If someone were to come up to you on the street and loudly proclaim "My 3DS is an electric guitar!!", you'd probably just smile politely and try to put as much distance between the two of you as possible. Their boasting isn't total insanity however, as Music On: Electric Guitar is an ambitious little app that aims to provide all the tools you need to do exactly that.
Electric Guitar takes a no-nonsense approach to music creation, cutting out any kind of story mode or framing device in order to let the player get to grips with the software as soon as possible. In fact, you'll need to dig into the game's digital manual if you want to know how pretty much anything works. There's an immediacy to the app, presenting you with an enticing six-string interface from the very beginning, which practically cries out to be strummed. Once that first chords fades away though, you're on your own.
We should make it very clear that this, like other music creation titles on 3DS, is not a traditional video game - nor is it really even a teaching tool for beginners. It appeals to a particularly niche audience, who need some idea of musical theory and/or actual experience with guitar to fully enjoy it. If you're sick of lugging your Les Paul onto the bus just so you can play around with a few riffs while on the go, then this might be for you.
Your virtual guitar is broken up into two parts; with the fret board on the top screen and the strings below. While the touch screen works wonderfully, allowing players to add hints of nuance to their strumming or picking, actually switching between chords on the fly takes a bit of getting used to. Basically, holding either the d-pad or circle pad in one of 8 directions will switch to the corresponding chord, which can be assigned to a particular direction from a list of over 950. It's a fiddly process, even when you've got everything set up the way you want it, but after some practice it becomes a lot more natural.
Choosing chords in advance is where previous musical knowledge really comes in handy, as the included library is absolutely massive. While you can bluff your way through the major chords, true invention is found buried a lot deeper, so you'll need some idea of the terminology to take advantage. Since your truly versatile selection even takes variations on each chord into account - if you don't know C 9sus4, then you definitely won't know 3 different versions of it - almost any song can be attempted with confidence.
While your left hand switches through pre-assigned chords, your right takes care of the strumming, and it feels like a pretty reasonable adaption of performance to fit even smaller versions of the handheld. The glaring problem here is that there's still no option to toggle for the sake of left-handed players, despite the fact that this title previously appeared as DSiWare. It's a feature that should have been standard the first time around, so not adding it in for the re-release is frankly ridiculous.
Those of us fortunately unaffected by this issue can tap a guitar symbol on the bottom screen for an expanded fretboard of 7 in total. By doing this, you can take your chosen chord and transpose it up or down a half-step for each fret, with the base chord playable at the middle. You can even jump a whole octave by tapping a button, or play muted strings by holding down L.
It just wouldn't be an electric guitar without some effects, so of course developer Abylight has seen fit to include three different pedals that dramatically tweak the sound of your music in different ways. Flanger, distortion, and stereo delay are all on offer, with dials on each to separately alter the intensity of each effect. You can even combine all three active pedals at once, if you're really looking to bust some eardrums. While the sound quality here - and throughout the app - is totally solid, it's a shame that there simply isn't more customization. We would have loved the option to switch guitars or change musical styles, maybe even the ability to go fully acoustic - even if it sidesteps the app's name.
When all is said and done, Electric Guitar somehow ends up both simple and complex at the same time, making for a slightly confused piece of software. We don't see it pulling anyone away from their actual guitars, except perhaps to check the chord library for finger placement, but it certainly isn't for total beginners either. The inability to save performances renders it useless as a recording tool, but you can save specific chord and effect settings as up to ten different "sessions". It all points towards a niche market - musicians on the go, who just want something to play around with and experiment with for a few moments at a time.
Think of Music On: Electric Guitar as less of a flashy rock star and more like an old, reliable session musician. It won't impress with shiny visuals or set up any kind of story, but only because there really isn't much of a need for that. This simple package holds a massive library of chords to play around with, and just enough extra features to create some pretty sweet riffs within minutes. Newcomers should hold off on this one given the lack of any kind of tutorial, as should the left-handed, but if you're after a simple way to carry an instant jam session around with you, then it's a rock-solid option.