have a copy of the game, multiple players can play from a single cartridge.
If you're a rhythm action aficionado, Jam with the Band offers some serious bang for your buck. The performance modes offer a healthy portion of game on their own, but the addition of such an in-depth studio will have budding Bob Dylans entertained for hours. There's a lot of content on offer here, and although the presentation will put off those of a core disposition, the package as a whole is easy to recommend. With so many great rhythm action games in the DS' catalogue, however, Jam with the Band loses the impact it would have had five years ago. It's just a shame we couldn't have had it back in 2005.