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Korg DS-10 Synthesizer

Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: AQ Interactive
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1, 2 - 8 (Wireless Multiplayer)
Genre: Editor/ Simulation/ Rhythm


Graphics & Sound:

XSeed's Korg DS-10 Synthesizer is not a game. Let me get that out of the way. What the Korg DS-10 Synthesizer is, however, is a pretty nice piece of musical creation software that runs on your DS, allowing you simulate a Korg music keyboard and editing suite in your pocket.

The graphics in Korg DS-10 Synthesizer are clean and functional. They are, in fact, in black and white, for the most part. Even the screens with knobs are merely in grey scale. This is, however, all that is needed, and looks quite appropriate, based on keyboards that I've used in the past.

The sound is what you're going to pick up the Korg DS-10 for, as it's a music synthesizer in software form for your DS. The good news is that the sound is not only good, but is ridiculously editable. You can shape and form the tonal quality in a number of ways, from the KAOSS Pad feature to adjusting the ASDR envelope and waveform type to even messing around with a Patch Panel. I have to say, this is more that I was expecting.


Gameplay:

Open up the Korg DS-10 and behold the power of a music studio, in the palm of your hand. Well, to some extent. It should be readily apparent that you're not going to be ready to begin taking jobs scoring films with this or performing in concerts, for that matter, but the DS-10 does a pretty good job of simulating a Korg sequencing keyboard with KAOSS functionality. Consider this a nice tool for getting familiar with sequencing and editing concepts as well as a great tool for "jotting down" musical pieces that occur to you when you're far away from your studio.

The DS-10 gives you two synthesizer sequencers, each with customizable sound envelopes, editable tone, KAOSS Pad free-form sound manipulation, and synthesizer patch panels, allowing you to really go wild with your sound - or, simply fine-tune your sound to get exactly what you're looking for.

In addition to the two synths, you get four channels of drums, to give you more backup than just a click-track. These drums can be edited tonally, as well, with their own edit screen.

Once you've got your synths and drums sounding like you want them to, you can apply effects, use the Mixer to position and balance the various sounds, and record your songs. Recording songs with the sequencer is done piece-by-piece. First you record small pieces, known as "Patterns" in the Pattern Editor. Then, you can go into the Song Editor and create your song by "painting" it with these patterns. You can't adjust the length of the patterns, offset when they come in or play multiple patterns at the same time, but, for simple songs, the Song Editor does a pretty decent job. If you prefer, you can play DJ and fire off your patterns by hand in the Pattern screen. Turning the "Lock" feature off lets you free-style a bit, by starting at any time you like, while turning the "Lock" feature on makes the music play more like it would in Song mode; once a pattern starts, it will play until that pattern finishes and a different pattern has been selected.

Multiplayer Mode requires that you have friends with a DS and DS-10 in close proximity and certain things are controlled solely by the Host, while everyone can still play notes. This is not likely to get as much use as the other Multiplayer feature, however. The second, and more likely to be used, feature is the Data Exchange feature, which allows you to share music that you've created with other players who have DS-10.


Difficulty:

The Korg DS-10 is complex. There are a lot of variations - some subtle, some not-so-subtle - that you are given control over while creating your masterpieces. To give you an idea of the available complexity, the manual is a thick fifty-five pages, all in English. You'll want to at least skim through this manual and familiarize yourself with some of the things the DS-10 can do before getting too deep into playing around with it, so you don't get lost.

The main screen that helps you find everything is the Map screen (detailed on page 18 and 19 of the manual). This has a lot of labeled boxes, connected with lines that roughly show the progression of different steps (and editors you can use) in the process of creating music, from creating sequences through to special audio effects that you can apply to your music: Chorus, Flanger and Delay... and finally to making and saving your own Songs.

One really innovative tool that is available in Korg DS-10 is the KAOSS Pad interface. This tool uses most of the screen as a sort of "canvas" upon which you can shape sounds and even create music with the wave of your stylus. This is not just something made up for the DS game, either, mind you - the KAOSS Pad is actually a musical interface and music manipulation device that you can buy from Korg. The cool thing about this interface is it allows people to play with sound much more intuitively than using the keyboard. Any real musician would need to learn the scales and how to play keys, but using the KAOSS Pad might just provide that spark of interest and creativity that gets someone interested in learning to play piano and, once they've learned to play the keyboards, they just might find themselves returning to the KAOSS Pad for its ability to modify sounds in a sort of live-version-of-post-processing way. Think of it as on-the-fly editing for musical tone... or whatever other sound aspects you want to set it to modify.

If you have no idea how to create music, the KAOSS Pad might be the thing for you... or you might simply not be ready for the Korg DS-10 Synthesizer.


Game Mechanics:

I played Korg DS-10 Synthesizer on an original version DS and a newer DS Lite and I found something a bit odd. It seemed to play just fine in the original DS, but the mapping of the keys on the keyboard screen was off a bit when I was using the DS Lite. I don't know why this is, but it seemed that the keys in the center of the screen were fine and as you went to the left or right, the registration got worse and worse... attempting to play the next-to-outermost keys would actually play the outermost keys. This was an issue when I was just playing around on the keyboard, but I find that when I actually went to record something, I was more likely to use the Pattern Editor, rather than to actually use the small on-screen keyboard. The Pattern Editor seemed to be a little off, as well, when played on a DS Lite, but it didn't seem to be as bad.

Other than this weirdness, the only complaint I would have about the DS-10 is the fact that it could make a complete monkey out of me. It offers the ability to switch the screen locations between the two screens, letting you use the stylus to select items from the Map screen, if you like. If the Map screen is on the top screen, you can use the D-pad to select things, but if you hit the left shoulder button, it will swap the screens, letting you use your stylus to select things on the Map screen on the lower display. This ability inevitably gets me to some point when there's something I want to tap on in the upper display screen... and so I try. I know that the top screen is not a touch screen. I followed the specs before it came out and tried it out at E3 before it was released. I know. I know. I know... BUT, I had used the stylus on that exact same item earlier (when it was on the bottom screen), and it had worked. I feel so stupid. Pick up DS-10, and it will get you, too. I don't really have a suggestion on how to fix this... and it seems to make perfect sense... just, "Argh!" No points were lost due to this issue. I merely had to share this with you. Okay. I can move on...

Making music can be fun and rewarding, both mentally and, at times, financially. While I don't think that we're likely to see a lot of rock stars joining bands playing the DS-10 exclusively, it is quite conceivable that keyboardists might use it to jot down ideas while they're on their tour buses or otherwise not near their studios. It's also not a bad way to introduce novice piano players to some of the interesting tonal manipulation that keyboards allow. However, playing music isn't for everyone and the Korg DS-10 isn't a game, so this title is not for everyone. Anyone who's not sure if the DS-10 is for them should probably rent it first. I would think that after a few hours of playing around with it, you should know if it's something you can't live without or if you should have rented something else.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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