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KORG DS-10 Plus

(XSeed Games; US: 16 Feb 2010)

How does one begin to write a review of KORG DS-10 Plus? I will not mince words: this is not a game. At all. It is an advanced piece of software for serious musicians and music producers. If you are looking for a game to teach to you synth and piano or think that this is some sort of Guitar Hero knock off, stop right now. It is not that.


As a games writer, it is difficult to evaluate something with no story, little graphical interface, and no traditional gameplay.


But KORG DS-10 Plus, while not a game, does represent a step forward for the medium. It is such a useful, advanced (for what it is) piece of software that it truly shows what can be done outside of gaming on gaming systems.


The insane success and popularity of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises have had a profound impact on the gaming landscape. By educating on the basics of a certain skill, namely the dexterity that it takes to play musical instruments, these series have opened the door for games to breakthrough as teaching tools. Very few argue that Guitar Hero will train you to become the next Hendrix, but the precedent of a game teaching you a skill (however base that training might be) has been advanced by games like it.


KORG DS-10 Plus would be the next logical step in a world where Synthesizer Hero had resulted in 20 sequels and was the granddaddy of a new multi-billion dollar trend in gaming, instead of Guitar Hero. I was immediately intrigued by the title because I had read that musicians were using it to compose songs on the road. Read that sentence again. Professional musicians were using a video game system to create music. Did the creators of Pong or Tetris ever envision a day where this might be a reality?


Think of the game not as a game but as a portable recording studio. You have the capability to create tracks, loop sounds, insert drums and other instruments, save a multitude of songs, and do nearly everything you would want to do as a musician creating something on the go. The touch screen is utilized to play the keyboard, while the top screen is the de facto mixing board. I am no musician (at least not since high school band), so the “songs” I created were very minimal but looping, recording, and placing drum tracks using the interface was simple enough.


The software’s bare-bones graphical interface with its black background and white text screams minimalism, but it is just right for the target audience: serious musicians. With a lack of any sort of tutorial, the game’s manual steps up to fill the void. Unlike modern manuals, this one is required reading, as KORG DS-10 Plus will not hold your hand in any way. There’s something to be said for this approach, as study, experimentation, and mastery of the system are encouraged.


I also found YouTube to be an enormous boon. There are countless how-to videos, ranging from the simple to pitch-perfect covers of the Mario theme, which show just how serious this software is. When there’s a video of a band using this “game” and an iPhone in place of instruments, you know it’s the real deal.


But I struggle with exactly how to recommend or not recommend this title. It is the definition of niche. It appeals only to serious musicians who not only own a DS but have the time and desire to learn how to use the software. I can’t imagine that is a very broad demographic. For non-musicians or those with little patience, there is simply nothing here for you. No gentle learning curve, friendly tutorials, or pretty interface here.


I am happy I got to experience KORG DS-10 Plus, despite not getting nearly as much out of it as is possible. It’s an exciting piece of software, especially for something like the DS, where portability is key. For musicians who also happen to be gamers, you have found a new best friend for when inspiration strikes on the subway or train. For gamers who happen to love music (or music games), be warned: KORG DS-10 Plus is composition tool, not a game.

Rating:

Jason Cook is a writer from Cleveland, Ohio. After a slew of existential crises, he adventured throughout New England and became a Master of Fine Arts in fiction. He's now reviewing music for PopMatters, The Quietus, and Resident Advisor, and writing/editing Call of Cthulhu books for Chaosium.


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