Sparkly balls, sparkly balls... I've got sparkly balls.
I think we can all agree that while the music genre is fun in its own right, there has been very little in terms of innovation for a few years now. The last big shift was when Rock Band came onto the scene and threw drums and vocals at us. DJ Hero represents a fundamental shift in how you play music games, as well as what kind of music is available for the masses. Throwing out all those "normal" instruments and opting for a turntable with a crossfader, DJ Hero certainly breathes a whole new sense of life into the genre... but does it go far enough?
It has been a while since people really didn't know how the main mechanics of a music game work, so allow me to break it down for you. Much like its related brethren, DJ Hero utilizes a highway for your notes. Instead of being a fret board, it's literally the extended curvature of a vinyl record. Actions will flow from the top of the highway downwards toward a hit line at the bottom, which is the time you are required to take action. There are three lines that flow downwards: green, red, and blue, each corresponding to a button on your turntable. With those lines come three gameplay mechanics to perform. First, you get the simple "press the button at the proper time" mechanic (ala Guitar Hero / Rock Band). Next are the scratch sections, which require you to hold down either the blue or green button and scratch the record. Lastly are the crossfading sections. The crossfader has positions of left, middle, and right and when pushed to either extreme, activates that specific musical track. Throwing it in the middle causes both tracks to play. You'll need to pay attention to when the colored lines jut out to the side to know where the crossfader should be.
Two additional controls have been added to the turntable as well, both of which are optional elements to the game but add on to your score. There is an effects dial which controls which freestyle sample you are using, or the pitch of the music, both of which can only be utilized in designated areas. Lastly is the euphoria button that activates DJ Hero's equivalent of Star Power doubling your multiplier for a specific amount of time. One final additional mechanic that'll increase your score is the rewind. After hitting 40 notes in a row, you can spin the record backwards, sending the song into reverse and giving you the opportunity to play a section of notes for a second time. During these few seconds, you'll also double your multiplier but it can be a challenge to properly pick up the song again and you may miss the proper crossfader position or a scratch.
Build quality of the table itself is fairly high. The record feels like it may be on some precision ball bearings as it rotates with ease, and all the buttons feel solid. The only two parts that feel iffy are the crossfader, which can cause you to miss the middle position, and the somewhat loose feeling "locking" mechanism that separates the table for a lefty flip. Unless you're playing on your lap though, that looseness will not be noticeable. A strange choice of placement is the standard Xbox 360 controller buttons, which are hidden below a door and, considering you need to use those buttons to navigate the clunky menus at all, it seems weird hiding them from view. Lastly, the blue button feels like it was placed just a tad too close to the center of the record, making any scratching with it feel unnatural... increasing the radius by about an inch would have helped.
Mechanics and specifics out of the way, lets get into the music provided in the game. Just about every single track you'll play is a mash up of two artists and genre ranges from classic motown to electronica... nothing is off limits. Generally, all the the mash ups sound great with only a few poor sounding pieces throw in there, but with over 90 songs to play I guess it was bound to happen. If you like mash ups, it'll be really hard to not want this soundtrack available outside of the game. Excellent all around and with popular DJs like DJ Shadow, DJ AM, The Scratch Perverts, and of course, Daft Punk, there's a lot of star power mixing quite a few tracks for the game.
The biggest problem with DJ Hero is the fact that it's just completely bare bones, almost like Activision knew this was going to be an iterative franchise for them. Aside from the massive library, there's very little here to do once you get tired of playing the core game and there certainly isn't anything surprising. Each difficulty level clearly makes the game a lot trickier, with "Hard" adding things like directional scratching and crossfader spikes, and sure you can jump into some competitive multiplayer or even a small number of co-op tracks, but you'll just play along to music 'till you get tired of it. Even the menus feel just utilitarian and clunky. Can you please explain to me why I need to go into the options menu to look at leaderboards? There's also really no way to "freestyle" which seems like a missed opportunity... but hey there's always DJ Hero 2.
At the end of the day, DJ Hero is a great start into a new line of music titles. It may not have all the bells and whistles, and it may be a little expensive for the normal everyday person, but it is certainly a refreshing take on a tried and true game genre with a crapload of awesome music. If you dig this type of music and have the scratch to spend (see what I did there?), it's hard to not recommend it.
- A fresh and entertaining new entry into the music genre.
- Wide variety of music stylings, thrown together with late night bravado.
- Clearly a "first version" game... being pretty barebones in terms of features
- With so much music, why do I keep hearing the same bands?
- Twix, Sprite, and Bing advertisements at underground raves... I guess they're sponsored now?