No matter how I look at it, I just can’t find a purpose for Imaginstruments. Even at its most basic level, music production requires more than what this Vita app provides. It’s a shame; music production ‘games’ on consoles have steadily declined since the heyday of Music on the original PlayStation and there’s still very much a niche in the market on both the Vita and home consoles that can be filled, competition free.
Imaginstruments promises to “set your creativity free” – it’s a free-to-play app that also promises to allow players to “start making music on your PS Vita”. At its core, Imaginstruments is a loop player that allows you mix a tiny selection of sounds together, while tweaking basic settings in order to make a music track.
The sound selection in Imaginstruments offers a kick drum, snare, hi hat, cymbal, keyboard, synth and a bassline, as well as a few user triggered sound effects. Each sound slot can be alternated between two variations, and on screen sliders allow you to bring sounds into the mix, changing the melody or pattern being played. There’s also a bass option, although that’s even more stripped down in that you can choose from four variations, but have no control over how it is played.
Imaginstruments options are, on the whole, superfluous; they offer little control and it doesn’t take long to realise that making music on the app is simply choosing which, from an extremely limited selection of, sounds play. You can alter the track tempo and change the scale of the music being played, but that’s as far as control in Imaginstruments goes.
The selection of sounds lacks variation and seems to be focused towards electronic dance music, with no option to swap out for an alternative selection of sounds such as a rock or hip hop kit. Even the option of paid DLC sound packs would make Imaginstruments far more interesting and usable; there’s no option to import or record your own sounds either.
Frustratingly, Imaginstruments assigns a series of four sound effects to each of the D-Pad buttons, but aside from pressing the button as and when players want, there’s no option to actually include them within the track you’re making. Likewise with the bass, the analogue sticks allow you to tinker with the bass sounds cut off and resonance, altering the sound, but the tweaks you make are instantly un-done when you let go of the sticks – unless you’re sat holding them in position, the changes are lost.
Imaginstruments seems to limit players at every possible turn; there’s no way to save or share your track whatsoever. No matter how long and lovingly you spend crafting your piece of music, aside from recording directly into a computer or dedicated recording device; the track can never be shared.
In terms of music making power, Imaginstruments is desperately lacking. There are far more powerful and superior options available on almost any device, even considerably less powerful. For example, there are a whole stack of options on iOS devices, there’s a healthy selection on Android for both smartphones and tablets, and even the 3DS has infamous synthesizers in the eShop.
What’s even more antagonising than that is the Vita is more powerful than the PSP, but the PSP still has far superior software available. I’d recommend anyone interested in tinkering with music on their Vita spend the £9.99 to check out PSP title Beaterator, or play around with Sound Shapes.
I never expected software for the Vita to offer studio level competition, or even something you could kick off a music career with, but Imaginstruments falls short of the mark in every way conceivable. Even at the most basic level, for players with no music production inclination or experience, Imaginstruments is restrictive. Aside from choosing which of a preset loop sets plays and in which scale it’s played, the software offers no other options.
The introduction of a way to even sequence the most basic patterns, enabling you to develop a track with a clear introduction, verse and chorus rather than an endless loop would have been a massive step forward. Likewise, the ability to import or at least record sounds to play with would have gone a long way in making the app more interesting but these options are sadly missed.
At some point in the Vita’s lifeline, Imaginstruments as a free-to-play title probably had a place on memory cards as an interesting tool to play around with. Now that there are far superior games, and indeed music production options, available, Imaginstruments offers nothing of substance at any level.
It’s frustrating as much as anything else; with a little more love, development time and greater options, Imaginstruments could have had a real home and online community sharing, swapping and remixing community tracks, but Sony’s effort falls short of the mark at every opportunity. Here’s hoping that a more complete music production option comes through development for the Vita in the near future.