A barrage of Yeah Boyees.
There are certain games that, for whatever reason, I don’t foresee myself attempting to play, let alone review. I can’t touch the Madden games because I won’t settle for anything less than the Pittsburgh Steelers winning sever consecutive Super Bowls, then crossing over and winning the Stanley Cup at least twice. I won’t attempt Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport because I’m about as confident in my ability to handle cars as Indiana Jones is with snakes. And I never envisioned myself attempting DJ Hero because textbooks cost money that I simply did not have to spend on another plastic musical instrument controller taking closet space away from actual clothes. Fortunately, a member of my family has a heart of gold and wallet filled with Benjamins (or is that “” in ?) Now I find myself with a new musical game, and one turntable short of possessing two turntables and a microphone.
DJ Hero is the non-creatively named turntable version of Guitar Hero. Included in the graffiti-laden box is a sizable record player-controller that is begging to be used as a weapon in a New Jack match. There’s a record-shaped spinning disc with three coloured buttons abroad, and you can imagine what those three buttons do. There’s also a slider, a twisty knob, a big glowing button, and…look, I don’t know what the official technical terms are for all this turntablature. Grandmaster Flash tried to explain everything in the tutorial but I started having a hard time believing any words that came out of his mouth when he started spouting about the creative freedom you can express in parts of the songs. This “creative freedom” refers to the ability to throw in canned sound effects in red-striped segments, sound effects that will more than likely involve Flava Flav.
Most kidding aside, the DJ Hero experience works because that strange DJ controller really changes the music game experience. Sure, you’re still pressing coloured buttons to match the coloured circles on the screen. But now you’re thinking about scratching the disc at certain parts (musically, not literally), flipping the switch to fade in or out parts of the song, and turning the knob to do crazy audio effects to the song. Remember the first time you played Guitar Hero and you felt like the grungiest of rock stars, playing out all of your on-stage rock ‘n roll fantasies? (and possibly apprehending some substances to play out the post-concert part of those fantasies?) Well DJ Hero evokes that similar feeling all over again. When you’re twisting knobs and scratching the disc thing in tune with the music, you really feel like that egotistical punk on top of the stage tearing the house down, and asking everyone if the roof is indeed on fire.
How close this turntable controller is to simulating actual DJing, I don’t know. My DJ friend was too busy fulfilling zombie apocalypse fantasies in Left Four Dead to let me know. I somehow imagine the reaction of the DJ community reflecting that of actual guitar players with Guitar Hero; that us gamers are all a bunch of poser amateur punks. Oh well.
Now, there are a few differences between DJ Hero and its Grandguitarfather. You don’t play one song at a time, but rather a mix of two songs. And while a handful of songs from actual DJs like Daft Punk and Eric Prydz appear from time to time, most of the songs are popular rock, pop, rap and retro tracks in a blatent, mainstreamed attempt to create the whitest DJ-related product of all time. As part of said target audience, I’m satisfied. There are some unsuspecting mixes of tracks from unlikely artists like Gary Newman, the 5, 50 Cent and Zakk Wylde, to illustrate the game’s unsuspecting variety. And whoever thought mixing Vanilla Ice with MC Hammer was a great idea was very, very, very correct. The tracklist has close to 100 mixes, though you’ll hear certain songs a bit too frequently. You’ll hear Rihanna’s “Disturbia” so often that you may begin to sympathize for Chris Brown.
Other differences between DJ Hero and music games that aren’t DJ Hero are a little more subtle. It’s no longer “Star Power” but “Euphoria”, with the two differences being that 1. you press the glowing button instead of turning the controller sideways and 2. presumably, the crowd pops acid when you activate it. Getting a good enough note streak gives you a Rewind Attack, where turning the disc counter-clockwise rewinds you back to a previous portion of the song. This feature that comes up too often and thus gets a bit repetitive when you’re kicking too much ass, but now I’m nitpicking. All of the songs are divided into “setlists” and…get this, you have to actually UNLOCK the game’s songs. Oh boy, when was the last time you actually had to do that in a music game?
Most of my problems with DJ Hero aren’t really dealbreakers, especially since the “deal” part for me cost nothing thanks to Santa Claus. But I’ll mention them anyways. This being an Activision music game, you’ve got all of five downloadable songs available for purchase to expand your music library. The turntable controller, being more nuanced than the guitar controller’s “five buttons and a flap” is a bit harder to explain to a newcomer, and thus the game’s party appeal is limited. You can play multiplayer with either a second turntable or, for certain songs, a guitar, but you’re better off just popping in a four player Rock Band or Guitar Hero and getting more than two people involved. And finally, my biggest issue is that of personality. The game has an assortment of characters, venues and equipment filling assorted DJ archetypes, such as the Eastern European weirdo or the slutty Brazilian model type that just happens to know how to play turntables (there might actually be 6 of those in the game), but DJ Hero as a whole lacks the brazen sense of humour of Harmonix’s Guitar Hero games. To be fair, no music game since Guitar Hero 2 has come close to matching the rock lifestyle spoof of such, which may have more to do with the music game genre as a whole selling out to The Man than anything else.
But really, DJ Hero is worth getting because there’s an aura of freshness surrounding the game, and I’m not just saying that because DJ Jazzy Jeff is in it. The experience feels exciting, fun again. It reminds you of the first time you played Guitar Hero and felt like Zakk Wylde without the mysterious odors. It’s worth the exuberant price tag (well, maybe not worth the Renegade Edition’s super exuberant price tag.) It may not rescue the music game genre from its impending stagnation, but it at least slows it down. And does so to the tune of Another One Bites The Dust.