KORG DS-10 Synthesizer
Review by discoinferno84
"Our work is never over..."
I've come to a sad, disturbing realization: I have no musical talent whatsoever. None. Nada. That's what occurred to me after tinkering with the KORG DS-10 Synthesizer for a few hours. Harnessing its full potential is beyond me. It's not a game; there are no pre-loaded songs to play, no rhythm-based challenges, or anything else remotely resembling gameplay. It's a music-making program based directly on KORG's famous instruments. Rather than awkwardly tapping notes on a real keyboard, you can use the stylus to design your own songs. An unusual concept, but it works well. Almost too well, to be honest. There are tons of options and features, which can be overwhelming at first glance. Especially if you have no idea what you're doing. Creating music isn't difficult, though. The trick is learning how to use all of the tools you've been given.
It starts with a list. There are 18 selectable sessions (and two pre-made demos in case you're in desperate need of inspiration) that act as save files for your music tracks. After you've chosen a session, you'll be presented with an on-screen keyboard. It's hardly impressive; you can only play one note at a time, which hinders you from playing more complex pieces. The buttons above the keyboard are the real prize. There are options for changing the octaves, playing a simple drum beat to accompany your music, and an impressive selection of extra sound effects. You can have notes ranging anywhere from snare drums and bass lines to thunder effects and ringing telephones. With so many ways to approach it, you might waste hours just messing with the keyboard
Until you hit the arrow button.
That tiny, harmless little icon will plunge you into the dark depths of the DS-10. Your trusty keyboard will be replaced with a complex flowchart and bunch of words that, if you're not well-versed in music lingo, make no sense whatsoever. You could dig out the manual (which is surprisingly detailed), or do it the fun way by pressing buttons randomly and seeing what happens. You'll likely stumble across the Synthesizer 1 Sequencer first, which allows you to set notes on a grid as opposed to tapping them onto the keyboard. You can set everything from the octave, volume, and everything else by just running your stylus over the screen. But if you prefer something a little less rigid, you can use the Kaoss Pad screen to randomly scribble notes while adjusting the keys, pitch, and other features. That also goes for the Drum Synthesizer, which blends four drum sets into the main track. Not only do these features utilize the touch screen well, but they're easy to use as well.
But if you think the sheer amount of options is staggering (and it is), you'll be left gaping at the editing features. The screen is covered with nothing but dials, symbols, and abbreviated words. Do you know what VCO stands for? There's a whole screen devoted it. What does porta mean? Or sustain, level, decay, release, and attack, for that matter? Depending on the ways you tweak everything, your simple tune might gain some earsplitting feedback, lengthy riffs, and all kinds of stuff that give a whole new spin on your music. Not to mention all of the ways you can screw around with the drums; you'll get bleeps, rumbles, and everything in between. Even the swing and beats per minute can be altered, which can turn even the most melancholic music into a feverishly fast arrangement. If you don't know what you're doing, you'll probably end up approaching each option trial and error style. By the time you've gotten past the Mixing and FX menus, you'll have created either a complete monstrosity or a catchy tune.
It's ironic, in way. The DS-10 sports some of the most extensive and complex features you'll find on the DS, but it has one of the simplest designs. It's supposed to mimic a real KORG synthesizer, nothing more. It's all business. There are no fancy menus or flashy graphics; the entire screen is crammed with buttons and switches. Everything is either black, white, or gray. That's it. A machine, not a toy. The most lively thing you'll ever get is the little red light that indicates that you're recording. It looks more like a dashboard than a gaming interface. Combined with the steep learning curve, the stale, non-apologetic layout might intimidate newcomers. But considering how much effort went into crafting this awesome program, the accurate, no-frills design is much appreciated.
Besides, you're not going to play this for some jaw-dropping visual effects. You'll be too busy rocking out on the multiplayer to care about anything else. Up to eight people can use the program in tandem, which leads to some awesome jam sessions. The problem is that everyone has to have their own game card to participate. That can be kind of limiting, considering how hard it is to find the DS-10. You can also transfer songs to other gamers' systems, but even that only goes so far. It would have been better had there been more ways to record and share music. A few DS games (Bangai-O Spirits comes to mind) let you upload content by converting data into MP3 format. There are other ways to distribute your music, but having supporting features would have made things far less of a hassle. It's not some huge oversight, but it would have made the DS-10 a truly complete package.
That doesn't mean KORG made a half-assed program. Nowhere close to that. The DS-10 is one of the most extensive and well-crafted titles on the DS. It lets you design your own tunes from the ground up, granting you the freedom to tweak it however you see fit. The sheer amount of sounds, options, and effects is mind-boggling. You're in full control, down the simplest drum beat. Figuring out every last detail is a lengthy and complicated ordeal, but hearing the final product makes it all worth it. Its appeal is kind of limited, though; unless you're really into the process of making songs, you might find getting into this a daunting process. But if you're creative and love music, this is easily one of the best titles you can pick up. If someone as musically inept as I am can make something decent, chances are you'll come up with something great.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/19/10
Game Release: KORG DS-10 Synthesizer (US, 11/04/08)
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