The music game genre isn’t quite what it used to be. The barrage of plastic guitars and bulky drum kits is likely to begin a major decline in the coming years and it is time to move on. Activision has decided to get a head start and create a new plastic instrument as well as going back to the core of what made the genre popular in the first place. DJ Hero is an interesting combination of club music and rhythm games that introduces a brand new peripheral and even more interesting, a new way to play. DJ Hero is a very fun game with a unique peripheral that unfortunately will not appeal or probably reach the same mass appeal as Guitar Hero and that is truly a shame.
The first thing I want to talk about is easily the strongest aspect of the game as well as its worst enemy: the music tracks. There are over 100 different tracks in the game meshed into 93 different mixes. Each one feels unique, but also will be limiting in appeal if you are not into the music. For instance one of my editors loved the scratching mechanic, but despised the songs while my wife simply could not get into the game because of the music. Me personally I found it tolerable even if I am not a fan, but if you have even the slightest interest in this type of music, some of the best is represented.
Most notably Daft Punk offers up several mixes and even has their own themed segment. The rest of the track list includes an eclectic mix of rock, pop and hip hop and covers the gamut of artists including Foo Fighters, Weezer, Gwen Stefani, MC Hammer and even Vanilla Ice. Most of the mixes are done in house by developer Freestyle Games, but there are some exclusive mixes by the likes of Jazzy Jeff and even the great Grandmaster Flash. The song selection is actually very well done and fans of the genre will be pleased. You can even set the game to just play the tracks in case you want to have it running background at one of your sexy parties.
The single player mode consists of the classic rhythm game formula which is actually a relief. There are venues for each tier of songs and each one earns you stars. Earning stars will unlock new characters, venues and bonus items to customize your characters. DJ Hero seems built from the ground up with simplicity and accessibility in mind. You can even plug in a second turntable or even a guitar and play with a friend. The guitar parts seem harder than in Guitar Hero simply because the music is so mixed up. There is also an online mode, but at its heart DJ Hero looks and plays like the classic rhythm games that started the craze.
The new plastic instrument that comes bundled with the game is definitely daunting at first. Instead of a strum bar and frets you now have the turntable, three buttons, a cross fader and the effects dial. The buttons work much like the traditional Guitar Hero button presses, but the addition of the turntable gives them new life. There are segments in the song where you have to scratch the record back and forth. On the harder difficulties you even have to scratch them in specific directions. The cross fader lets you run back and forth between the two tracks as the game deems necessary and if you get a long enough note streak you earn a rewind that lets you spin the record around backwards to extend the song thus racking up more points.
I highly recommend going through the tutorial in the beginning of the game to learn all the nuances of the controller. At first it will seem like too much to handle, and even being a seasoned Guitar Hero player I found myself struggling at first even on medium. The beauty here is that you simply cannot fail a song. The game was not designed to frustrate you, but instead to create a party atmosphere. Mixing up the tracks between button presses, cross fading and throwing in some freestyle effects with the red button and effects dial quickly becomes addictive and challenging.
For what it does the controller works great and feels well constructed. I found myself getting more and more comfortable with it the longer I played. There are times when I will lose the green button during intense note streaks, but I have even become the master of hitting rewind perfectly and landing back on the buttons. You have the option to play with the buttons on the right or left of the platter and you can even switch the controller around for instant lefty flip. Overall the construction and quality of the controller are definitely noteworthy.
Running through the tiers you quickly become more accustomed to the layout and wanting to try harder difficulties. On easy the game can be a bit slow-paced and tedious. I started on medium and did fine for quite a while before I stopped five-starring most songs. Once you manage to crank it up to expert things get really challenging. The game really conveys the sense of scratching records and mixing the tracks, which is precisely what it was designed to do. Anyone criticizing it for not nailing all the right notes should probably not be playing this game and actually out DJing some parties.
In the tradition of the “Hero” franchise the visuals are very colorful and the character models are a bit outlandish in design. However, it works much better here because of the eclectic nature of the genre. The venues are also visually appealing with everything from girls on roller-skates to glow stick dancers. The game brings the aesthetic of the music to life and really feels well laid out. The menu system takes a bit to get used to with the controller, but for those who prefer the classic style there is a hidden controller in the top of the turntable. Not enough can be said about the music though. If you are into this genre this is the greatest selection of tunes ever found in a rhythm game simply due to the fact that they were all created specifically for the game. The promise of future DLC is a bonus, but the announced prices may deter some from purchasing.
DJ Hero is almost a breath of fresh air in an already overcrowded genre. The rhythm game is becoming too much of a business and this really feels like it was designed with a lot of passion for the music. The price I still feel is a bit steep and it would have done much better right at the $100 point, but if you are into the music, then the admission is worth it. DJ Hero is a fantastic edition to the Hero family and one that should be checked out by anyone who enjoys the genre. Once again the taste of music will be the only deterrent of your enjoyment.