Giant Bomb Review

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DJ Hero Review

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  • X360

DJ Hero's gameplay is challenging and exciting with a feel all its own, making it a welcome addition to the world of peripheral-based rhythm games.


It'll take some time before all of this feels like second nature. 
It's been awhile since we've seen an honest-to-goodness turntable video game here in the US. Konami experimented a bit with Beatmania, but it's been a pretty dry decade. That's part of what makes Activision's DJ Hero so exciting. It's a new peripheral with a new take on how rhythm games are played. It's also exciting because it represents genres of music that aren't getting much attention from the power duo of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, like various types of electronic dance music and hip-hop. With a cool setlist that's implemented in a unique way and a peripheral that backs up the on-screen happenings pretty well, DJ Hero is a solid start to what will probably make for a fruitful franchise.

Sorry to open up by looking ahead to sequels that haven't been announced yet, but the big thing you'll probably notice about DJ Hero is that it feels like a first-generation product. Remember how the original Guitar Hero didn't let you do much more than just play the songs and look at your score? That's most of what DJ Hero has to offer. You're presented with different mixes, each with anywhere from two to eight songs in it, and you'll play the tracks, one after the next, until you've completed that tier of songs. You'll earn stars for your performance, which opens up more set lists and additional window dressing, like playable characters, new stages, more outfits, and so on. Some of the characters are real-life DJs, like Z-Trip, Grandmaster Flash, and Daft Punk.

That sounds straightforward, but there's a bit more to it. You can play against another player either locally or over the Internet. These are simple score competitions that allow the host to build a custom playlist, if desired. You can also play ten of the game's tracks with a local player wielding a Guitar Hero guitar controller. This seems like it was added as a bit of an afterthought. Sure, these custom mixes aren't found in a non-guitar format, but the guitar parts can be repetitive in some cases, and get lost in the cacophony of DJ whistles and scratching in others.

The turntable itself is a well-made piece of wireless machinery. 
The game is played with a custom-built turntable controller that has a crossfader, an effects dial, a button to activate Euphoria (which is the game's equivalent of Guitar Hero's star power), and a turntable with three buttons on it. Your primary activity is pressing these buttons and holding them while you scratch the record back and forth in time with the on-screen indicators. The game will also tell you when you flip the crossfader back and forth, which cuts between the two records. For the most part, the controller is fine, but scratching while holding down the buttons feels a bit weird. It's like the turntable's platter is a bit too heavy, so it gets moving with a bit of momentum when you're scratching. This leads to imprecision, which is never great in games like these. Also, you'll probably need to spend some serious time with the controller to get used to hitting it without looking down at it. Also, the crossfader can be a little tricky. It's easy to slide it too far when you're trying to center it.

So as you might have guessed, this game isn't as easy to pick up and play as Guitar Hero was back in its day, since the activity of DJ'ing is a bit more abstract, but the game opens with a great tutorial that helps make everything clear. That said, you'll need some practice to actually get good at the game. It didn't take much time for me to start getting five stars on every song I encountered on medium, but the two harder difficulties make meaningful changes to the way the game is played, making it both more difficult and more rewarding. While playing on medium, I felt like I was growing into the harder difficulties as I played.

There aren't too many surprises in the way DJ Hero plays out, as you're essentially just playing along to the music. If you match the on-screen cues, you earn stars and the music plays properly. When you miss, things go poorly, but you'll never fail out. The game will let you trudge on with your performance, even when you're playing like crap. There are a few wild cards that let you have a direct impact on the sound of a song, like the effects knob, which you can use to filter the tunes in certain spots. Occasionally you'll get big lines down the middle channel. This is your cue to go nuts with the center button to freestyle some extra effects over the music. You can select from multiple packs of freestyle sounds while you're selecting your character, giving you access to banks of Flavor Flav samples, spacey dub siren sounds, and a rough equivalent to that dancehall air horn noise that all DJs use. All of them. Clearly, the air horn is the only correct choice, but ultimately, your off-beat slamming of the center button only serves to make the songs sound worse. The rewind feature, which lets you back up a portion of the song and play it again with a double-score multiplier, is also neat in theory, but it almost never sounds good. It uses a generic rewind noise and never sounds natural--you always feel like you're knocking the song off-beat. Still, using things like the rewind and euphoria power is the key to earning high scores and getting stars.

