Teaming up with Japanese developer Detune once again, KORG has proven itself to be quite enamoured with the 3DS eShop by releasing another piece of music creation software, in the form of KORG DSN-12. Emulating the popular MS-10 analogue synthesizer, this title brings us back to a time of smoke-filled clubs and angst-ridden youths all crowded around a mess of wires under dim light. If the thought of this has you positively crooning in anticipation, you’re in for a treat.

It’s important to state upfront that this is far from a casual music game, and fully deserves the simulator title it bears. Detune’s objective has been to provide a one-to-one emulation of the original hardware, and in this endeavour it's done impressively well. It’s a faithful translation that many will find to be a daunting challenge in just getting started, and the slightly cluttered interface doesn’t do much to explain itself to newcomers. When inspiration strikes, composers can save their creations on the fly and tinker with them to their heart’s content, but initially you need to know what you’re getting yourself into.

To get a bit technical, KORG DSN-12 is an electronic sound design tool built off of 12 analogue synthesizer simulators, with 3 kinds of effects. These 12 monophonic synths can perform all the sound edits you make in real time, and you can adjust everything to a fine point using a range of sophisticated filters, time changes, amplifiers and distortion. These effects can be applied periodically to really allow for some complex rhythms, especially once you’ve applied your choice of effects such as reverb, compressor or flanger. For example, the kick effect supplements the bass drum with a hefty wallop of emphasis, justifying the MS-10’s reputation for depth of sound.

Whereas the KORG M01D offered a selection of ‘real’ instrument effects like string and brass for use, this iteration is all about the user creating their own unique synth sounds from scratch. This is a fully fledged synthesizer, not just a keyboard, so while it may seem like a step backwards the trade-off is a limitless canvas for those who want a much more electronic sound. There’s a welcome physicality to creating your own bank of sound effects by recording notes on a keyboard, dragging and slotting in patch cables or even using the stylus as the touch screen transforms into a kaoss pad for midi scales. A fair amount of trial and error necessary before you truly learn what everything does, but that’s actually no bad thing in this case; the software is built for experimentation, it’s all part of the process, and for anyone eager to learn it’s a veritable playground.

For each 12 track synthesizer you are allowed to use a maximum of 64 patterns of 64 steps, and you assign synth sounds to each sequence to create the soundscape of your song creation. Once you’ve got a bank of sounds in place, a favourite feature of ours are the touch pads which allow you to play back patterns however you like. If you consider each song to be broken up into these distinct patterns (or sections), then this allows you to completely change the flow of a song on the fly, mixing up sections with the touch of a stylus and recording something completely new. It’s akin to a DJ performance, or remixing an existing track, and there are already some sweet examples of this online.

A major new feature is undoubtedly what KORG is calling the world’s first 3D oscilloscope screen, which allows you to see the sounds you’re creating in real time. The varying frequency and intensity of the voltages are displayed as either a wave or Lissajous figure on the upper screen, giving an immediate sense of change and a greater connection with the music you’re creating. It lends an authentic feel to the software, and much like the media player ‘’visualizers’’ seen on PCs in the past, it’s pretty easy to get a little hypnotised by the effects. Call it a gimmick, but there is something very gratifying about getting that extra layer of response as your song evolves. It’s rare that we get to see the ‘structure’ of sound, so it’s a fun touch that makes good use of the 3D display.

Starters will definitely want to cut their teeth on the software by playing around with a selection of pre-built demo songs, as these can give great insight into how your future creations can be formatted and constructed. By picking apart the different layers, you can learn the changes each dial and switch are responsible for, and the implications each of these changes can have on the overall song. There’s a particularly Daft Punk-ish disco track to mess with, as well as something a bit heavier to showcase stronger beats, and these are immediately more accessible than just diving in to a blank interface. Reverse-engineering your knowledge of the software works a good deal better than attempting to memorise the dense manual, and a working knowledge can result in hours upon hours of playtime.

What is by far the biggest disappointment here, however, is the lack of online sharing in any form, as we’re once again restricted to sharing our creations locally from one 3DS to another. There’s room for over 2000 songs, depending on the space available on your SD card, which is decent enough given that the download size for the software itself is at a modest 100 blocks. Being unable to upload these online is a pain though, and severely dampens potential for collaborative works between users. Sound quality is absolutely excellent, so it’s a brutal shame that it’s a bit of an ordeal to let anyone else hear the fruits of your labours.

Conclusion

Nintendo’s handheld is a lifesaver for anyone looking to kill time on public transport or in some bleak waiting room — in the right hands KORG DSN-12 has staggering potential as a time-sink. Packaging together a portable oscilloscope, kaoss pad and full synthesizer in one download makes for a fantastic range of possibilities at a solid price. There are more accessible music composition alternatives out there, but this title certainly delivers on what it promises; a full simulation of a classic synth. The only downside is that this simulation unfortunately seems to include all the online song sharing capabilities (or total lack thereof) that the late 1970’s could handle…