IGN Preview of Hannah Montana: Music Jam
If you're reading this right now you're either a 14 year old girl, a really bored gamer during E3, or word of mouth has spread already for Hannah Montana: Music Jam. We know the score (after all, we live it, right): Licensed games suck, kids games suck, and girls games definitely suck. Since Hannah Montana could effectively be put in each of these categories, we'd normally assume a total train wreck of horrible gameplay and a lack of true game design. Quite the contrary this time, as Hannah Montana 2 has enough gameplay to satisfy even the most hardcore music gamer.
Forget about the pink backdrops, the pre-teen approved box art, and the licensing agreements; Hannah Montana is the real deal in the world of videogame music. The game takes a music-based license and fulfills what fans of the show would want, but goes entirely rouge from the licensed paradigm and delivers some seriously intelligent musical gameplay. With a new rock star in town, Hannah Montana is out to prove her teen stardom by competing in an online rock back competition. The catch; everyone needs to play their own instruments, so it's time to learn drums, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and bass.
Hannah Montana's gameplay is surprisingly intuitive and impressive, as you'll take control of each of the four instruments in a somewhat Guitar Hero-like manor. When playing strings, notes fall down the neck of the guitar (starting on the top screen) and then come into play on the bottom screen. Each will have a D-pad direction to hold, in conjunction with a timed strum of the stylus across the virtual strings. Play the right notes, and you'll score big. Players can also make use of the whammy bar as well, also scoring huge when notes are held. Sound familiar?
Where the game really shows its true colors, however, is in the music creation mode. Due to the size of the DS cart there are only a few available songs with each instrument. With the song creation tool, however, players can lay down their own tracks layer by layer. Everything from guitar distortion to nearly a dozen different chord sets (each with 15 notes in their chord) and palm-mutes are in play, as you literally start up the metronome, select an instrument, hit record, and game with authentic guitar chords and musical progression. During the songs you can strum, finger-pick, play a full drum kit with bass, snare, toms, high-at, and the like to create fully-original content. As another helpful tool, bass and lead guitar follow the same chord progression of the rhythm guitar track, so even if you're new to chord progression or music in general you can still make music that sounds good. Once finished, just name your song, select the next layer, and build on it as the part you played streams live during the next recording session. It works, and despite having our manhood at stake right now, we'll admit it's a ton of fun; the truth must be told.
In addition to single player music creation, Hannah Montana also includes a multiplayer jam session as well. You'll need four copies of the game to do it, but you can have up to three other friends connect wirelessly and record full tracks of music on the fly by each playing a specific instrument. We tried this mode, and it was extremely quick to get into, and a blast to play as well. I manned the drums while guitar was handled by another member of our band, and we laid down a track together. Once finished, the song was saved to the game cart for future playback.
Along with all the guitar playing there's a core game to Hannah Montana that brings more of the licensed experience into play. Fans of the show can travel through an open-world 3D environment, outfitting their star and living the life of a true teen rocker. This section wasn't playable during today's demo, but it sounds like a significant improvement from last year's 2D-based gameplay. There are seven mini-games as well, with everything from R.C. car racing to pizza making, so there seems to be no shortage of depth overall. Also included in the game pack is a video creation mode that can be applied to any user-created songs, so you'll outfit your characters, film the performance, set up lighting and visual effects, and create an entire uniquely-made video for your music.
Hannah Montana: Music Jam is definitely one of those games that sets the bar for licensed titles. Pink backdrops and teeny-bopper iconography may not be your thing, but that doesn't change the fact that the game has an impressive design, some solid gameplay, and is showing a ton of promise as one of DS's first serious music games. We'd put it right up there with Ubisoft's Jam Sessions - in many ways it's better - with the only downside of the game (at least for hardcore gamers) being the license it's married to. If Disney Interactive Media is a fan of money, they'll start work on an original DS guitar game combining the already-made gameplay with a more mature and "hardcore-friendly" packaging, as Hannah Montana has a ton of solid elements, but will be limited by its licensed coating. Still, Hannah Montana: Music Jam defies what it means to be a "licensed" game; props thus far.
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