While Nintendo Labo continues to fascinate and confuse via the medium of cardboard, another very different creative suite has made its way to the hybrid halls of Switch. A digital audio workstation (or DAW as it’s known to its friends), KORG Gadget offers a robust piece of music making software that’s been fine-tuned to fit the console’s unique functionality - but it’s an experience with a handful of inherent problems that only serve to undermine some of those big selling points.
This isn’t the first time the Japanese keyboard maker has designed software for Nintendo either. KORG DS-10 and KORG DS-10 Plus (an updated version for DSi) arrived on DS almost a decade ago, while the excellent KORG M01D and KORG DSN-12 made creating your own EDM masterpiece a portable possibility. It’s a series with real pedigree, but one that’s been in need of a fresh approach for some time.
To that end, KORG Gadget is a resounding success. Originally designed for smartphones and tablets, the suite splits its 16 synthesisers and drum machines into toy-like 'gadgets', each with a specific theme. Each one comes with a variety of effects, offering everything from chiptune bleep bloops (so you can channel your inner Anamanaguchi) to classic D&B basslines (giving you the power to sound like a ripoff Pendulum - you know, back when they weren’t a knock-off nu-metal band).
It’s frustrating the number of gadgets has been reduced from the total available on Mac (that version has 30), but thankfully the Switch port is on par with the other mobile iterations. So even if you’re new to the world of digital song-making - or someone with a passing interest in the subject - KORG Gadget will still feel like a vast studio of emulated devices right there in your hands. Even one gadget has enough knobs and switches (including grid-style pads for testing out each sound before you use it) to keep you busy for hours.
While it may not boast as many synthesisers and drum machines as other versions, Detune (the same developer that worked on the KORG instalments on 3DS) has introduced plenty of new features you won’t find anywhere else. Switch being a console with co-op and multiplayer baked into its very soul, KORG Gadget comes complete with a collaborative option that supports local song-making with up to three other players.
With each user’s on-screen cursor defined by a different colour, it’s surprisingly easy to play as a group (using a single Joy-Con is just as responsive as using a Pro Controller or the touchscreen) and makes for one of the strangest yet enjoyable multiplayer experiences Switch offers right now. Whether as a bizarre party game or a fun couchplay oddity with your kids, the fun and clever presentation of its titular gadgets make what is actually a deep music design suite into something gamified in just the right way for would-be EDM musicians.
Detune has also made good use of a device with both buttons and touchscreen functionality. Holding ‘RZ’ will enable you to select multiple bars for creating longer drum loops, while a simple press of ‘Y’ will play your creation without a moment’s loading. A handful of useful shortcuts have also been mapped to the face buttons and the left analog stick, and we find flitting between each section of the app a breeze once we memorise the setup. You can even use motion controls with the Joy-Cons to manipulate your song (an adjust them via ‘-’), while holding ‘+’ enables you to jump between the main Piano Roll screen, your Overview page, each gadget’s individual edit screen and a Mixer for syncing together the whole mix.
As you can see, this is far from a cheap port. However, while it adds in plenty of unique features to set itself apart, there’s one huge issue that holds KORG Gadget back from being a fully-fledged console DAW: the inability to import or export songs. Considering this feature is fully present on the iPad version, it’s bizarre Detune couldn’t find a way to support such a vitally important aspect of the software. So what you end up with is an impressively deep piece of software, but one that exists in isolation rather than part of a wider ecosystem.
Much like the 3DS instalments, you can share songs locally with our Switch users, which is something of a consolation, but considering you could do this with older Nintendo hardware, it’s mind-boggling that the developer didn’t find a way to address this issue beyond an existing feature. The lack of support at launch for MIDI controllers only adds to this frustration.
While Detune has found some special ways to gamify the process of designing, layering and manipulating a piece of EDM, the lack of support for MIDI controllers or the ability to import/export tracks between other devices takes the shine off Switch’s first proper music title. While it’s ultimately more of an app than a game, KORG Gadget still brings an entirely new experience to your hybrid console and one that’s perfect for tinkering on a track while on your commute.