 If this looks too crazy, relax. The lower difficulty settings get incredibly easy.
There's a really sharp soundtrack in DJ Hero that covers a lot of different genres. With the guitar controller playing into some songs, you'll find songs from the Foo Fighters and The Killers in there, as well as a version of Motorhead's "Ace of Spades." But you aren't playing these songs on their own. Each track is built from two or more different songs, and they're mashed together to form something new and kind of crazy. Sometimes it works out perfectly, like when Daft Punk and Queen are dropped into one track. Other times, it feels a little hokey, like when DJ Z-Trip and Murs rework Foreigner's "Jukebox Hero" into a song about turntables called, you know, "DJ Hero." By and large, the mixes are well-produced and many of them could stand on their own outside of the game.

Visually, DJ Hero does the same thing that all games like this do. You'll be too busy focusing on the highway to see what buttons you need to hit next to notice the variety of backgrounds and characters. One thing you'll definitely notice, though, are the constantly flashing lights in some areas. At times, I felt like the game should stop and throw up one of those epilepsy warnings. Last night I seriously thought about sliding a wallet under my tongue, you know, just in case. The stages and strobes and huge party scenes actually look really cool, if you have time to pay attention to them. Also, watching virtual Daft Punk, dressed up like robots, slamming pads and buttons on their polygonal gear is pretty cool. Unfortunately, there are a lot of times where the on-screen DJ isn't matching your actions. Watching Jazzy Jeff throw his hands in the air while you're furiously scratching just looks like a really goofy oversight.

It's a bit barebones, and the turntable controller feels like it could have been better in a couple of spots. But as the start of something new, DJ Hero provides a very strong foundation that things like additional downloadable content or full-fledged sequels could really build on. If you've been fiending for a rhythm game that represents a different style of music or you just like cutting and scratching, DJ Hero's a lot of fun. Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
53 Comments
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Posted by CrazyCrazyDoctor

If I had the money, this would be an amazing buy. :(

Posted by killdave

Cool review, Im not sold though :(

Posted by Pie

Now onto the persona 4 review!
Ah, money...
Too many games coming out that cost less then a £100

Posted by PirateNipple

I tried the demo at Best Buy the other night and once I finally got my hands on it, everything clicked.
 
I read previews and watched videos and everything but to anyone who really wants to see what this is all about, try to get your hands on the demo.

Posted by Scooper

This game will remain inconprehensible nonsense to me forever as I'll probably never play it.

Posted by DanielJW

I'll wait until this drops in price. It mildly interests me, but definitely not enough to warrant a purchase this time of year.

Posted by gingertastic_10

I'm glad to see it get a good review. I'm sick of people talking about how gay it looks. Don't knock it til you try it.

Posted by AlexB
@CrazyCrazyDoctor said:
" If I had the money, this would be an amazing buy. :( "
Ya, looks like a lot of fun, but not a necessary purchase.
Posted by VisariLoyalist

Jeff Gerstmann giving DJ hero 4 stars, well here's what I got for you, Blat! Blat! Blat!

Posted by addictedtopinescent

I picked it up today, great game, and while I agree about the game being a littles light on features , I love the turntable, much more then the guitars and drums from GH and RB. 
Also I hope they release the soundtrack, I would totally buy it.

Posted by The_Philosopher

I'll be getting this for Christmas. It's seems like a really fun and new experience.

Posted by CharlesAlanRatliff

I will get it someday. It is just too expensive right now with everything else coming out.

Posted by Xeiphyer

GET COONCE IN THE BASEMENT FOR QUICKLOOK!?! =D

Posted by Double0hFor

fuck techno

Posted by vinsanity09

damn, I want this game but I don't want to spend 120$ on another plastic instrument...

Posted by RenegadeSaint

My interest in music games is at an all-time low right now so I'm going to have to pass until this bundle drops way down in price.  Also, I really don''t need any more plastic instruments in my house.

Posted by CitizenJP

This game was made to play on ecstasy apparently agagagagag. I am going to have to pass on this one though. I like guitars better. :P

Posted by Peacemaker

I'm loving the game.  It does have a very guitar hero 1 feeling of really solid grounding but some things aren't perfect.  It's weird not anticipating sequels in music games for the past couple of years and now I'm already wanting the second DJ hero.  I'll be fine with this one until then though.

Posted by guiseppe

I'd definately get this if it wasn't so expensive here.

Posted by quantumshift5

Boo, what a load of crap.
Posted by Romination

yay. more peripherals (nah, just kidding, i only have a single guitar and a light gun. awesome!)

Edited by Bigandtasty

Four stars sounds about right. I must resist the allure of more plastic junk for now though.
 
P.S. If Jazzy Jeff is jazzy, then what is Jeff Gerstmann?

Posted by Media_Master

Good to hear.

