Slap-bass, post-millennial, retro-kitsch, taffy-stretching, electro-metal floor-fillers.
In a world of mp3s and Serato, where technology has made everyone and their mom a DJ, the vinyl arts seem to be a distant memory. Does anyone even remember what records are anymore? The people at Freestyle Games and Activision apparently do and they like it enough to make DJ Hero the latest entry into the ‘Hero’ franchise. While not the first of its kind [Special mention given to beatmania. ~Ed.], Activision is the first to bring a DJ game into the mainstream in America.
[image1]So what’s up with the turntables? You can’t have a good DJ game without solid control, and DJ Hero offers up a simple-looking table-mixer combo that’s really not much of a looker. You’ve got three buttons across a single platter, a crossfader, effects knob, and Euphoria (a.k.a. 'star power') button. Controller D-pad and buttons are cleverly hidden beneath a face panel, and there’s not much else to it on the surface.
But what the peripheral lacks for in style it makes up in function. The best part about the whole thing is that it’s wireless, so no worries about running cords across the living room. The peripheral is quite a lot lighter and smaller than your standard Technics SL 1200 MKII, making it the perfect size for slapping it across your lap, throwing it on top of a TV dinner tray, or tucking away behind all of those other plastic instruments you own. And even though it’s a little weird having only one table (as opposed to two or even three), it works with the game’s setup perfectly.
I only have two minor complaints: button clicking is pretty loud, and with the way the controller is set up, scratching motions are actually tougher than they are in real life. Rather than moving a record sitting on top of a slipmat back and forth, you have to move the entire platter back and forth. It’s far from an impossible task, but it does gets a little tiresome when you’re working the center of the platter with your fourth finger.
The basics should be instantly familiar to anyone that’s experienced any of the Hero games before. You have three action lines scrolling across your screen representing two tracks and effects. If a tap icon comes up on a line, you press the corresponding button to start a track or effect. Arrows represent scratches, and shifts right and left of the lines represent the use of the crossfader. It’s a simple and elegant system that works very well.
Your power move, known as Euphoria, is earned by completing specific sections of the track perfectly, just like the other Hero games. Likewise, it acts as a score multiplier with the added bonus of automatically crossfading for you. Another bonus for hitting a high number of combos is the rewind function. This allows you to spin the track back a bit and rack up even more points.
[image2]If you want to get fancy or in some cases more difficult, the optional effects knob will allow you to twist the sound of a track (in specific places) or modify the sample set in your arsenal. It’s nice to see they went out and got some familiar samples like Flavor Flav’s classic “Yeeeaaaahhhh Boyyyyyyy!!”, but the gamer nerd in me craves the old classic Street Fighter sounds (Capcom x Activision collabo!). Increased difficulty also brings direction specific scratching. Rather than just shoving the platter around any which way, specific up and down arrows are added to the mix. Decreased difficulty is also an option, eliminating the scratch component and making it very easy for anyone to get in on the action. No fails help the rhythmically challenged as well.
While it is nice to be able to add a little bit of customization into the track, it feels like more of a tease. DJing is all about making a song your own, but there’s really very little you can do in that regard. This inevitably begs the question that many of you are probably thinking: Does DJ Hero help you learn how to DJ for real? Sorry, Skippy, the answer is no. There are some good intro concepts to crossfading in here, but that’s about it. But don’t let that break your heart - it’s still a very entertaining experience.
The single-player adventure has you performing specific sets for star ratings. The better you do, the more stars you get, and the more stars you have, the more playlists, characters, and other options you’ll unlock. Rocket science it is not, but you’ll be kept busy for some time trying to get every last setlist and character.
The absolute key component to rhythm games is the music and DJ Hero is no exception. I’m happy to report that DJ Hero nailed this right on with a pretty diverse set. You expect artists like Jay-Z and pop artists like the Black Eyed Peas to make appearances, but Marvin Gaye and Motörhead too? Then add some Paul Van Dyk, David Bowie, Daft Punk, and a number of artists from different genres, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear something you like. Some Stevie B and ATB are still on my want list, but hey, I guess that’s what DLC is for.
One pleasant surprise is that players have the option to add in an unlikely partner in the form of a guitar player. Some setlists accommodate both DJ and guitarists resulting in a pretty interesting mix. It’s not a game changer, but it does give you yet another reason to pick up that guitar once again.
[image3]If you feel like being social, multiplayer is available both locally and over Xbox Live / PSN. Connecting to a game is a snap, but there’s really not much difference here than when you play the single-player. You just focus on your own streams and hope that you’ve done better than your opponent in the end. It would have been nice to see a little back and forth battle action, but it looks like we’re going to have to wait for the sequel.
Weighing in at a hefty $119.99 for the standard edition, you can’t ignore the fact that the cover charge for this club is the same as getting a copy of Uncharted 2 and Borderlands together. It’s enough to discourage the casual consumer, but it
can’t won’t stop wannabe DJs everywhere from getting a fix.
For someone that grew up on a steady diet of Invisibl Skratch Piklz and Toasted Marshmello Breaks, DJ Hero was like visiting an old friend. There’s plenty of room for improvement, since there isn’t much in the way of creative ability or battle variation, but the diverse track picks and simple control scheme help put together a game that will definitely keep the crowd hyped.