If you’re interested in writing, producing or even performing your own music then the 3DS is rapidly becoming an excitingly innovative and handy little tool to own. Earlier this month I had the privilege of reviewing ‘KORG DSN-12’, a sequencer with a combination of features for creating your own electronic synthesized tracks which I was extremely impressed with. It never occurred to me that the current generation’s answer to the Game Boy would be capable of running such a user friendly and comprehensive piece of music software. Well, it turns out that ‘KORG DSN-12’ isn’t going to be a one hit wonder for the system as software company ‘Softegg’ has now released another fantastic program onto the 3DS market, ‘Rhythm Core Alpha 2’.
‘Rhythm Core Alpha 2’ is a synthesizer & sequencer which allows users to create their own compositions by building loops (referred to here as ‘blocks’) which consist of percussions elements and synthesized melodies. These can then be arranged into what the program refers to as ‘patterns’ to create complete music tracks.
What’s unique about ‘Rhythm Core Alpha 2’ over other pieces of commercial music software is that it appears to make a conscious effort to appeal to the gaming community. This is achieved by including sounds which are associated with ‘chip tune’ music such as a selection of 8 bit samples and a pool of sounds labelled as “Colour 64”. I suspect that the sounds dubbed “Colour 64” or C64 may be an infringement friendly attempt to include Commodore 64 style sounds.
When you begin a new project you are taken to the ‘Block’ screen which is the main interface screen and allows you to do an incredible amount of work all in one place. With most sequencers you normally have to access a separate screen to build up each element such as a drum beat, a clap, a hi hat, a keyboard melody, a string section etc. Once you’ve created the various elements you can then arrange them into a sequence. However with the ‘block’ menu you can create a 12 layer percussion section and write the tunes and melodies for several instruments all in the one place using an extremely useful colour code system.
If tapping out the individual notes isn’t your style then you can perform & record each section using either the ‘Solo’ or ‘Drum’ interfaces on the touch screen. There is a selection of different interfaces to choose from such as the ‘8 Way Solo’ for easily recording harmonised chords, a selection of ‘piano keyboards’, a ‘large finger playable’ mode & finally a traditional 12 pad drum machine.
For each ‘block’ you create you can load a selection of different instruments and tones from a wide range. One little problem I had with the loading system was that I couldn’t preview the sounds before loading them. As a result I ended up having to load several different sounds at a time in order to test each one out.
Once you have built a selection of blocks you can arrange them into a full composition using the ‘Pattern’ system. This is essentially a list that you can create stating in which order each block is played, replayed, looped and you can even adjust which key each block is preformed in. This program is so user friendly that I actually didn’t require a user guide as I was able to work out the majority of the functionality for myself. The only time this didn’t work out was when I wanted to perform my blocks in the pattern I had created. I assumed that to play your track in a pattern you had to start the music from the pattern screen. It turned out that there was actually a small button on the block menu that I was supposed to press labelled PAT.RUN. It took me a while to work it out but I got there in the end and before long my first full composition was being played back to me.
As well as being able to produce authentic retro sounding tracks there are a lot of impressive extra features which puts ‘Rhythm Core Alpha 2’ ahead of rival programs. Not only is the interface extremely easy to get to grips with but if you do get stuck there is a lot of fantastic support in place to help you either get started or overcome any hiccups you may experience. As well as an onboard help file there is a nice clear annotated PDF file on the Rhythm Core Alpha web site. If that wasn’t enough there’s also a series of videos on Rhythm Core Alpha’s YouTube channel and around a dozen onboard demo tracks which you can load up and have a play around with.
Another feature which I’ve not experienced in a music program before is the ability to change the chord progression on the fly using the trigger buttons and D-pad. This gives you some flexibility should you want to remix or rearrange you composition a little while playing it back.
If you have home production software on your PC then Rhythm Core Alpha 2 can offer you more than just sequencing on your 3DS. Once you have made your composition the program has a variety of options to export your work as a MIDI sequence to your SD card, which you can then transfer to most mainstream music packages. This can be very useful as it allows you to work on tracks and ideas while you are on the move which you can properly implement and master in your home studio later on.
One final little criticism worth noting is that as the ‘block’ interface packs so much onto one screen the cells that you need to touch with your stylus are so small that I often ended up accidentally selecting neighboring cells by mistake. It’s not a major issue but it was a problem the reoccurred quite a bit.
Overall I really like this program. The user friendly working environment makes it very suitable for newcomers, it’s extremely affordable for the amount of functionality it includes & the focus on retro chip tune sounds is refreshingly welcome.
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