When DJ Hero was first announced, it seemed like a bad idea. Applying the Guitar Hero tactics to what was, at the time, sounding a lot like a hip-hop-focused game just didn't sound like a great fit. Sure, you'd get a popular genre of music into video games, but, really, how many modern rap tracks even have a turntable in them? When renders of the game's controller were released, the idea looked even worse. Buttons on the turntable? It looked like some kind of horrific toy. The whole thing looked like a cash-in. But still... I couldn't help but find the whole thing at least a little intriguing.
Hearing that it'd be focused on both hip-hop and dance music made it start sounding interesting. As a fan of the music, it's been rough seeing it go so underrepresented in rhythm gaming. Adding insult to injury, most of the attempts have been pretty bad. But more than just wanting this style of music to get its due, seeing the game in motion made the whole thing click. For me, that happened back at E3, where I got to see the game played in front of me and get a sense of what, exactly, you'd be doing in the game. You can watch the video I shot of this demo, if you like.
After seeing it in motion, I was pretty much on-board. The game seemed like much more than a simple Guitar Hero clone, and the folks working on the game seemed like they were going after some really solid music. Plus, the concept of mashing up two dissimilar songs (which has sort of been played out) ends up working a lot better when the mixes are actually made from the masters, rather than just bootleg DJs with instrumentals and acapellas. This means the tracks can get more complicated than you might think. No one's just dropping Beyonce vocals over Nirvana instrumentals here, these are all proper mixes, with plenty of cuts back and forth between the records and other things that make them more interesting, both from a listening and a gameplay perspective. But since I hadn't played it for myself, there were still a few question marks. I got a chance to play a final version of the game at an event last week, and came away impressed.
I'm impressed with the way the game eases you into the action. Working the turntable and the crossfader in DJ Hero feels very different than slinging a guitar controller over your neck and slapping out a few notes does. There's a lot going on, and a lot for you to keep track of. So it's incredibly smart that the game's tutorial takes things step-by-step, working you through the basics and getting you up to the advanced features. The tutorial, narrated by Grandmaster Flash, is a must for anyone looking to get the most out of the game, and you won't get very far without at least some kind of instructions, be it from the game or from a friend who already knows what's up. From there, you can dive into the music at one of several difficulty settings. While the easy mode is incredibly simple, it's also so stripped down that I can't really imagine anyone having fun with it. After completing the tutorial, I dove directly into medium, which employs the crossfader, all three buttons on the turntable, and, of course, the turntable itself. It's a good medium, letting you use all of the features of the controller while still acting lenient enough to keep you from getting savaged on your first few times out.
But hard and expert is where the game really starts to get exciting, mostly because of the way scratching changes at higher difficulty settings. On medium, the scratching is really indiscriminate--as long as you're holding down the right button and rubbing the record, you're good. But the scratches get directional and more realistic on the higher settings. So arrows on the scratch markers let you know when and how to move the record, which more closely matches the music than the medium difficulty. I managed to get two stars on a song on expert... it's definitely no pushover, but it also doesn't seem totally out of reach, either. You don't really need to worry about failing, either. The game is in some kind of permanent no-fail mode, so the music never stops... of course, if you aren't doing well, you aren't earning stars, so you aren't going to make progress in the game's career mode if you don't play well.
The game groups songs into tiers, sort of like Guitar Hero. But instead of having you play through each song one at a time, the tiers in DJ Hero work as a setlist that you play in one sitting, one after the next. It would have been pretty cool if the tracks blended into each other, but instead there's a brief pause between songs. If you tire of the game's preset tiers, you can also create your own sets.
On top of all that, the game looks really nice. But you can watch some gameplay videos to get a feel for that. The most important thing is that once you give DJ Hero a try, it all falls into place and quickly becomes a ton of fun. Now I'm just curious to know if the fun lasts... but we'll have to wait for review time before we can figure that out.