It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen a legitimate turntable video game here in the US. Years have passed since the release of the last entry in Konami’s Beatmania franchise, and even then it wasn’t very well received. Activision’s DJ Hero aims to bring that type of game into the spotlight once again. What’s interesting about DJ Hero is that it focuses on genres of music that don’t get a lot of attention from the most popular games in the music/rhythm genre, Guitar Hero and Rock Band, such as various types of electronica, hip-hop, and dance hall music.
The soundtrack in DJ Hero is where it truly shines, spanning many genres and eras. You’ll never find yourself playing just one song on it’s own, since every song is a mash-up of two different songs, many times from two completely different genres. For the most part the mash-ups work perfectly, such as a particular track that mashes up Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” with “Feel Good Inc.” by the Gorillaz. However, now and again they can come off as painfully cheesy, such as a track where the classic Foreigner song, “Jukebox Hero” is remade to be about DJ’ing, creatively named “DJ Hero”. As I said above though, for the most part the mash-ups are pretty solid. I’d even go as far to say that many of them could easily stand alone outside the game.
Visually, DJ hero sticks to the norm of the genre. The developers didn’t go all out in creating a giant spectacle for the background visuals, nor did they need to. They instead opted to show your DJ working the turntables and to have the camera pan out for the occasional crowd shot. The character models for the DJs however, are exceptional, whether it is one of the basic starter characters such as a large man in a luchadore mask, to the members of Daft Punk working the turntables looking like their robot selves.
For control, DJ hero utilizes a wireless turntable controller that features a record with three buttons, a crossfader, a “Euphoria” button (The DJ hero equivalent to Rock Band’s “overdrive” and Guitar Hero’s “star power”) and an effects dial. The main focus of the gameplay is pressing the three buttons on the record and scratching it back and forth when the on-screen notes indicate. As you play, you’ll also need to cut the crossfader back and forth to switch between audio tracks. It should also be noted that a second player can plug in a guitar controller and play the guitar portions of several songs.
Obviously, DJ Hero isn’t quite as easy to pick up and play as it’s cohorts in the Music/Rhythm game genre. This is largely due to the fact that DJ’ing is a tad bit more complex and abstract than the actions required to play in Guitar Hero or Rock Band. You’ll need to spend a decent amount of time getting used to the controller in order to get used to the way the game controls. That being said, the game does a great job of easing players into the actions required by offering both a basic and advanced tutorial right at the offset. The tutorials more than adequately prepare you to play the first few sets on Medium difficulty with ease, with the difficulty ramping up gradually as you progress.
The gameplay is much as you’d expect from a game in the genre. You’ll play along to the music, hitting buttons, scratching the record, and hitting the crossfader back and forth as the on-screen note track requires as you gain points to determine the star rating for your performance. Missing notes and crossfading improperly results in the track that you messed up on shutting off briefly, before starting back up a moment later as the song continues and you hit another note or get back on track. Messing up causes you to mess up the song briefly, and your score multiplier to reset, but never will it cause you to fail out and start over. The game will let you continue playing until the song ends and the next begins, even if you play like crap.
Occasionally, you’ll have the opportunity to impact the song directly. This comes by way of tweaking the effects dial at certain times, which allows you to filter the audio track. You’ll also have stretches now and then where you’ll be able to hammer on the effects button and play audio samples at will. You’ll have many different samples at your disposal, such as various Flavor Flav sound bites, dub sirens, and zapping noises. On top of that, after maintaining a note streak for a long enough time you’ll gain the ability to rewind the track back a few bars with a double-score multiplier. The rewind feature is a great concept,, but it’s execution is flawed due to the fact that they use the same generic rewind sound each time, but it is in no way a deal breaker.
Although DJ Hero can seem a bit barebones at times, it is a solid first entry in the franchise that will undoubtedly be improved and innovated upon through ways of downloadable content and/or full sequels. If you’re a fan of rhythm games that has grown a bit tired of the standard Guitar Hero/Rock Band formula, are interested in the type of music that the game offers, or just want to indulge in your fantasy of feeling like a badass DJ for a little while, DJ Hero is definitely a game worth checking out.