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JAM Live Music Arcade preview – Giving your plastic guitar a new purpose

Taking on the “full ensemble” style of music games in this day and age would be a farce, thanks to Rock Band’s dominance over the plastic instrument industry. Developer Zivix recognizes that mimicking other games can only go so far – that’s why their upcoming release puts one would-be musician in charge of all the elements of playing a track.

It sounds complicated, but it's not so bad – everything’s controlled with a single guitar peripheral, with each colored fret controlling a line in the song, like bass, percussion, and vocals. Instead of controlling the timing of individual notes, strumming will activate or deactivate any given instrument for that track, down to the individuals “stems” (looped melodies) that the given instrument produces. Okay, so it’s a little complicated – but one you fiddle around with it and breeze through a few tutorials, it all comes together.

The game’s Arcade mode follows the tried-and-true Guitar Hero formula of timing instrument loops in accordance with colorful scrolling – but we saw far more value in the JAM mode, which lets you arrange songs in a freeform remix. Crafting your own rendition of Modest Mouse’s “Float On” is pretty dang cool – you get the chance to hear each element of the song on its own, if you so choose, or make an ungodly mix of clashing tracks to the point of the song being unrecognizable. It's all in the name of experimentation.

It’s strictly a single-player game, which is a bit jarring for a rhythm title – but there are upsides to giving one aspiring maestro all the power. Given that JAM is like a musical sandbox of sorts, it’s the kind of game you can leave running at a party, so that inquisitive guests can have fun DJing their own mixes in the background. The price is right, too, - for $10, you’ll get 32 songs to tool around with, though we only recognized two or three of the tracks.

Less a game and more of a fun toy, JAM Live Music Arcade’s worth checking out if you fancy yourself a latent musician that could get some fun out of remixing songs with ease. It’ll hit XBLA and PSN this week – give it a look if you’re in the mood for a different kind of music game.

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