Mixes up the rhythm genre with ideas all its own
After the monumental success of Guitar Hero, Activision, not being one to let a cash cow sit for too long, decided to create a spin-off called DJ Hero. While Guitar Hero focused on rock and metal music, DJ Hero takes its aim at the hip-hop and electronica audiences, while including just enough rock and pop to please the more mainstream Guitar Hero fanbase.
The game was developed by a newcomer to the Hero series- FreeStyle Games.
As with every rhythm game following the Bemani or Hero template, the player's goal is to follow along with the onscreen prompts with a specialized controller, in this case, a turntable controller. The controller consists of record-like platter with three buttons on top, as well as a mixer with crossfader, knob, and the Star Power button. The most basic prompts simply require the player to tap the green, red, or blue button on the record. To scratch, you hold down the green or blue button and push the turntable in the direction of the arrows. The mixer adds further complexity. On harder levels, you are required to switch between two tracks by jamming the crossfader to the left, right, and center positions on cue, switching which tracks are heard in the mix. There are even times where you'll have to immediately jerk the crossfader from the center to the left or right and back for a quick cut. In addition, you can use the knob to alter the sound of the music at certain points on the track. Think of it as this game's whammy bar. Combine this with the scratching and tapping, and the end result is a game that keeps both of your hands very, very busy.
The thing that makes DJ Hero distinct from other rhythm games is its focus on mashups. A mashup is essentially two songs mixed together, often from disparate genres, to form a musical Frankenstein's monster that, when done right, can bring the party to life. Many of the "songs" in DJ Hero are actually mashups of two different songs to create something new. Your taste for these mashups will largely depend on how much you like the original songs as well as how much you appreciate someone meddling with a favorite work. Though a number of these mashups are unusual and not really to my taste, there are a number that are quite enjoyable. You could probably keep any house party dancing for quite some time by simply putting this game on and letting it play the mixes by itself. In fact, after this game came out, I actually started to hear the mixes at school activities. My favorite mix in the game has to be the game's title song, "DJ Hero", a turntable-themed update Foreigner's 1981 rock classic "Juke Box Hero" that's far more awesome than it has any right to be. With rapping from Murs cleverly integrated with Lou Gramm's original vocals and Z-Trip providing some of the most fun scratch runs that the game has to offer, it has to be the game's defining moment, both from a musical and gameplay perspective.
As with its brother series, there is a suite of multiplayer options available, both online and off.
One interesting feature of DJ Hero is the inclusion of a Guitar/DJ co-op mode. One person plays as the DJ, the other on guitar. The guitar gameplay engine that DJ Hero uses is identical to that of Guitar Hero 5. While it does seem like something of a superfluous option to simply make use of previously owned instruments, it nonetheless makes a nice little diversion from the main DJ Hero gameplay.
Another good thing about DJ Hero is the graphics. While not anything that is really going to push your console to the limits, the venues look nice and evoke a party atmosphere without being too flashy, or over-the-top. There are many characters that you can play with, including licensed DJs such as Daft Punk and DJ Z-Trip, and they look pretty good while DJing.
There are times when the sensitivity for scratching feels off, and having laggy or weird controls is something you don't want in any game, especially rhythm games. I'm not sure if my turntable is somehow broken or if I'm not scratching properly, but sometimes the scratches seem to miss even though I'm pushing the turntable in the right direction. Even more problematic are the scratches where you have to push the table in the same direction multiple times in a row. I seriously cannot figure out how to make these work consistently. I have witnessed extremely good players acing songs with advanced scratching, so obviously these sections aren't impossible, but it sometimes feels like they are.
While there are a number of mashups included in the game, the actual number of songs that the mashups pull from is a bit small. You'll notice many of the songs, especially the pop and rock ones, getting re-used in other mixes. It gets a bit annoying to have to hear "Somebody Told Me", "ABC", and "Semi-Charmed Life" multiple times through DJ Hero. In fact, this creates something of a sense of deja-vu as you go through the list of mixes on offer. Every once in a while, you'll be asking yourself: "Didn't I play this one before?"
Another flaw with DJ Hero is the fact that the menu is all together on one big wheel. All of the options for every mode are placed on a single scrolling wheel rather than a list of screens. This feels extremely clunky, almost as if the menu had to be thrown together at the last second just to meet a deadline.
Finally, there is no way to fail a song, a seriously drastic departure from other rhythm games, and one that I'm not entirely comfortable with. The tension associated with having to play with a certain level of precision and skill when trying to survive tougher songs is completely deflated in DJ Hero. While some players will welcome this as a fresh departure from the norm, standards are standard for a reason.
The Bottom Line
Just because DJ Hero is associated with Guitar Hero does not make it a bad game. In actuality, it's a very good one, only marred by slightly sketchy controls and always on no-fail. DJ Hero delivers a fresh approach to a well-worn genre with it's unique soundtrack and gameplay that somehow manages to stand on its own apart from both Guitar Hero and Beatmania. If you absolutely despise hip-hop and electronica, you might consider giving DJ Hero a miss. If you've found yourself getting burnt out on Guitar Hero, however, definitely give DJ Hero a go.