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JAM Live Music Arcade (XBLA) Review

JAM Live Music Arcade gives you a good excuse to dust off your plastic guitar and jam out!

Oh hi, reader! I did’t see you there. You’re probably asking, what is that strange and wonderful thing that you see me sitting in. Believe it or not, it’s a figurative time machine! It will take us back to eras when the world was completely different. We can witness the birthing of brilliant ideas, taken for granted today, but unimaginable then! Join me, will you? Let us set the machine to the time when the video game industry was quite different…

That’s right, we’re going all the way back… to 2008.

During the cold and blustery holiday shopping season of 2008, one could walk into a video game retail store, throw a rock, and hit somebody who was buying a copy of Guitar Hero World Tour or Rock Band 2, or maybe even both. While both franchises had been around for while, Guitar Hero moreso, it wasn’t until 2008 when the competition ramped up and both franchises really pushed the social gaming element of the music genre, where you to and your friends could become a full band, all in the comfort of your living room.

Music games were all the rage, and it continued into 2009. Guitar Hero and Rock Band were seeing weekly downloadable songs releases. There were brand new retail releases, like Green Day and Metallica for the Guitar Hero franchise, and the much-anticipated Beatles title for Rock Band.

But like the old adage goes, “Too much of a good thing is bad.” The market became oversaturated with Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles, plastic guitar and band kit bundles were taking up precious shelf and floor space, and just like that, the music genre was no more.

When I was first told about JAM Live Music Arcade, I was immediately skeptical. If huge dinosaur franchises like Guitar Hero and Rock Band couldn’t sustain themselves, how could a smaller, unproven intellectual property expect to survive?

JAM Live Music Arcade doesn’t try to be another Rock Band or Guitar Hero title. While the game encourages you to dust off and use plastic guitar controller from yesteryear, this isn’t a “guitar game”.

In JAM Live, you play more of the producer role, creating the music rather than simply playing along. The music you create is separated into different groups, like drums, vocals, synthesizers, melody, and bass. Each group has five individual tracks, and like a light switch, activating or deactivating those tracks will alter the overall sound of your music.

Like I stated earlier, the game encourages you to use the guitar controller, as the layout of the track groupings matches the fret board of the guitar controller and makes the game easier to play, but it is possible to play the game with a standard controller (specifically the Xbox 360 controller, in this case).

You activate grouping by highlighting the group’s color (or button label) on the controller and strumming up. Once you’ve selected a group, you can then hold down the color/button label of any, or all, five individual tracks, on the controller and strum down. This will turn on the tracks within that grouping making your music come to life, and have a much richer sound.

It does take awhile to get the feel for the controls, despite whether you’re using the guitar controller or a standard controller. My biggest problem was accidentally deactivating tracks, when I attempting to switch between groups, from bass to guitars, for example. After mastering the 5 Jam challenges, and experimenting with various songs, I felt pretty confident with my mastery over the controls.

JAM Live is more of a music sandbox application rather than a game, but does contain an arcade mode which plays a bit like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. This mode, however, is locked until you master game’s basic and advanced challenges. More on this mode in a bit.

Even in the sandboxy Jam mode, you are awarded points having some sort of musical semblance and not being a complete knucklehead. For example, activating new tracks to coincide with the music’s rhythm will earn you points. The more points you earn, will unlock new music tracks, and earn you an appropriate bronze, silver, or gold medal. In the Jam mode, the game is casual in its execution, and as long as you keep changing things up and keeping with the rhythm, you can gold medal every song without trouble.

You can also record your creations and play them back (and earn and achievement for doing both).

The Jam Live Music Arcade arcade mode as a more goal-oriented, Guitar Hero or Rock Band, flair to it, where you are required to activate the proper grouping(s) and individual tracks as visual cues scroll up the screen. If you don’t have a guitar controller, the arcade mode is going to be very difficult to play, as you’ll be required to quickly react to the changes in the music.

JAM Live comes with 32 tracks and most of the artists seem to have a underground feel to them. Okay, okay, maybe I’m not exactly “down with” what “the kids” are listening to “on their MTVs” today. And I’m sure my 13-year-old grits his teeth and covers his ears when I play my old thyme-y music on the car’s radio box as we’re driving around town. I’ve heard of the artists from the JAM Live’s tracks, like Fall Out Boy, Filter, and Modest Mouse, but the other artists, quite frankly, may have been around since the days of Lynyrd Skynyrd, but they’re completely new to me.

All joking aside, all of the tracks are quite enjoyable to play around with. I happened to enjoy playing around with the faster, up-tempo tracks the most. The music sounds great, and if you have a decent sound system in your entertainment center, make sure to crank up the volume while playing.

There is a menu option for downloadable content, but as of this review, there was nothing available to download.

JAM Live Music Arcade is available on the Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Network for $10. I really enjoyed the casual, sandboxy approach of the jam mode, creating sounds that made me sort of feel like a bad-ass DJ.

If you’re curious to know more about the game, check out the interview with Brutal Gamer’s Amy Nelson and Zivix, the JAM Live’s developer.

Final Thoughts:

Like an aging rockstar who has been called back into action, it’s probably been awhile since you last picked-up and played your Rock Band or Guitar Hero plastic guitar. Developer Zivix gives a pretty compelling argument as to why you should do so with JAM Live Music Arcade.

JAM Live focuses more of the producer/track mixing element of music, making you feel like you’re creating music, rather than simply wielding a guitar and playing along with the song.

In an age where the music genre has come and gone, JAM Live Music Arcade gives you a good reason to go back, even if it’s just for awhile. I highly recommend it, and you get quite a lot for only $10. At the very least download the trial version on the Xbox Live Marketplace and give it a whirl!

About Troy

Troy is the Features Editor at Brutal Gamer. When he's not writing about or playing video games, he's enjoying life with his wife and children. He also loves coffee. And lots of it.

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