Rhythm Core Alpha 2 Review
Posted by Jon Wahlgren
Bring life back to music
Musicians both aspiring and experienced have had copious opportunities to break out into song with their DSi thanks to a cornucopia of software suites, including 2010's Rhythm Core Alpha that brought an emphasis on live performances to the table. Developer SoftEgg's sequel Rhythm Core Alpha 2 is the most advanced one yet to hit DSiWare, offering a number of additions, tweaks and improvements over its predecessor to give composers more control over their creations.
You wouldn't know it by just booting up the program, though: Rhythm Core Alpha 2's dense, somewhat dizzying interface is largely the same as its predecessor's. At the heart of the suite is the Block screen — the sequencer where you can lay down blocks of beats as easy as tapping out notes on the grid for a wide variety of instruments. Grid "blocks" default to 16 beats each but can be expanded to 64, and you can have up to 99 blocks in your track with which to go as crazy as you can. Each individual beat can be tweaked to get just the right sound you're looking for by fiddling with its key and velocity, and adjusting the overall tempo is a snap. It may look like a lot at once to someone unfamiliar with music production, but everything falls into place pretty quickly once you start to poke around; there is plenty of depth to be found the further down you drill.
SoftEgg has thoroughly combed through its suite to identify areas of improvement, and some of the tweaks are less overt than others. Vibrato, echo or portamento can now be added to individual tracks, and tracks and blocks can be renamed for convenient identification. Solo mode, where the touchscreen lays out scales of notes that can be played with a tap, gets a usability tweak that lights up notes played by the sequencer. Others are straight-up new features: The Mixer screen's 21 faders and 20 pan controls give great flexibility over the sound of individual tracks, and tapping "Drum" on the touchscreen's bottom navigation tab opens a 12-trigger electronic drum pad that further encourages free-form performing.
Rhythm Core Alpha 2's potentially most impressive addition is exporting a MIDI file of your creation to an SD card, which you can then use with other devices compatible with the format. No longer is it a concern that your magnum opus is trapped on a non-musical device with limited methods of distribution, eliminating the need to finagle a 3.5mm audio jack into your computer's microphone slot to share your creation with friends. It's somewhat ridiculous that this feature isn't standard across all DSiWare music software, but here we are. Export to MIDI isn't the only way to get your tunes off the device: options to export ASCII and binary exist, and Export Controls automatically saves the first 20 minutes of input for recording and exporting your performances. Individual blocks can be imported and exported as well.
It can't replace a studio-quality music suite, but Rhythm Core Alpha 2 is great for bouncing around ideas. Chipping away at its dense interface reveals a well-crafted and flexible tool for noodling around with new ideas or hunkering down for more serious work. Offering a high degree of freedom and control in not only the creation of a song but in what to do with it once written as well, Rhythm Core Alpha 2 is quite possibly the most complete music package on DSiWare.