DJ Hero is an ambitious new video game by the makers of Guitar Hero that aims to take the extremely successful, multi-buttoned/colored game to a set of turntables (well, turntable, but we’ll get to that in a second).
The gameplay is familiar (if you have played any game in the Guitar Hero or Rock Band franchises). A selection of colored tabs come down a “highway” towards you, and you have to hit the correct buttons/make the right moves at the correct moments for the music to play properly. Besides just pushing buttons though, this game requires you to scratch, crossfade, use samples, and sonically alter the songs you are playing / listening to. The instructions and the controls are very intuitive, instructing the gamer to scratch backwards, randomly, or forwards, fade between records, etc. For more detailed info, I break down the good and the bad of the game below.
The Good: There is not much to complain about with DJ Hero. Having been helped in the creation of this game by the celebrated DJ Shadow, Activision went out of its way to make this first edition of DJ Hero as comprehensive as they could make it. The turntable controller has a mixer with a crossfader, a dial for altering the sound in certain sections, a button to activate “Euphoria” (the game’s version of “Star Power”), as well as a hidden set of standard D-Pad and button controls for XBox 360 or PS3. Connected to the “mixer” is one “record’–actually a vinyl top that spins around with three colored buttons on it. The gameplay is intuitive, and if you have any trouble, no worries because the first level–which you need to complete to unlock the rest of the game–is a basic tutorial. After the tutorial, the game opens up into levels that are separated as setlists, with about 3-5 mashed-up tracks per setlist. The mashups consist of a variety of different hip-hop, pop, and 80s songs mashed-up just like a DJ would at a club. Examples of such mash-ups are Gang Starr “Just To Get A Rep” / Mobb Deep “Shook Ones Pt. II“, Tears For Fears “Shout” / Eric B. & Rakim “Eric. B Is President“, and Bel Biv DeVoe “Poison” / Cameo “Word Up“, among other mash ups. DJ’s that contributed their own mashups to the game are DJ Shadow, DJ Yoda, DJ Z-Trip, Daft Punk, Grandmaster Flash (the game’s host), DJ Z-Trip, Scratch Perverts, J. Period, Cut Chemist, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and the late DJ AM. Of those DJs, DJ Z-Trip, Daft Punk, Grandmaster Flash, DJ AM, and DJ Shadow are all playable characters in the game. Just like in its Guitar Hero brethren, DJ Hero allows for you to totally customize the character you’re playing with, with different turntable decks and headphones as unlockable rewards for good play (you can even choose the set of samples that you can use at your discretion, ranging from space-age-sounding hits to famous Flava Flav quotes (YEEEEEAAAAAAA BOYYYYYYYYEEEEEEE! is my personal favorite, when hit at the right time). In general, DJ Hero does a good job of transferring what’s good about the music games that have preceded it while at the same time coming up with innovative new tricks that are DJ-specific.
The Bad: There’s not much bad to report here, but certainly some flaws do stand out. The DJ / Guitar mode feels forced, and seems to only appeal to fans of the “Guitar Hero” franchise and not necessarily fans of DJ’ing or DJ culture. The song selection in this mode is also cheesy, using songs like Average White Band‘s “Play That Funky Music” to obnoxious affect. The main issue with the game, however, is that it is difficult to play because not most people have a table between themselves and their TV, forcing the user to put the turntable on their lap, which is a clunky way to play the game and can make it even more difficult. DJ Hero should have included the DJ’ing table from the exclusive Jay-Z / Eminem limited edition pack with every copy of DJ Hero, just like “Rock Band” now sends out a microphone stand with its microphones. If you’re trying to emulate the actions of a DJ, guitar player, singer, etc. in a video game, why make things more difficult in the game then it is in real life? Have you ever seen a DJ performing with the turntables on his lap?
In the end, I’d say DJ Hero is a worth-while purchase for gamers and fans of DJ culture alike. Minus its limited flaws, the game presents a party vibe with great music by amazing artists, most of them cutting edge modern DJs that have revolutionized the scene over the past 25 years, and a few that are still pushing the boundaries.
Final Rating: 8.5 / 10