Posted by PolyesterPimp

I want this and considering how much space it wont take up compared to plastic guitars and drums this seems like it will be in my life very soon

Posted by HatKing

I'm pretty sure I'm going to swing by the local Best Buy at some point tomorrow and try this one out.  I have only just recently started getting into this style of music but artists like Justice and Daft Punk are really begining to appeal to me.  If I had money I'd buy this... but I can't even afford the games I've been anticipating let along the ones that just kind of came out of no where on me.
Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

Might just have to pick this up.
Posted by Hampe

 The game isn't released until the 30th here in Europe, so I haven't got my hands on it yet. But overall the reviews are saying good things about this.
 
Being a pretty decent Beatmania IIDX player, this game takes a different approach of my favorit genre of music games. Many of the mashups seems awesome. So I think it's going to be a lot of fun, but not necessarily the same type of game I'm used to play.
 
Great review anyway. It doesn't scare me away from playing this game. Looking forward to Friday!

Posted by TripMasterMunky

I'll wait until next year when DJ Hero 3 comes out, and this one will be really cheap.

Posted by afrokola
@CrazyCrazyDoctor said:
" If I had the money, this would be an amazing buy. :( "
Same for me man, this looks and sounds pretty fun.
Edited by Bigbombomb

Great review, I'll probably get DJ Hero when the price drops or when Christmas comes around.

Posted by SenatorSpacer

Waiting for price drop, I can't invest that much money into something

Posted by Kraznor

Really liking this game. And the controller really doesn't take up that much space. And the Renegade carrying case/table is AWESOME. Finally, my favoritest genre gets a music game. Hope it succeeds and they either make a sequel or start doing DLC.

Posted by ashogo
@Double0hFor said:
" fuck techno "
lol
Posted by ahoodedfigure

Other Uses for DJ Hero Controller:
 
Championship speed skating
 
Amateur figure skating in central park like in that movie...
 
...

Posted by jonnyboy

My interest spiked at the announcement of this, now I just can't wait to test my skills on the ones and ones.

Posted by Phished0ne
@Peacemaker:  I feel exactly the same way, I bought this game last night, played it till i was 1 setlist away from Daft Punk,  and thought before i went to bed, "oh shit...am i actually excited for the sequel to a game published by Activision?" 
 
 
This is possibly the best rhythm game i have ever played, besides GH1, GH2 , and Frequency/Amplitude. It Oozes so much style, and the music(even the songs involving  Rihanna or Gwen S.) is  amazing.  I agree about the turn table feeling a little to heavy on the platter-side but that is a small oversight.  I just like that i can flip the mixer over to the right side, but keep the buttons(on the turntable) on the left side, i think it feels to akward to have your hands so close together.
Posted by get2sammyb

Can't wait for my copy to arrive.

Posted by PhatSeeJay

So now I want to mix the Halo soundtrack with a little bit of Daft Punk! *flex*

Posted by F1

I'd love to play it now, but I have no money! Maybe if I sell all these plastic guitars I have, I can pony up enough cash.
Good review Jeff!

Posted by Shaunage

As a long time GH fan who's growing very bored very fast with guitar games, this is an absolute breath of fresh air. Really liking it so far.

Posted by Kohe321

Good review!

Posted by Linkyshinks

I cannot afford to be getting this just yet. having spent shit loads on the full Beatles RB set. I'll definitely be getting this later though, it's equally my thing as Beatles RB is. I have some awesome Technics, a great mixer and the works. I would love it for Christmas, but I will wait till the new year I reckon.

Posted by Afroman269

I would really like to get this but damn I spent way too much money in this damn music genre. Even if I were to buy this I know that next year they will have a new one with a better turntable which just leads to the bullshit slope of buying more plastic.

Posted by MasterSwanny

A quick look from the perspective of being able to see someone playing the game would be cool ;) Do it.

Posted by DrinkBourbon

Can this portion of the review : 
 

a rough equivalent to that dancehall air horn noise that all DJs use. All of them. Clearly, the air horn is the only correct choice


 be made into a link to the July 7th Bombcast?
Posted by badlogik

Loved Beatmania.  Loved Guitar Hero.  Tired of filling my room with plastic toys.  I'll be skipping this one as I'm sure 90% of the gaming population will be as well.

Posted by InsanePotato

Wait, this isn't borderlands at all. Jeff did we give you permission to stop playing? ;)

Posted by morphinekiss

Got this yesterday and have been enjoying it. Although the difficulty ramps up a lot over the Medium - Hard gap, there's still a mix for everyone regardless of what music genre you like.

Posted by IronScimitar

I think a video review would be more appropriate for this game.

Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

Damn, only 4 stars?!  I better pass on this.  
 
When it gets down to $30 for the turntable + game, give me a call.  As it is, I'd rather just buy or use the real electronic music-making tools out there.  I already own FL Studio Producer Edition, the amount of time you can spend working on song production is endless. It's also complex.

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