Review by discoinferno84

Reviewed: 07/10/12

Harder, better, faster, stronger...

The KORG DS-10 Synthesizer was one of the great unsung additions to the DS’s library. It wasn’t a game, but a musical creation program. Thanks to a ridiculous amount of options and editing tools, players could design some surprisingly complex and catchy tunes. It didn’t catch on, though. By the time gamers found out about it, the game had long since vanished from the store shelves. Due to the limited print run, it now nets anywhere from $40 to $200 USD online. Those prices are way too steep for a handheld title, no matter the quality of the product. Thankfully, KORG didn’t forget about its small but diehard fanbase; a little over a year after the original game debuted, it was replaced by something slightly better and far cheaper: the DS-10 Plus.

At a glance, it looks like nothing has changed. The DS-10 Plus is virtually identical to its predecessor in almost every way. It starts with a list of playable demo sessions. After uploading a blank session, you’re given an onscreen keyboard. It’s not impressive in the slightest; even if you use your fingers and the stylus, you can only play one note at a time. A closer look at the top of the screen reveals something far more interesting: the ability to change the note octaves and a sound effects menu. A little experimentation can lead to dozens of variations of kicks, snare drums, bass lines, and other additions to your original track. You could potentially spend hours messing around with the keyboard and coming up with some of the best audio the DS can play.

Somewhere along the line, you’ll accidentally hit the arrow key in the top right-hand corner. The game whisks the keyboard out of your hands and replaces it with a flow chart crammed with musical lingo and abbreviations. If you’re lucky enough to have the instruction manual handy, it’s well worth looking over; that monstrosity is nearly 60 pages long, but its descriptions are informative. If not, you get to do things the fun way and dive into the heart of the program. Rather than using a keyboard, the Synthesizer Sequencers let you edit the volume, length, and pitch of each note on a huge grid. The DS-10 Plus vastly improves on its predecessor by allowing you to alter songs as they’re playing; it makes the whole process much more efficient and accessible. If you want something a little more hand-on, the KAOSS pad lets you scribble notes randomly on the screen and produces the corresponding sounds. The Drum Sequencer complements your music with up to four additional instruments with customizable beats. Since there are two Synthesizers in a given session, it’s possible to create some incredibly complex and catchy tracks with a just a few taps of the stylus.

Things don’t get really interesting until you access the editing functions. If the regular flowchart was confusing to you, the sheer number of dials, symbols, and abbreviations will send you reeling. How are pitch and octaves related? What do porta and VCO mean? How do the attack, decay, sustain, and release features alter the track? What does a flanger do? Your painstakingly-crafted music could suddenly evolve into some headache-inducing feedback, epic riffs, and all kinds of other sounds you’d never expect to come out of the DS’s speakers. The ability to alter the swing and beats can turn even the most somber arrangements into a frenetic dancing tune. Since you can revert changes and save at any time, there’s little risk of completely botching your work. Despite this, it’s not exactly user-friendly; the layout of DS-10 Plus is identical to the original, which means you’re given everything in a bland, unapologetically complex menu without any kind of training or explanation. While this leads to more experimentation and creativity, it can also be intimidating for the less musically inclined.

The DS-10 Plus takes things a step further with the introduction of the Dual Mode. As the name implies, you’re allowed to load two sessions at the same time. The ability to toggle and edit two songs at once can yield some impressive results. The program’s audio output is instantly doubled; you’re given four synthesizers, two drum sequencers, and the capability to produce a dozen sounds simultaneously. While this is all well and good, there is one problem: it’s only available on the DSi and 3DS. If you’re still using the old brick DS (like I was, much to my chagrin), you’ll be left with what is essentially a duplicate of the original DS-10. Even with the new editing features, it can still be disappointing. That goes for the multiplayer options as well. Up to eight DS machines can be synced together to exchange sessions and create even more tracks. Unfortunately, it’s limited to only wireless multi-card communication; there’s no direct way to upload your music online or connect with other gamers. Given how other DS games (Bangai-O Spirits in particular) allow you to edit features and upload via MP3 formats, these limitations are annoying. While they work great for local recordings and impromptu ensemble performances, the DS-10 Plus hardly utilizes the DS’s connectivity to the fullest extent.

Don’t let that stop you from giving it a try, though. If you’re into music, the DS-10 Plus is a fantastic, if somewhat overlooked program. It lets you design and perfect tracks with ease, and the ability to edit your music as it is playing is a great improvement over the original version. The sheer amount of options is almost overwhelming; it might take hours of experimentation and studying to figure out how to work everything. It’s an incredibly complex and difficult program to learn, but the results are worth it. The newly-implemented Dual Mode offers tons of potential, but its functionality is limited to only the DSi or later system models. If you’re one of the last few holdouts still using a launch version…well, you’re out of luck. But if you’re even slightly curious, don’t pass up on the DS-10 Plus. You’ll be surprised at what your DS can do.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: KORG DS-10 PLUS (US, 02/16/10)

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