Publisher: EIDOS Interactive
Developer: Definitive Studios
N Amer - 06/26/2007
First, let me make one thing clear: Traxxpad is not a game. It has no story, no characters, no enemies, and no environments to explore. It also has no objectives or rewards, at least not in the traditional video-game sense of the words. So, what is Traxxpad then? It is a full-fledged music application. Instead of building characters you’ll be building beats or songs, and instead of saving the world you’ll be saving and exporting your compositions to share with your friends.
But does it work?
It works incredibly well. At your disposal are four modules and more than 1,000 samples to choose from to piece together your compositions. Of course, as is usual with software of this type, all this power comes with a rather steep learning curve. A bit of patience and dedication is required because there are so many different menus and screens that you may not know where to even start and feel that you aren’t getting anything done. Luckily, the manual includes a short quick-start guide that is easy to follow, so you will be making your own basic beats after about an hour or two of experimentation.
The four modules include the R.T.I.S.T., MeLOD, S.T.A.C. and MyXxer modules. The R.T.I.S.T. module is where most of your time will likely be spent. It is used to create the basic sequences that will be the framework of your compositions. You simply choose which sound bank you want to use, each of which contains eight samples or “tracks” which are sounded by pressing the PSP’s face buttons. You then use the face buttons to place dots on the game’s digital timeline display representing when they will sound in relation to each other. The display is split into beats and measures so you know what you’re putting where. If this all sounds complicated, don’t worry. It is actually rather easy to do with a bit of practice.
The MeLOD module is used to fine-tune each individual track of a sequence. With it, you can change the pitch, balance, volume and sustain of individual notes. The full chromatic scale is available in several octaves to allow you to create any sort of melody you want. The S.T.A.C. module allows you to load up to four separate sequences and piece them together into your final composition, including adjusting tempo and volume. You can then save your finished piece or even export it as an MP3. Finally, the MyXxer module is for when you just want to improvise. You can loop sequences then use your sound bank to freestyle over them. All of these modules use the same basic controls, so not only is it easy to switch between them, it is also easy to learn how to use them.
Traxxpad has many customization options for sound banks. You can edit to your heart’s content, replacing any sample within a bank with any other sample and then save your custom banks to your memory stick. Unfortunately, it can be a pain to find some of the samples you may want. There is a huge “samples” folder containing well-organized general banks such as percussion, keyboards, scratching, synths and many others, but many of the samples can only be found in producer or artist specific folders which, instead of being organized in any meaningful way, are just banks of the samples those people might use.
In addition, you can combine samples to create your own unique sounds with the Combiner, record your own samples with the Recorder (if you have a compatible USB microphone), and use the Chop Shop to edit any sample’s gain, fade in/out or even reverse them. Like the modules, these features are easy to learn and easy to use effectively.
Visually, Traxxpad is decent. You can choose from several different skins for how your miniature studio looks which is nice when you get bored of your current color palette, but that’s really the only purpose the skins serve: to look stylish. It would have been nice if there were less emphasis on the skins and the timeline displays were larger as they only take up about a quarter of the total screen space.
So, is Traxxpad for you? Well, that depends. It is definitely not for everyone. If you have no interest in composing music it probably is not something you want to pick up since that is the only thing you can do with it. If you have never written music but have interest in doing so, it would be a great, relatively cheap and easy way to start. Finally, even if you are already an experienced composer, Traxxpad would be a nice addition to your equipment if only to have a studio as powerful as it is that you can carry around in your pocket for when inspiration strikes.
Review Scoring Details for Traxxpad: Portable Studio
The “gameplay” in Traxxpad is mostly just placing dots and bars on timelines and making selections in menus, but the satisfaction you feel while in the process of making your next masterpiece keeps it from feeling too tedious or boring. In addition, there is infinite replay value as long as you want to make music.
The visuals are not technically impressive, but they don’t need to be when they are there simply to provide some kind of graphical interface. You don’t need pretty visuals to compose music.
The soundtrack (besides what you write, of course) consists of a couple menu songs and a handful of example sequences which are hit or miss depending on what you like. More importantly, there is a huge library of samples for you to work with, and they sound great.
It can take a while to get a hang of the controls and interface at first, but you’ll be flying through the menus and near effortlessly creating your own music before you know it.
Sure we’ve seen music “games” in the past; the MTV Music Generator series and Electroplankton to name a couple. Those were impressive in their own ways, but Traxxpad takes it to the next level in terms of functionality and customization.
Traxxpad is a surprisingly powerful music app that does not disappoint. While it is mainly hip-hop and electronic oriented, you can use it to write in just about any style you want. It takes some patience and dedication to learn, but it is well worth the effort. Sure it has its problems, but overall, the good far outweighs the bad. It’s not going to replace any professional music software you may use, but unless you are a professional composer it shouldn’t matter. For the price and portability, Traxxpad can’t be beat.
A surprisingly powerful music application with tons of customization options that takes a while to master but is well worth the effort
Reviewer: Steve Mazzuca
Review Date: 07/18/2007