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Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Definitive Studios
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Editor/ Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:
The graphics in Traxxpad are kind of cool, especially with the fact that the interfaces for all of the music tools are skinnable. There are a few different skins to choose from, with the ability to download new skins in the future. Even with the default skins, though, you can select from several different variants - the same models, but with different textures, some featuring the names of different licensed music producers, such as Traxamillion and Money Management. The looks of the graphics aren't really as important as their functionality, specifically, showing what notes are being played and when they're being played. The graphics do a decent job at this task.

The more important aspect for Traxxpad, however, is the sound. The sound clips that come with Traxxpad all sound good, although there's not as wide a selection of assets as I would have preferred to see. There are over 1000 sounds to use, but not many sequences and absolutely no examples of "finished songs" to exhibit what can be done with Traxxpad. Additionally, if you have a PSP headset (sold separately), you can record your own sound clips and then edit them to make your own sounds.

As for the output, once you've created your music, you can save your song as a Traxxpad song file and share it with other friends who have Traxxpad and you can also output your song as a .mp3 file, allowing you to share it with anyone with a MP3 player.

Traxxpad is not a game, per se, but rather a tool for making music with your PSP. It's subtitle is "Portable Studio." While this is a lofty title to aspire to, Traxxpad has a large number of music manipulation tools. It might not quite live up to "Portable Studio," but does fit well as a "Musical Leatherman" or "Swiss Army Sequencer."

There are four different music making modules in Traxxpad: The R.T.I.S.T. (Real-Time Sequence Editor), MeLOD (Melody Editor), S.T.A.C. (Sequencer), MyXxer (Live Performance Tool). While these names are a bit out there, each module has its own specific purpose.

If you want to just play around a bit, you'll want to check out MyXxer. When you really get serious about making a song, you will most likely want to start with R.T.I.S.T to create some sequences, then follow up with MeLOD to actually add any non-percussion instruments that need notes indicated and then finally, you'll use S.T.A.C. to make a musical arrangement using the sequences you've built. The U.I. takes a lot of getting used to and even then seems awkward, but by playing around with these modules, you can make some (fairly simple) music and then either save your song in the Traxxpad song format for later or save it out as an MP3 file which can be transferred to and listened to on other devices, such as computers or MP3 players.

The problem with Traxxpad is that there are fairly serious limitations on each one of the above mentioned modules, even if you weren't thrown off by the unintuitive interface. The truth of the matter is that given the same skill level, you could make much better music with some of the PC or even console music-making offerings that have come out, such as MTV Music Generator. Traxxpad is the first (and only) such music generation tool for the PSP to my knowledge, but its limitations outweigh its portability, in my opinion.

I have used several music-making pieces of software. I have also taken 5 years of piano lessons and played bass guitar in a band for a while. I say all of this to make a point. I am familiar with music. I am familiar with music editing software. I found Traxxpad to be overly difficult to use. The major fault is with an obtuse control scheme. The user interface is not just not intuitive. It's actually often counter-intuitive. When in a menu, you can see on the screen that you are selecting a bank that is represented by one of the action buttons. These action buttons are clearly shown on the four options you are choosing from. However, you cannot choose the option by hitting the button indicated. You have to, instead, use the D-Pad or Analog stick to select the desired option and then, while continuing to hold the direction desired press the (X) button. All this just to select an option that is labeled on-screen with an action button.

If you do choose to attempt to use Traxxpad to make music, make sure you save often. I have found that certain mistakes I make are very hard to "undo." It is much easier to load a saved version from earlier and try again. In fact, I'll go further with that. No matter what module you're in, you'll want to save your progress regularly. Keep in mind that you'll likely want to create tracks that are similar to each other and that will be easier if you save copies of a basic sequence, then load it, modify, save a new copy with a different name and repeat this process. Even if you're not making mistakes that you have to recover from, using a "creep-and-save" approach in Traxxpad can be a very effective way to maximize your efforts.

Game Mechanics:
I had a hard time deciding exactly where I was on this one. It's a cool concept - a portable studio on your PSP - but this has got to be a small niche; this isn't even a game. Although I avoid reading other reviews when I'm reviewing something, when I got to the point of selecting a score, I decided to look around the net to see what others were rating Traxxpad, since it was, in my mind, a great concept, poorly implemented. What I saw both astounded and disgusted me, but mainly, it confused me - at first. The first reviews I found all scored Traxxpad in a range of 80-90%. Not only did this seem way too high, in my opinion, but when I read some of the text of these reviews, there were a lot of complaints about the U.I. being hard to get used to and the thousand plus included sounds being hard to find due to the rather cryptic filing system that was used; some sounds are filed, not by type of sound, but by the artist or label who might have used them. Sam Bishop, a fellow reviewer and a friend of mine, even said in his review of Traxxpad that he typically uses a "ten minute rule" to determine his initial opinion of a game: if it doesn't catch his interest in ten minutes, it's not a good game. He said that after playing Traxxpad for over 100 minutes, he still didn't know what he was doing, but he was having fun doing it... he rated it as a 90% (9/10). I think all of those reviews are a bit lenient. To me, an 90% is a very strong recommendation of a game and I can't honestly recommend purchasing Traxxpad to anyone. I would suggest possibly renting it, if you think it sounds like something you'd like, but my fear is that it will prove to be so challenging to people who are considering getting into music that they may think that making music is too difficult for them and move on to something else. Arsun Fist, one of the musicians who has posted some videos on Definitive Studios' MySpace page sent in a video where he's trying a new technique of pausing the playback to allow longer samples to play longer. While this is an innovative way to use Traxxpad creatively in a live performance, it's a shame that users are having to find ways to trick the Traxxpad into performing more functionality than it was made to - especially since other sequencers I've used allow you to adjust the length and timing of individual instantiations of sequences when creating a song. In other words, other sequences support this without the need to "pause" the playback at just the right time.

Digging deeper, I found other reviews that rated Traxxpad as low as around 30% or so. That's low. I consider 60% to be a total failure, so a 30% would be a product that is a total failure, and either damaged your hardware or shot your dog... or was a failure that was designed with obvious mistakes that could have easily been fixed, I suppose. I think the wide variation between these scores can be explained by the different types of people who are reviewing it. Anyone expecting Traxxpad to be a game is going to get frustrated within 10 minutes or so, and the score should be pretty low. Anyone who's into reviewing games, not making music, may find it fun if they get past the initial learning curve, and may give it a higher score... not a perfect score, but something in the 80's doesn't seem so surprising with this context. However, anyone who's into music, as I am, and has seen other PC and console based music tools... anyone who realizes just how limiting Traxxpad really is... That person's going to have a hard time choosing a score and will likely select something in between these two ranges, as I have.

While the menus are unforgivably hard to use - even when you know what you're supposed to do, Traxxpad has other issues. Sadly, the largest problem with Traxxpad is that it's simply not worth the effort. While there are various editing tools that you can use to do various things, the end result is that you can create a song that has no more than four sequences. For those of you who aren't that familiar with music, this gives you just about enough complexity to do a rendition of, say, "Three Blind Mice." That is, mind you, assuming that you don't try to separate out parts. If you wanted to create a song with a simple baseline, it's very possible that your bass line alone would have more than four parts to it. To call this limitation "restrictive" would be an understatement. It is nothing less than crippling. You could, of course, simply make a rhythm to sing over, but even then, you'd be artistically stifled with only four parts. In the end, you will have the ability to save your creation off as an .mp3 file, but you're not likely to care, unless you're creating simple beats to save out as MP3 and use in some other sequencer to create something worthwhile.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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