There's a plethora of music games for the consoles now from various companies but to keep it fresh you need something different. Activision thinks it has the next big thing though with DJ Hero and after seeing it at E3 I thought this could be a fun game. I've been playing musical games since the first Guitar Hero so it's nice to see something new and fresh come into the review office.
For DJ Hero, a brand new controller was created for the series (Yes, I'm assuming it's a safe bet to think this won't be the last DJ Hero game) with controls on one side and a turn table on the other. Let's start out with the turntable. The top holds three colored buttons and you can spin the turntable continuously in either direction. The top also has grooves just like a vinyl record so you have the feel of an LP when you place your hand on top of the turntable. The three buttons represent the tracks coming down on the highway. So the left green button represents the first record, the blue button represents the second record, and the red button in the middle is for samples. The turntable seems to have a nice heft to it and a good smooth feel when spinning. It doesn't feel too light which is good.
On the left at the top is a cover that when lifted reveals all the basic Xbox 360 buttons. I'm glad they covered this area so you don't accidentally hit it when playing. When you start playing on the harder levels sometimes you get a little over zealous and the hands move everywhere so having this part covered is a smart decision. The crossfader sits on the bottom of this area where you can use it to choose the track to play as well as do the quick crossfading spikes. Above it is the euphoria button and effects dial. The effects dial is similar to the whammy bar on Guitar Hero where you can rotate it around to generate different sound effects. This only happens at certain points of the game which you'll know by a prompt above the record track. When you do turn the dial, you'll get double the multiplier that you currently have up to a maximum of 8X. The euphoria button lights up red when you have euphoria available and that's the same as star power which you activate by pressing the button. This also doubles your multiplier up to a maximum of 8X. You can't get any higher so combining the effects dial with euphoria won't get you any higher than 8X.
There are some issues I have though with the crossfader. For one, I think it's way too loose. It's really easy to go from one side to the other and the click to signify the middle isn't too strong. Also, I think there's too much you have to slide to get to one side or another. During gameplay, I found it too easy to slide to one side when trying to get to the middle even with a lot of practice at times. Maybe with another week or so of playing, I would get used to it but I still would've preferred a stronger feeling crossfader.
The controller is wireless and syncs up to the 360 like any other official controller would. Two AA batteries power the unit but I'm not sure how long you can play with one set of batteries. You can also switch the side that the controls sit so those that prefer to have the turntable on the left side and the controls on the right can do so. As with guitars in Guitar Hero games, southpaws will be able to play with ease.
DJ Hero follows a similar concept to Guitar Hero where a track is played on the screen and you mimic whatever action is presented to you to play the music correctly. Button presses come down which you score by just pressing the corresponding button color as well. Sometimes the green or blue track will slide out to the side. When this happens you push the crossfader to the appropriate side and this action will only play the record that is being selected as well. At certain points you'll see a scratching indicator which means you hold down the colored button and scratch the record back and forth to score. On harder levels, an arrow will represent which direction you have to scratch so for example a single down green arrow means you hold down the green button and rotate the turntable towards you slightly to score. There are also crossfader spikes where you quickly push the crossfader to the side and back to the middle to score.
I did like if you missed a section it wasn't too harsh in letting you know. What happens is the music for the particular track that you miss will stop playing until a small period of time has passed or you succeed in playing one of the items that comes down the highway. You don't hear a harsh sound like in Guitar Hero so it's a little easier to take when you do mess up.There are actually a few things that can happen if you achieve long streaks. On the areas that are marked, you can earn euphoria when playing that area perfectly. Euphoria will double the multiplier that you currently have when activated just like star power in Guitar Hero. Also, playing a good enough streak will earn you the ability to rewind the song. When this happens, just spin the record back 360 degrees and the game will rewind a small portion of the track to be played again. Using this is in an area where there are a lot of actions can earn you a lot of points so you have to use some strategy on when to activate this. It's actually pretty fun to do a quick spin around, catch the turn table with the buttons on your finger tips and replay the track portion again.
The harder difficulties put in more actions such as the crossfader spikes and directional scratching as well as speeding up the highway. There's a nice beginner mode that lets you press any button when prompted and do some minor scratching. No matter what difficulty level you choose, you can't fail a song so you're not frustrated in having to restart the song over and over again should you not do well. I personally like this decision as it lets me try various difficulties and experience the whole song rather than just the beginning if I can't seem to get it right. I started out playing on medium but found that too easy and a little boring. It wasn't until I tried Hard on a few songs that I finally got into the groove and felt a little challenged. For me, it's a lot more fun going to the harder difficulty setting even though I might not as a good on it.
One interesting feature is the ability to let the game play itself and in essence be a DJ for your party. Just hold down the euphoria button and the game will go into auto play where you can just listen to the music. It's a nice little feature that some might find useful and fun to just fool around with. Say you just want to chill and listen to a few mixes, just queue up the songs and turn on party mode. Sit back and listen to the music but don't expect any scoring to be made this way.
DJ Hero boasts 93 mixes but the amount of songs do repeat albeit with a different secondary song. Yes, it's different in the way the mixes are but there are some repeat song usage which is a minor disappointment. Still, most of the music is great to listen to with some awesome beats. You can't help but get into the groove when playing the game and I didn't find many that I thought weren’t fun to listen to. Of course, DLC is here to give you more mixes to download in the future but for what you get included in the game, I think there's some great selection of songs to be played on DJ Hero.
Game modes are pretty basic and there's no story mode involved here. You just get venues and a set list to play while trying to achieve as many stars as possible. The stars unlock more DJs, decks, clothing, and other items in the game as well as other venues. It won't take you long to unlock most everything as you can just play on a lower difficulty level, earn five stars, and get all the items available. Yes, you can earn just one star unlike Guitar Hero since you can't fail in DJ Hero and there were a few times I did while trying to get familiar with the song. You can create some playlists as well if there is a certain set you want to save as favorites.
The stars you earn will let you unlock other venues, DJs, decks, and so forth. As you progress through the game, you'll be able to change various aspects of the DJ you choose as your avatar and the equipment he or she utilizes. You can quickly unlock most of it just by going through a lower difficulty and earning the maximum amount of stars so it shouldn't take too much effort to grab all the items available for use.
Multiplayer is pretty basic though when you talk about playing against someone else with a turntable as well. You play the same song, of course, and you each have your own track highway to monitor. The winner is the highest point total after X number of tracks played. But, I was easily able to find a few folks to play online and overall the experience wasn't bad.
There are also a few songs where you can use a guitar to accompany the DJ as well. The screen will split into two where the left side has the DJ Hero highway while the right side has the familiar guitar fret board track. Since a good number of people probably own guitar how, it's a nice little way for another person to get involved without having to buy another turntable. Only a certain number of songs support this feature though so while the selection is limited, it's a nice option to have if a friend wants to join in.
DJ Hero was a game where when I first of it I had some reservations. After playing it though, I think it's a nice change of pace to all the Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands out there. The music is pretty fun to listen to with some great mixes that'll get stuck in your head for a while. The gameplay isn't overly complicated but offers up a good enough challenge on the harder levels and harder songs. Introducing a brand new peripheral, the DJ Hero deck feels solid and the turntable's got a nice feel. I would've liked a little more resistance on the crossfader as I thought it was a bit too loose. I think DJ Hero will get a good following and I found the game to be a nice start to a potential franchise.