With the recently-announced Korg M1 app and DS-10, the Nintendo DS handheld remains a surprisingly-good choice for handheld music making. A new app could take that further.

Nintendo may have struck a blow to homebrew music developers by successfully blocking hardware that allowed it to run. But while it’s not nearly as open to development as Apple’s iOS, Nintendo’s DSiWare can work for an independent developer. The proof: Rhythm Core Alpha, created by T.B. Trzepacz.

What’s unique about this application is that it emphasizes real-time production. Sound playback never stops during editing. The crowded interface packs some fairly powerful-looking features:

  • A Drum Grid with 12 tracks x 64 beats x 122 sounds
  • A Note Grid with 8 tracks x 64 beats x 166 sounds
  • A Solo Mode that places six octaves of notes onscreen for playing
  • A 1000-step pattern mode with chord, drum, and note modes, plus looping
  • 7 velocity levels for everything (okay, not a lot, but that provides simple velocity control)
  • Quite-nice scale mapping (see screenshots) to keep you in tune – and yes, it’s also possible to override them

See the video demonstrations below.

Pricing is 500 Nintendo Points, or US$5. Naturally, you’ll need to have a DSiWare-capable handheld in a location with access to the store, but assuming you’ve got a newer model, this is much easier than the homebrew route, and pricing is similar to iOS apps.

Rhythm Core Alpha – Unrehearsed Jam at Kulak’s Woodshed, April 2010 – V2 from SoftEgg on Vimeo.

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Rhythm Core Alpha on Nintendo DSiWare panel with SoftEgg’s Tim Trzepacz at Pasadena Rock ‘n Comic Con from SoftEgg on Vimeo.

  • i never really liked DS-10, but Rhytm Core Alpha looks amazing. can't wait to test it!

  • That looks pretty delicious, too bad i don't have a DSi.

  • Oh snap.

  • jrs1

    I don't understant why the (music) world needs this.

  • Awkward Vibes

    filling up the room.

  • Charlie Lesoine

    "I don't understand what is happening and what these crazy sounds are doing so I'm going to cut your song short"

  • The first video was actually the very first public performance of Rhythm Core Alpha anywhere. I was improvising the music, and everything was created live on the stage.
    It is easy to let time get away with you when you are jamming, so I asked them to cut me off if I got to be too long. I was sort of hoping for a slow fade-out rather than what they did, but I kept the video the way it was for the applause at the end.
    The video overlays were added after the fact, and I had to reconstruct what I did in the live performance, so the video in the overlay wasn't particularly accurate, so I tried to make it kinda vague.
    I have a brand-new video that is now waiting for Nintendo approval that is just based on screen capture and walks you through all of the features with captions. When that is available, I'll be sure to let everybody know.
    If anybody out there is making awesome music with Rhythm Core Alpha, please post a video or audio clip and let me know! I want to show it off to the world!

  • Rytmik is another recent addition to the DSi music world and worth checking out too

  • I am loving how 'Metroid Prime' the sound is!

    Very nice little app! If my DS wasnt an older one id pick it up!

  • But would you really want to use it live on stage? If i went to a gig and someone was just standing there with a DSi i would be bored out my skull. It would be different if that person was part of a band and wasnt up at the front of the stage.

    But still, looks kinda kool.

  • This app is very powerful and I really like it. Between this and Rytmik, mobile music making on my DSi is available all the time, as long as I keep my DSi charged.

    Having said this, I have one small complaint and that is with the quality of sounds. You get an enormous amount of sampled sounds to play with but the sounds are all low bitrate and sound very buzzy. I would have preferred less sounds but of higher quality. Perhaps the ability to synthesize the sounds rather than playback samples might be a better alternative.

    Having said this, the app is a ton of fun and am really enjoying my DSi more than ever.


  • @Barry: Some people can pull it off. If not, you know, maybe you don't exclusively use the DS. It can be a way of producing materials for a performance set with other tools, or it can be augmented with other stuff (like a KAOSS Pad, etc.)

  • Josh

    Is there a way to buy the rom to use with an R4 and a regular DS? It looks pretty cool.

  • dead_red_eyes


    I'm willing to bet that it won't work correctly on a regular DS, as I believe the DSi has more RAM and maybe a bit more juice in the processor dept.

  • There is a brand new video on the Rhythm Core Alpha website that really gets into the guts of how to do it. You can see it at http://www.rhythmcorealpha.com/video/ or on Vimeo at http://vimeo.com/15008080 .

    As far as live performance goes, there is lots of flexibility in how you use it.

    If you are a DJ-style performer who traditionally hides behind a lot of decks and laptops, this allows you to get out in front of the audience.

    If you are a singer, you and your vocals will be the center of the performance anyway, and you can sequence as much of the song as you want in advance.

    If you have a band, there is a solo mode that lets you just use Rhythm Core Alpha as an instrument and play along with everybody else. A lot of other programs lack that capacity, and those that do are not nearly as easy to play or as flexible as Rhythm Core Alpha.

    I tried to make it really flexible so that you could do as much or as little as you want / need to do live.

    As far as the sound quality goes, there are a lot of grainy sounds, it is true. That comes from trying to cram a lot of sounds into a small download, and trying to make them all audible on the tiny DSi speakers. I think the grain adds to the character of the sound, though!

    As far as working on a regular DS, I am considering making a cartridge version. But the minimum order is a very large number of cartridges, over $50k worth! That is very daunting! If you would buy a cartridge, please let me know in the Rhythm Core Alpha forums!