STAFF REVIEW of DJ Hero (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009.
by Adam Dileva

DJ Hero Box art It would be almost impossible to release another guitar and band based game right now due to the saturation in the market right now and the fact that almost everyone already has their Rock Band or Guitar Hero. I don?t have many friends that don?t even have a guitar for one of their games and releasing a new title and trying to get people to buy a new peripheral can be quite challenging.

Along comes DJ Hero and a whole new type of controller to purchase and to be honest, I wasn?t sure what to think of DJ Hero when it was announced. Fearing the worst, I thought it was simply going to be the guitar buttons mapped onto a simple turntable; luckily Activision has done their homework and made an authentic DJ experience while making the gameplay new and challenging.

DJ Hero throws you into the seat of a real DJ and tries to recreate the experience as best as possible. The game will have you blending songs, cross fading, scratching the disc for that authentic ?wiki? sound and even more.

Much like Guitar Hero and every other music game, the notes will flow down from the top of the screen to the bottom and you need to press the corresponding key at the appropriate time, though should you miss, the track will fade out for a for moments or until you hit a correct note again on the same track.

I?ll start to explain all the features of the game and how each one incorporates with each other. There are 3 tracks and corresponding tap icons that convey each track and mix you are currently playing; the left row is the first song, the right is the second and the middle is both tracks. This will come more into play later on when you start cross fading out one track for the other back and forth, but this is the basis of the game; 2 tracks to make one harmonic sound blended together.

Possibly the most famous equipment that a DJ has is of course his turntable that makes the very distinct scratching sound when the needle is pulled against the record quickly. In DJ Hero there are two types of scratching; the first is a freestyle way where you can scratch at whatever speed sounds good to you and the other is distinct scratches that are purposely done in one direction or another to make a different style or sound or quick rewind.

As mentioned above, two tracks are playing simultaneously and it?s the DJ?s job to blend them into one sound that flows well and makes people want to dance. To change between the first and second tracks you must use the cross fader slider to select left for track one or right for track 2. If the slider is left in the middle both tracks will output simultaneously and the game tells you when you need to cross fade to which track.

This is where the bulk of the game?s difficulty comes in (though in beginner mode you don?t use the cross fade slider) as you need to follow the tap buttons along with sliding between tracks. What makes this so difficult in the higher tier songs and difficulty is that much of the time you?ll be fading from one track to the other but also back to the middle. Finding where the middle is exactly on the slider can be quite challenging even though it does have a minor ?click? to it and more often than not you will slide too far or too little. I really wish there was a more distinct feeling for when the slider is in the middle but over time you tend to learn where that ?sweet spot? is.

If you play on Hard or Expert there are also even Fade Spikes that don?t necessarily make you switch tracks and keep the fader there but you need to do very quick motions to the edge and back. Again, doing this on top of having to correctly scratch and tap keys can be very confusing and difficult.

There will be also some sections that make use of the Effects Dial to make the volumes of whatever track you are playing fade in and out. This is essentially the equivalent to the wah-wah bar on the guitar of Guitar Hero and makes somewhat the same sounds.

During certain sections in the middle (blended track of both songs) there will be freestyle sample zones that you can press the middle tap key how much or little as you like to add your own touch to the song. With the Effects Dial you can choose what quick sample you?d like to repeat (such as laser noises, or Flava Flav voice tracks for example, thought here are many more to choose from).

Should you get your combo streak high enough and keep your multiplier up for a set amount of notes you may be lucky enough to gain a Rewind that can be used at any time you wish to rewind the track back about 5 to 10 seconds and replay that section again much like how some DJ?s do.

To use your Rewind you simply spin the turntable around 360 degrees (or more if you are good enough or want the achievement), stop it where your hand should be and continue on like you are a DJ pro. It does take quite some time to learn how fast to spin it and where to stop the record without looking at the turntable itself, but it does come in time and looks quite awesome when you pull it off on purpose.

DJ Hero?s version of star power is called Euphoria and it is gained the exact same way as Guitar Hero does it; you have to correctly hit, scratch, and cross fade every note within the glowing section for one bar of Euphoria. Up to 3 bars can be stored but the best thing about using your Euphoria is that fact that when its being used it will automatically do the cross fading for you, so this is best saved for those really difficult sections with lots of scratching and fading.

Multiplayer can be done on the same system or over Xbox Live and there are a few different selections such as DJ vs DJ, DJ and DJ, and DJ vs Guitar. While the DJ and Guitar songs seem cool on paper, there are very few songs that actually support this mode and it really wasn?t as exciting as I though it would be.

The other complaint I have about multiplayer is that all the songs are not unlocked from the beginning, meaning that if you want to play certain songs with someone, they need to be unlocked. I really wasn?t expecting DJ Hero to take a step backwards in this direction since they do it right with Guitar Hero now.

A DJ?s tools are only as good as the songs he has to work with and DJ Hero knows this and has licensed more than 100 songs and has had real DJ?s make more than 90 unique mixes with them. Genres expand from Electronica, Hip-Hop, Pop, Rock, R & B, and more. To go along with the genres are some top artists such as Beastie Boys, 50 Cent, Black Eyed Peas, Queen and more.

DJ Hero wouldn?t be true to its name if it didn?t have actual DJ?s attached to it which is why the game has actual tracks and likeness of DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ AM, DJ Shadow, Grandmaster Flash, and even Daft Punk.

As you progress through the game, all the songs you complete gain you stars (up to five per song) and the more stars you gain the more items you unlock such as characters, turn tables, venues, clothing and more.

As you go into your store to pick up DJ Hero you?ll notice there?s the regular edition in a moderately sized box and then there is the Renegade Edition in a much heavier and larger box about the size of a Rock Band kit box. The jump in price does go up but with it you get more than your standard collector edition items we?ve become accustomed to.

Firstly the turn table controller you get in Renegade Edition has a black metallic-like finish to it rather than the standard grey and all the sliders and knobs are finished in a gold that looks very premium and stylistic.

You also get an exclusive JAY-Z and EMINEM 2 CD pack that has a bunch of songs along with a special case. It?s a standard music CD but if you enjoy their music it?s quite the collectable.

The reason that the box is so huge compared to the normal edition is because everything comes in a hard shell carrying case for your turntable. What makes this unique though is that underneath where the turntable rests is 4 legs that can be screwed onto the bottom of the case that are adjustable and can be used as the DJ stand anywhere you need it. Some people may choose to simply play with the turntable on their lap, but having the travel case and instant performance stand for where you need it was worth the cost difference for me.

Graphically, everything feels much more stylish and polished than the Guitar Hero games and truly does feel more like a club or rave setting. The laser shows and bouncing cameras along with the authentic stage sets from Daft Punk surely does make the background much more engaging; though you?ll only get to really enjoy it when watching someone else play.

I was a little disappointed with the lack of a character creator as you can only really choose from preset people and then choose their different outfits as you unlock them by progressing through the game.

I jumped right in and started on Hard difficulty but didn?t find it really too challenging other than the odd song here and there. Expert difficulty though was quite challenging (especially the cross fading and scratching) but found it much more rewarding and enjoyable.

If you?ve grown stale of the band games out there or simply want something new to try and love the music genre, I completely recommend DJ Hero without hesitation. It?s not without its faults and I do look forward to the next iteration, but for now I?m quite content being the number 1 DJ in my home for some time to come.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.9 / 10
Visuals: 8.8 / 10
Sound: 9.7 / 10


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