Jam Sessions strums a mini masterpiece

Jam Sessions DSTo call Jam Sessions for the DS a game does is a disservice.

It is contained in the charcoal plastic covering of a game, yes, and has the copper-colored connectors that are a marquee feature of all cartridges since the days of the Commodore 64, sure, but this particular foray into the DS’s now exhaustive library is indeed a toy in every sense of the word.

However, Jam Sessions is not a toy in the negative sense; not at all. It is not some lead-laden Made in China Thomas the Tank Engine toy that will poison your body and heighten your sense of buyer’s remorse for plunking down 30 clams ten minutes after you tear open the packaging. It’s a toy in the sense that when you play it, it is in bursts that are far shorter than any cas-core game you’ve played in the past. Indeed, if you choose to invest in the quirkiness of Jam Sessions, I’ll bet serious money that you’ll open it from time to time — during one of the plethora of Nissan Rogue commercials played during a Monday evening screening of Heroes, perhaps — strum a few chords randomly, and then put it away.

The strumming mechanism, portrayed as a large, coiled pseudo-guitar string, is placed front and center on the DS’s tiny touch screen. It catches even the fastest of your Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel fueled plucks, and is sensitive enough to know the difference between soft and loud. The direction of your strum also has realistic effects; strum down and it’s a powerful sounding chord; strum up and things get a little more intimate and coy, like a promiscuous geisha if geisha played rhythm guitar.

The various major chords are mapped to the directional pad, and when you get tired of those simply hold the left shoulder button and marvel at the flatness and haunting tone of the minor chords. And worry not about cramped hands or the deadly gamer’s claw: the Jam Sessions tutorial tells you exactly how to hold the DS for maximum jamming experiences. The oft-neglected pinky finger, a vestigial organ in every sense of the word as far as game controllers are concerned, is given new life in Jam Sessions. I’m actually surprised other companies haven’t included similar gripping instructions in their past stylus-heavy affairs (Metroid Prime Hunters, I’m looking at you).

Interested parties should take note that this is not the kind of title that will make them a guitar playing hero, or the leader of some rock band. It is a rhythm guitar simulator that sounds exactly like a rhythm guitar. There are no final bosses; Gene Simmons does not leap from the background to challenge you one-on-one to a crunchy rendition of the Devil Came Down to Georgia. There aren’t even tests or levels of progression. Dr. Kawashima doesn’t greet you with each new session to quiz you about what kinds of strings Bob Dylan threw on his guitar when he went electric. When you “play along” with songs there isn’t even a progress report or grade. At the conclusion of the poorly played song an asexual Slippy the Frog doesn’t “check in” to inform you that Falco “didn’t quite make it through the asteroid belt.”

Nope, none of that at all. If Jam Sessions were part of a legitimate band, it would be the part that doesn’t get chicks and whose head is all you see in the band’s promotional material and album covers. That said, it is a necessary part. It is the glue that plays its instrument perfectly and reliably every time. Replay value is infinite, so long as you stay interested in rhythm guitar, and there are a number of tweaks and effects you can add to your sound for a truly original experience. You can even record your “original works” for future playback although, like Guitar Hero, having an air guitar that actually makes sound does not a professional guitar player make (note I said sound there, and not music). Expect animals to howl as you pluck away at Nirvana’s rendition of The Man Who Sold the World, but also expect to enjoy doing it. Again, you might not even finish the song before you close that clamshell case, but that’s exactly the point of something like this. There is no point, no end, no goal other than to enjoy yourself for a few minutes each day. You will get what you put in, so I guess the only “opponent” in Jam Sessions is you.

If you’re looking for a literal pick me up and play game simulator, then Jam Sessions fits the bill. I recommend some kind of amplifier (supposedly there’s a pack-in coming in November for $60-70) so you can complete the rebel makeover experience and really piss of your folks, because that emo crap is so 2006. It’s also lame and a temporary phase, something which Jam Sessions, thankfully, is not.