- Buy the Game
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
o matter how many new features they add to the latest “Guitar Hero” or “Rock Band,” you’re still just strumming the same plastic guitar, only to a different set of songs. It’s a pretty harsh statement to be sure, but for those looking for an entirely new music rhythm experience, Activision has you covered. “DJ Hero” may sound an awful lot like its axe-shredding cousin in spirit, but the gameplay mechanics couldn’t be any more different. Whether or not the game appeals to the same audience is another matter, because while “DJ Hero” may seem targeted at a much smaller group of gamers, it didn’t stop me from falling in love with its incredibly addictive gameplay.
The first thing you’ll notice about “DJ Hero” is the turntable controller. Though the last thing anyone really needs is another piece of hardware that can only be used for one type of game, Red Octane has done an incredible job in constructing a solid peripheral that doesn’t take up too much space. A majority of the turntable is dedicated to the platter, which spins 360 degrees and includes three colored buttons: green, red and blue. The other section snaps on to either side of the platter (making it lefty friendly) and includes a crossfader, an effects switch, a Euphoria button, and all of the buttons from a standard controller.
Although “Guitar Hero” had a learning curve of its own, it’s not nearly as steep as the one you encounter in “DJ Hero.” There’s just a lot more to keep you occupied compared to holding down a fret button and hitting the strum bar. You’re tapping buttons on the platter to correspond with scrolling notes, holding down those same buttons and moving the platter back and forth to emulate scratching, and moving the crossfader to the left, right and center depending on which record(s) you want to hear. In addition to crossfading, the left hand is also kept busy with the effects dial (the turntable equivalent of a whammy bar) and the Euphoria button, which activates a Star Power-like score multiplier that is earned by completing certain sections of a mix. Keep a combo going long enough and you'll be rewarded with a Rewind, which allows you to literally rewind a section of the song – an extremely helpful ability for mastering Euphoria sections.
Fans of music rhythm games will probably be able to nail the basics after a couple of tries, but once you increase the difficulty, that’s when things get a lot harder. Notes fly down the screen, crossfades become quicker and more frequent, and perhaps most difficult of all, scratches must be completed according to a specific direction. That means that instead of just wicka-wickaing your way through each scratching section, you actually have to pay attention to the arrows on the note stream. The mandatory tutorial session hosted by DJ Grandmaster Flash will get you started, but it’s going to take real practice if you hope to move on to the Hard and Expert difficulty settings.
Fortunately, with 93 different mixes made up over 100 songs, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do just that. Only a few set lists are available when you begin, but for each mix that you complete, you earn stars that unlock additional set lists, characters, outfits and DJ gear like turntables and headphones. Some of the characters are just generic personalities created for the game, but others are actual industry icons (like DJ Grandmaster Flash, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Daft Punk and DJ AM) that you can play as once you’ve finished their personal set lists. The soundtrack itself is fairly eclectic, with a variety of music that includes songs from the likes Tears for Fears, Queen and Beck, but there’s still a heavy focus on hip hop. Curiously, some of the best mixes come from the former, like a mash-up of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life.” Other notable mixes include 50 Cent’s “Disco Inferno” vs. David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers’ “Bustin’ Loose” vs. Young MC’s “Bust A Move,” and Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” vs. Eminem’s “My Name Is.” Plus, you have to love any game that maximizes the use of the Herbie Hancock classic “Rockit.”
As for those loyal “Guitar Hero” fans who’d rather not have to learn how to play another plastic instrument, there’s a DJ + Guitar mode that lets you shred the guitar to one song while your friend scratches to another. There are only a handful of these mixes in all, but you better believe that Activision will crank out plenty of DLC just like it if it becomes popular among gamers. Friends can also battle one another in DJ vs. DJ mode, but it’s pretty barebones, with the winner decided strictly by their final score. Hopefully, the sequel will offer additional multiplayer modes, but just like the game itself, it’s a nice starting point. As fun as “DJ Hero” is, however, it probably won’t be the next big thing – at least, not when compared to the pop phenomenon of “Guitar Hero" – but it’ll definitely fill a much-ignored niche that may even convert some non-hip hop fans along the way.