DJ Hero Preview: Gonna Need A Bigger Lap

The closest I've ever been to a famous DJ is ten feet. The smell was unbearable.

But I blame that on the marijuana, not on DJ Roni Size. I happen to be allergic to California's cash cow crop. In my frantic effort to get away from the jerk who was blowing it directly into my face, I somehow got caught up in the club crowd and mashed against the stage where Size was spinning. I may have come away from the experience embittered and covered in hives – but the music was good. And I envied Size's skills because they afforded him a place well above the cloying pot smoke that nearly killed me.

What Is It?
DJ Hero is FreeStyleGames' and Acticvision's contribution to the DJ simulation scene (which isn't nearly as over-saturated as the rest of the music simulation scene). Much like Guitar Hero, players are using a plastic peripheral controller to mimic patterns of buttons and commands on screen that scroll toward the player on a track. Flashing lights, scantily clad avatars, you know the drill.

What We Saw
I attended a DJ Hero "mixer" (har, har) and spent a lot of time with the tutorial because I'd heard horror stories about the learning curve. After building up some confidence, I attempted a few songs on normal and then quickly reverted to easy.

How Far Along Is It?
The game is out October 27.

What Needs Improvement?
I Need A Bigger Lap: Granted, the turntable peripheral is not as bulky or obtrusive as an entire drum set – but I still can't think of a place to put it in my apartment. It won't fit on my crappy coffee table and it definitely won't fit on my lap. Somehow, I think out of all my options (including the floor), it's going to be really hard to recreate the sensation of being a real DJ at a real turntable.

Right Scratch Is Tricky: To make the signature wicky-wicky noise most commonly associated with turntables, you have to press the corresponding colored button and move the fake record back and forth for the duration of the beat. This is a pain in the ass when doing it with the innermost button – the right scratch. A developer told me I'd be better off using my thumb on the outside of the fake record to help make the motion – but the surface isn't textured enough to get a really good grip and so I found myself missing the right scratch an awful lot.

Yeah, There's A Learning Curve: I'm no Guitar Hero pro, so I didn't have to unlearn anything to get the hang of DJ Hero – but even starting from scratch is a little overwhelming. There's just so much to keep track of – left scratch, right scratch, cross-fade left, cross-fade right, back to center, oop-now you can run a sample by twisting that knob you can barely reach. I always thought DJs had it easy; but damn! How could anybody do this for four hours while high or drunk? I can barely manage it sober.

How Much Does This Cost…? This is going to be a huge sticking point for gamers on the fence. Yes, the band sets for Rock Band and Guitar Hero: World Tour were pricey, too. But think about this: those were party games with room for more than one player and DJ Hero comes with one turntable. In economic terms, this is a utility calculation. I have to ask myself as a gamer if I get more utility spending $120 on a game only I can play (assuming none of my friends buy it), as opposed to spending it on a band set where everybody can play or on two $60 games I could play alone.

DJ Hero Preview: Gonna Need A Bigger Lap

What Should Stay The Same?
It's Fun: Intimidation factor of new things aside, I really enjoyed DJ Hero. The tutorial was clear without being condescending, the game itself was loaded with all kinds of music I love and the likenesses of artists I respect. Really, if it weren't for the price, I would have been sold on the game the second someone said Daft Punk.

Wide Selection: I know a lot of people are going to be pissed that they can't mix and match their own beats in DJ Hero. However, the ones the game comes with are pretty good and there are a lot of them. Moreover, they're done by pros and even if you can't experiment with what they've done, you could learn a lot just through mimicking them.

You Can Pair It With Guitars: This is a point toward DJ Hero's "utility." If you already own a Guitar Hero-compatible guitar, you can hook it up and play alongside the DJ. I'm not sure how great any of it sounds (presumably, these sections have been given the same attention as the singleplayer) – but it looks cool and it is a way to work in more people at your music game parties.

Final Thoughts
I think of DJs as alchemists, mixing mundane things together to get gold. Maybe I'm wrong about that, or maybe my preoccupation with my weed allergy at dance clubs means I "miss the point" of the music. But I do know that when playing DJ Hero, when I wasn't screwing up the right scratch or the cross-fader, it felt like all the beats fit into place and I was an alchemist. Now if only the controller fit half as well…