Into a genre that seems determined to turn our living rooms into plastic instrument wastelands comes DJ Hero, where one turntable is all you'll ever need.
While the Guitar Hero series is all about performing music, DJ Hero is all about perfecting it. Packed together with a plastic facsimile of a turntable, the DJ's weapon of choice, the game packs more than 100 licensed songs into 93 tracks, harnessing the creative power of some of the world's top names in turntablism. Talent like Eminem, Jay-Z, DJ Shadow, Grandmaster Flash, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Daft Punk provide mashups for the game, with developer FreeStyleGames' in-house talent crafting a few themselves. As a result of all that creativity, DJ Hero features the most unique playlist of any rhythm game out there.
But is music where the difference ends? Is this just another way to play Guitar Hero, or is DJ Hero's Euphoria more than just a different way to say Star Power?
The Music: DJ Hero features 93 tracks that are completely original, yet immediately familiar. I am a huge fan of song mashups, to the point where genre's and artists I normally wouldn't listen to are fine as long as they are mixed with something I enjoy. Fortunately, the original tracks employed by DJ Hero's various mix-masters are tunes that I enjoyed in the first place. I realize that taste in music is a very personal thing, but no one can deny the brilliance of mixing together Vanilla Ice's "Ice, Ice, Baby" with MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This." This game is filled with clever combinations like this, to the point where I'd say you could easily have the game running on auto-pilot in the background at a party and no one would complain.
The Machine: The DJ Hero turntable is a daunting device when you first get your hands on it, and it certainly takes some getting used to. I tried several different finger positions on the disc itself before finding one that allowed me to comfortably manage scratching without my fingers slipping. Once I found the right position I began burning through the set list at a rapid pace, tweaking the effects knob and managing the crossfader like a pro would if he or she was working with a plastic facsimile of a turntable.
Easing Up: FreeStyleGames has done an excellent job of creating a game that is accessible to players of all skill levels. There are five different difficulty levels in the game, each ramping up the challenge level, adding in new game mechanics leading up to expert mode, where the game pulls out all of its tricks. Beginner mode has the player simply pressing any button, holding it down to scratch, while expert has you scratching to match directional arrows while crossfading like some sort of maniac. The difficulty range makes the game much more approachable to new players, while allowing more experienced players to show off their mad DJ skills.
Guitar VS. DJ: DJ Hero would have been fine without the inclusion of tracks specifically tailored toward a combination of turntable and guitar controller, but the addition is quite welcome, especially for folks who scraped up every last penny they had to afford the $119.99 price tag for the bundled version of the game. As the turntable currently isn't available for purchase as a separate unit, giving players another way to play DJ Hero with their friends is a nice touch.
DJ Style: DJ Hero oozes DJ style, or at least DJ style as far as I am familiar with it. The presentation is light on words and big on images, using a pseudo-graffiti style to depict the options as you navigate through a simple sliding menu. The venues you perform in are vibrant and full of life, ensuring that onlookers have something to keep them occupied while you stare at the DJ highway. You unlock decks, headphones, and outfits as you progress through the game, as well as DJs, from original characters with their own fictional biographies to some of the biggest names ever to touch a turntable. Of course if you're like me, as soon as Daft Punk is unlocked you never go back. Overall, the game presents a rather well put-together package.
Party Play: As mentioned previous, DJ Hero's track listing is definitely party-worthy. Fortunately the game contains a Party Play option, which lets the player choose from a custom or premade playlist, which will run on its own with but a touch of a button. Unfortunately the game flashes a message on the screen during Party Play to keep players from using the automatic play as false examples of how good they are at the game, but it's a small price to pay for some excellent party music.
Re-Remix: Perhaps a result of having to go through all 93 tracks in the game in quick succession, I found myself growing weary of the repeat songs in DJ Hero's playlist. It isn't that the songs themselves repeat, but you'll find certain songs used in multiple mashups, like Tears for Fears' "Shout" and Rihanna's "Disturbia," to the point where I sighed every time I saw the song names come up. Again, possibly not an issue if you are playing in short bursts - just be ready for it if you plan any marathon sessions.
One-Track Multiplayer: DJ Hero's online multiplayer is a plain vanilla affair, lacking any real sense of competition outside of simply trying to complete the song better than the other player. Two DJs take the stage, playing the same song, with the reverse option turned off as to not interrupt the flow of things. Simply leaving the reverse option on and having it affect both tables would have been enough, adding an element of strategy to the gameplay by allowing the other player to force their opponent to replay parts of the song they stumbled over previously. Hopefully FreeStyleGames will spice up multiplayer in the inevitable sequels.
Can I Just Play A Song Please?: For some strange reason, FreeStyleGames omitted to include any sort of quick play option in DJ Hero. In order to play one song, you have to either find the pre-created playlist the song is in or edit out the other tunes, or create your own custom playlist with only that one song in it. It seems completely silly to me that you can't just look at the complete track listing, choose one song, and hit play, but there you go. Strange.
I've been growing increasingly disillusioned with rhythm games over the past year. It seems like the two major players - Rock Band and Guitar Hero - are doing the exact same thing, only with different music, and let's be completely honest here - the music isn't all that different. New titles like Band Hero and LEGO Rock Band rise up, only to ultimately disappoint when both again feature similar tracks and the same old gameplay.
Perhaps what the genre needs is a fresh title with unique music and an all-new way to play. I've certainly felt that need myself, and DJ Hero has satiated it completely. There's definitely room for improvement, but even a flawed DJ Hero is a breath of fresh air for fans of music games.
DJ Hero was developed by FreeStyleGames and published by Activision on October 27th on the Wii, PlayStation 2. PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. Retails for $119.99 ($99.99 for the PS2). A copy of the Xbox 360 version of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Performed all tracks on medium, playing through a selection of tracks on all difficulty levels. Played several tracks in online multiplayer. Completed 92% of the game, with 34 more stars left to go.
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