bshirk's DJ Hero (Xbox 360) review

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Tired of Using Your Opposable Thumbs? Get Your Scratch On!

 

Yo, when's the last time your head was bobbing to some dope beats? Were you at the club? At a concert? Or were you chillin' at home with a controller in your hand like yours truly?

Alright, I'm gonna keep it real with y'all. I don't care how you hang your head. Instead, I'm going to knock off this phony lingo and give you the scoop on an original music game from Activision. (wait, do original and Activision even belong in the same sentence?)

By now, practically every gamer and their frat boy buddies have experienced the casual fun provided by rhythm games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which leaves music game developers with little choice, but to expand on the options available to consumers. Guitar Hero's standard note pressing formula is still a kick at drunken parties, but most people can only take so much fake guitar (unless they're partial to a particular band pack release).

In order to keep that once successful formula from growing stale, Activision has created an entirely new plastic instrument to keep fans of rhythm games satisfied. What they produced may surprise you; it's not a keyboard; it's not a xylophone; it's a turntable. That's right, Activision decided to do away with the guitars and long hair, and create a scratching simulator.

This new music title, called DJ Hero is similar to its guitar brethren (as the name implies), but what's different here (besides the instrument) are the various styles of music contained on a single DVD. If you're like me, you probably imagined that DJ Hero would feature mostly Hip Hop and Rap, but that's really not the case.

Instead, DJ Hero is the most diverse music package to be released on a video game console. In this music game, you'll find Hip Hop, Rap, Rock, Electronica, Classical, and all other sorts of dance music. This was a wise move on Activision's part, as it could attract a diverse audience if marketed properly.

Not only are various genres represented -- you'll also find a number of famous artists ranging from 2Pac to David Bowie. What's unique about DJ Hero, however, is the way in which its songs are integrated into the game. Instead of being played as single tracks, DJ Hero's songs are mixed together to create wonderful concoctions that would appeal to nearly anyone born between the '70s and the present.

When I first heard of the artists featured on DJ Hero, I wasn't impressed. There were a couple artists I enjoyed listening to such as 2Pac and Public Enemy, but I hadn't really listened to Jay-Z and Eminem in years. I also wasn't a fan of artists such as Gwen Stefani, Vanilla Ice, and the infamous studio gangsta known as 50 Cent, so it really surprised me that I actually enjoyed most of these artists' songs when they were blended together with the material of other artists.

It's surprising how well songs like 2Pac's "Eyez On Me" and the Aranbee Pop Symphony Orchestra's "Bittersweet Symphony" blend together. This crossing of genres between groups such as The Jackson 5 and Jay-Z create some energetic blends that are not only fun to listen to, but are also a blast to play.

I know that so far I've mostly just mentioned Hip-Hop, but there are also some excellent blends involving Rock and Techno. You'd think that DJ Hero's selection of upbeat songs would turn off people that like more meaningful, lyrical music (like myself), but I actually really enjoyed listening to nearly ninety percent of the 93 tracks featured in this music title. Therefore, I suggest going into DJ Hero with an open mind (even if you are a self-proclaimed music snob). Enough about the music selection though. Let's get to the art of turntablism.

If you've ever been curious about what it's like to be a DJ, DJ Hero may be the closest you'll get to the real thing without maxing out your credit cards and breaking your wrists. You'll become a DJ by using a snazzy, plastic turntable controller that has removable components to accommodate both right and left-handed players (hey, maybe Activision isn't evil after all).

Regardless of whether or not your dominant hand is your right or your left, you'll let both of them do the talking when you actually DJ.

On the portion of the turntable controller called the mixer, you'll find a slider called the crossfader that can move to the left, middle, or right. Above that, you'll find a round, black button called the euphoria button, that functions similarly to Star Power from Guitar Hero. Directly to the right of the euphoria button, you'll find a knob that allows you to alter the volume of your music and obtain point bonuses.

Above all these important DJ tools, you'll find your standard controller buttons that are useful for navigating menus. But enough about the left side of the controller (or right side for lefties). Let's talk about the right.

The right side of the controller (or the turntable) is where you'll toughen up your weak wrist. Here, you'll find a rotating platter that can spin in 360 degrees. On top of this piece of black plastic, you'll find three color-coated buttons (similar to those found on Guitar Hero guitars).

Now that all the major gameplay tools have been identified, I'll break down the on-screen action. After you go through the song selection process (which I'll explain later), you'll find yourself staring at a virtual stage and a large, constantly rotating turntable. This turntable has numerous on-screen symbols that tell you when to perform specific actions.

What you'll immediately notice are three grey button-shaped slots that remain in place as a song plays. Each of these grey on-screen buttons represents the green, red, and blue buttons on your controller. At times, colored buttons will connect with the grey buttons, and at that moment, you have to press the colored buttons on your controller that match the buttons represented on-screen. Anyone who's played Guitar Hero or Rock Band should already be familiar with this.

What's new, however, is the scratching, euphoria, rewind, crossfader, and the effects dial. Anyone who's ever watched a DJ in action is probably familiar with scratching (or at least the basic action). To scratch in DJ Hero, you'll hold down a button that is represented on-screen, and you'll move the platter back and forth. If you've ever played a string instrument, it's similar to vibrato, where you move your finger back and forth to enhance the sound.

