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Just JAM - WiiWare Review

Game Info
Just JAM

WiiWare | Zivix / Big John Games | 1 Player | Nintendo Wi-fi Connection Pay & Play DLC available | Out Now (North America) | 500 Nintendo Points
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (pointer); Wii Remote and Nunchuk
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26th August 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

It's a good thing that Just JAM came out now instead of a few months back. Had it released close to when Mix Superstar did, there would have been some fierce competition between the two. But now that Digital Leisure has had more than their share of fame, Big John Games has teamed up with Zivix (developers of JAM Party) to bring this WiiWare-exclusive into the hands of aspiring DJ's. Even with an adequate feature list, it was obvious to me that Just JAM just wouldn't be able to take away what Digital Leisure worked hard to secure. Still, even if you're obsessed with Mix Superstar months after its release, Just JAM may be worth your time.

    Booting up the game for the first time, you'll begin by creating a profile for yourself to keep your jams and overall progress separate from anyone else who uses Just JAM. From the Main Menu, your choices include Jam, Your Performances, Tutorials, Profiles, Options and Add-On Content. I should mention that the cursor sometimes lags as you make selections, but I suppose it's not that big of a deal. The main reason for having profiles is to keep track of how much XP you accumulate over time, earned by creating jams and remixing ones you've already created. XP is tied to an unlock system that will make more songs and venues available for use, which is a great way of trying to extend content through repeated plays.

    Understanding Just JAM's inner workings won't come naturally. Quite a bit of time will be spent just playing through Tutorials so that you can have a good foundation for all that this application offers. And this is one area where, right away, Just JAM puts itself in a disadvantaged state when placed back-to-back with Mix Superstar. But more on that in a bit. For now, let's get into how it all works.

    The first thing to note is that there are two systems put in place here: Mixing Board and Freestyle. In both cases, you have a series of loops or clips that represent different elements of the respective song. Along the top is a box that contains a timer that lasts for the song duration specified at the start (one to five minutes, or an unlimited amount), how much XP you've earned, and a wheel with a small circle inside that moves to the speed of the music. At each measure, the circle will light up to help you with timing your transitions carefully. Inside this box, you'll also find quick access to the Pause Menu and a Fade button to close off your jams as time winds down. 

    With the Mixing Board, you essentially have a series of circular icons holding clips that can be activated with the A Button. Each of these are lined up in an organized fashion by the instrument type, including drums, guitar, synth, piano, vocals and sound effects. The selection you have available to you depends on the song you select. Along the left side of the mixing board are buttons that will activate an entire row of clips simultaneously, or you can select the icons at the top to activate an entire column. If a clip is already active when either button is selected, then the active track(s) will be de-activated while all others get played. 

    Using the Plus and Minus Buttons on the Wii Remote, you can mark clip with activation and de-activation tags where the effects will only play out with a shake of the Wii Remote. As an optional measure, you can switch the directives around by holding Z and swinging down on the Nunchuk. The B Button acts like the memory button on a calculator, remembering the last tag you used on a particular clip and tagging it with the opposite one. To clear them all, you press the C Button on the Nunchuk.

Now as for Freestyle, while the categories are still there, the layout and control is different. Instead of pointing with the Wii Remote's pointer and using the A Button as the primary means of activating clips, you instead make use of the Nunchuk. What you have are circular sections where clips are arranged in a pattern that matches the five directions on the Analog Stick, including the central/neutral position. To highlight the clips you want, you must first select the respective instrument and then proceed to move and hold the Analog Stick in one of the four directions. By moving it diagonally, you can activate two clips at once, and by holding Z, you can also highlight the center clip. When you're ready to have them play out, you swing the Nunchuk downwards. 

    Each tutorial is lengthy and, furthermore, do not really lend themselves to having players remember all the finer points. There is lots to remember in the way of transitioning and clip activations, not to mention the advanced techniques you can employ to give your jam a more authentic feel. In addition, I personally found the setup for Freestyle mode wasn't very intuitive. Put all of this together and you'll quickly discover that Just JAM isn't very accessible. For a greater grasp on the system, you'll have to experiment on your own, and in this environment, it can be quite intimidating. 

While songs play, visualizers will play in the background specific to the venue you selected from the Main Menu. They may not be interactive, but their intensity all depends on the amount of clips you have active at a given time. Not all of them look great, mind you, but they do get the job done in making things a little more lively. With respect to the quality of the clips themselves, I thought they sounded pretty good, if not great. While the sound effects aren't too interesting on the whole, the voiceovers work surprisingly well and, if I may say so, are often superior to some of the ones I remember from Mix Superstar

    The game comes included with 16 different tracks, each featuring 25 clips to toy around with. Once you start feeling in the mood for a new song, you can purchase one of the DLC tracks from the Add-On Content menu. Each song is priced at 100 Wii Points which isn't a bad deal, but since you're essentially getting 25 clips, it's hard to compare this with Mix Superstar's more satisfying DLC purchases. Still, there are a few that may be worth buying, like the track 'Who I Am' which sounds great in my opinion. To listen to song samples prior to purchasing, you'll need to visit the Nintendo Channel or Big John Games' website. 

I found 
Just JAM to be slightly more relaxing than Mix Superstar. There's some progression to be experienced here as well, to the point where, after many tries of using similar techniques, you can create something that sounds like you know what you're doing without having it sound messy. But that's where I stop saying this game does better. 

    In Mix Superstar, you could identify what certain clips sounded like through their naming and unfortunately, you don't have that luxury here. Instead, you have to commit the placement of clips to memory which isn't easy when you have so many songs to choose from. So that's something I definitely missed. Plus, the overall number of possibilities just isn't nearly as expansive -- it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that. And finally, when it comes to track sharing, the export features only allow you to take your jams to a friend's version of the application, not to your computer.  

    If this was a contest between the likes of Just JAM and Mix SuperstarJust JAM would definitely lose. Value and accessibility were key factors behind the success of Digital Leisure's music application, so to see Just JAM come up short in these two areas isn't exactly a surprise. However, Just JAM's good-quality audio is its main strength, and with an experience-point system to encourage replay value for weeks to come, it's a pretty good buy for $5. 

23/30 - Good

Functionality 7/10 - Not very accessible but definitely workable, organization and controls work once you understand how they work
Presentation 7/10 - Audio feedback is great, Freestyle setup isn't intuitive, not all of the visualizers are appealing
Lasting Appeal 5/5 - Features a system that makes you work for new songs, different creations you can make using the same songs, relaxing and enjoyable
Value 4/5 - Not as expansive as Mix Superstar but it can still hold its own, downloadable content is good to have but it also can't compete with Mix Superstar

Equivalent to a score of 77% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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