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Reviewed: DJ Hero
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: November 30th, 2009
Page: 2

The underlying premise of DJ Hero is the same premise of Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Band Hero, and all the other "rhythm game" setups out there. Players take a somewhat-simplified analogue of an instrument and attempt to re-create some semblance of the music performed by the original musicians (or a facsimile cover band thereof, if the original musicians or track recordings aren't available).

The difference for DJ Hero is that the genre it's playing off of is somewhat newer than most, definitely subject to a certain amount of derision just as much as adulation depending on the skill of the DJ and their choice of music to mix together, and... well... I'm just going to be blunt here. For probably 90% of the market, especially a market that's grown into the genre with classic rock music from the Guitar Hero and Rock Band eras, this stuff is gonna come off sounding like garbage. There are a couple of remixes of Vanilla Ice, plenty of Beastie Boys, and one song featuring Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff", as cover-banded by a trio of tone-deaf Yoko Ono impersonators it would seem.

If you can get past the music - and I'll acknowledge that I had a few moments of "what is this song doing here and why do I have to play it to move forward" in Guitar Hero as well - then you've got the imperious task of figuring out what the buttons on the controller do and how to work it. Activision included one heck of a tutorial mode, which you'll probably want to go through 2 or 3 times. Basically, the controller is a full-handed device. The turntable can be set up on the left or the right side; once set up, one hand controls the turntable itself (3 buttons plus the ability to make "scratch" motions), the other controls the track mixing slider and miscellaneous other buttons. I told you this was going to get complicated.

The game works as follows: each of the buttons needs to be tapped/held according to what's scrolling by, to simulate the addition of "house music" beats. The slider has to be worked left->center->right to add or remove the appropriate tracks (can't have the words of "Sabotage" popping out when the ripped-off "Under Pressure" beat from "Ice, Ice Baby" is supposed to be playing, after all). At the same time, the turntable itself has to be "scratched" back and forth when indicated, in a very specific way. I suppose if I had a major complaint, it's that holding just the inner button (pretty common) on the small-scale turntable makes it very, very difficult to push the turntable itself back and forth.

The other two buttons - an "effects" knob and "euphoria" button - work with the game's meter system. Similar to other rhythm games, keeping a combo string going builds up meter power, which can then be traded in for limited-time extra score multipliers. In this one, it's called "Euphoria" (drug reference, perhaps?), and it can be burned straight-off, or saved up. If the player can manage a full combo through a full euphoria-meter burn, they'll get the chance to "rewind" (by spinning the disc around once) and replay the current song section for extra points. Of course, for a number of the DJ Hero tracks, that also comes with the pain of having to listen to more of the song.

Where DJ Hero succeeds is in being insanely difficult - much like Guitar Hero felt to many people when it first came out. Either you get the controller, or you don't. It's not a game you can pick up and just play. Unfortunately, that's also the downfall. Whereas the rest of the rhythm genre has moved on to 4-player modes that make it as easy as possible to add and teach a new player, DJ Hero at most can be played by two, assuming that you've got either two turntables, or an extra Guitar Hero guitar around to play some of the very few "table plus guitar" tracks that are available. In short, reviewing sessions of this one quickly devolved into "can we please go back to a Guitar Hero title", and any party atmosphere is going to be no different. It simply is a solo game, pretenses of being set up for a "party" mentality be damned.

Again, there's a limited number of people who are going to love DJ Hero. They're going to beg for DLC, for the latest mix tracks by Eminem or 50 Cent or whoever their favorite DJ is. They're going to scratch the controller and mash the buttons until their fingers bleed. For the rest of the players out there, this isn't going to be a party game. It's not going to be a "well I'll jump in but I have to keep it on easy/medium" scenario, as happens for party play on games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band. I'll applaud Activision for trying, but there's just not room in the DJ mechanic to allow for a true party title, and from that sense the game's really targeted to a limited audience.

Again - if you live and breathe all things DJ, well, this might be your game. As for myself and most other people out there, we're just not in the target audience..

Added:  Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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