How can you tell when to just tap a button or scratch? Well, buttons you tap are simply represented by solid color buttons, while parts you need to scratch on are represented by colored notes with zigzagging arrows. When you notice one of these special notes on-screen, you simply have to perform a scratching movement until it ends, then release.

When playing on harder difficulties (Hard and Expert), you'll also find buttons with arrows that indicate a specific direction. These are far more challenging to hit, because you have to quickly rotate the platter up or down before the button disappears. Sometimes you'll even have to perform several consecutive actions (while performing other feats), so things can get complicated quickly.

Even more interesting than the scratch mechanic is the crossfader. On your television screen, you'll notice three vertical lines that have the same color as the buttons on your controller. At times, these lines will diverge to the left, middle, or right, and at this point, you have to quickly slide the crossfader to the appropriate direction. You'll often have to shift the crossfader quickly, while scratching and/or pressing buttons, so this can be fairly tricky.

Initially, the crossfader is a pain to use, as it's rather clicky and it'll often get stuck in a place you didn't intend for it to go. I never thought I'd get used to what I initially found to be imprecise, but after awhile, I realized that it's entirely manageable; it just takes a few hours of practice to master.

As for the effects and euphoria buttons, those are fairly simple and are there to provide you with more points. The effects dial should be turned in various directions when an on-screen indicator appears, because it can double your points momentarily. The sound alterations created by this device aren't very impressive, but it's worth touching once in awhile to increase your point multiplier.

The effects dial was helpful at times, but I found the euphoria button far more useful. It acts similarly to Star Power in Guitar Hero. When you complete a long string of notes successfully, your euphoria button will light up, which will allow you to double your points temporarily if it's pressed. I found this button quite convenient, and it often enabled me to complete songs with four or five stars.

The final gameplay mechanic worth mentioning is rewind. To rewind, the player needs to rotate the platter counterclockwise one full revolution quickly to obtain a point bonus and play a segment again for additional points. Rewinds are obtained in a manner similar to euphoria -- you have to play segments of songs skillfully to earn this helpful ability.

As you can probably tell, DJ Hero's gameplay is considerably more complex than that of Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Both hands are constantly a part of the action (as long as you're playing on Medium or above), so it can be an invigorating experience for individuals with good hand-eye coordination.

Players who've played plenty of Guitar Hero or real instruments such as the piano will probably want to start on Medium, because anything below that is quite slow and painfully easy for those with quick-moving fingers. However, it's great to have those difficulties available for those who're new to rhythm games, because they really ease you into the experience.

As you can probably imagine, Hard and Expert are quite challenging on the highest difficulty settings, because they require you to perform various tasks at a blisteringly fast pace, so I recommend staying away from those until you manage to complete all songs on Medium with three stars or more.

By now, you're familiar with how DJ Hero works, but I'll end by describing the various game options and longevity of the experience. When you first begin DJ Hero, you'll want to check out two fairly helpful tutorials that'll teach you all the game's important techniques. Once you've completed those, you can enter several different lists of themed songs.

Each song list has to be completed all at once, so you can't actually play individual songs unless you create your own setlist. These songs are usually arranged under specific real life DJs or are themed after artists like Jay-Z. Sometimes, the end of these lists contain bonus songs, but to unlock those, you'll have to complete all the other songs on the list with three stars or above (out of a total of five).

Some setlists, stages, and characters won't be unlockable until you obtain a certain amount of stars, so it's important to play on a difficulty level that allows you to easily satisfy those requirements. Unfortunately, the character and stage selections are rather stereotypical (come on, a masked Mexican wrestler?), but at least the unlocked songs are usually fun to hear and play.

As for extra game options to keep you busy after you've unlocked all the songs -- you can create your own setlists (the only way to play one song at a time), you can head online to an empty battlefield, and you can download two sets of two or three songs on DJ Hero's poorly supported online service. Oh, and you also have the option of plugging in an additional turntable or guitar for head-to-head battling or co-op (on songs that feature a guitar), but neither of those two options are too exciting.

However, there's one other option you might want to familiarize yourself with -- Party Mode. Even though DJ Hero is a single player game that'll have you alternating turns, there may be moments where you want to have a nice selection of energizing songs for a party. Let's say that everyone is dancing and wants to hear some upbeat music -- simply hold the euphoria button when a setlist starts, and the music will play automatically. This certainly isn't a bad way to get a party started.

DJ Hero definitely won't last as long as a marathon runner, and it uses some familiar gameplay mechanics, but is there enough new to win over people who enjoy rhythm games? For 120 dollars, I'd say no, but if you wait until its price drops to eighty dollars or so, it's a good buy (if you enjoy music mash-ups from a variety of genres). If you're tired of pressing color-coded buttons, DJ Hero's gameplay might not impress you, but I'd say that the addition of a crossfader and rotatable platter make it a far more enticing alternative than its guitar counterpart. If you're looking for a rhythm game that'll make use of your dexterous hands, you can't do much better than DJ Hero. Besides, if nothing else, it'll give you something new to do with your girlfriend or boyfriend.

Pros:

·          93 invigorating musical mash-ups featuring the likes of 2Pac and The Jackson 5

·          Diverse musical set lists ranging from Hip-Hop to Classical

·          Addicting gameplay that keeps both hands moving

·          All swearing has been cleverly edited out

·          Scratching and the crossfader provide for exciting gameplay

Cons:

·          Where's the online competition?

·          Lack of online store support

·          $120 is pricey for a single-player music game

·          Even with 93 songs, it's a relatively short experience

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