Activision’s newest entry into a saturated music genre looks to shake up the dance floor with a fresh new plastic instrument to add to your growing collection. Developed by FreeStyleGames, DJ Hero brings the excitement of scratching and beat mixing with their own take on DJ gameplay different to Konami’s original efforts with their Beatmania series. Developed for PS2/PS3, XBOX360 and Wii, all console owners get the opportunity to enjoy this fresh new franchise.
The main concept of the game involves using the supplied DJ controller; you get a free spinning turntable, three buttons coded green red and blue, a cross fader, effects dial and euphoria to scratch, mix and pump out beats to the 93 pre mixed tracks. Your guitar highway is now replaced with a vinyl record with three lines representing the first track on the green line, a red effects/sample line and the second track on the blue line. Euphoria is DJ Hero’s equivalent of star power in the Guitar Hero world and the effects dial could be akin to the whammy bar of a guitar controller. The red track represents the various samples your DJ can inject during special sequences and using the effects dial you can select different samples. Using the effects dial during an effects zone (orange gates that hover above the green or blue hit zones) helps double your score multiplier, similar to using your Euphoria bar. Building your multiplier helps build up your rewind meter, which is activated by spinning your turntable backwards, allowing you to replay a short section of the mix again and doubling your multiplier.
Another unique gameplay mechanic is the use of the cross fader, this can come either as a sustained section or come in spikes. Lastly and probably the one most players can relate to, sections of the track will have scratch icons, similar to sustained notes in Guitar Hero, which indicates scratching (that wikka wikka noise you make moving the turntable up and down). To scratch you need to hold down the green or blue button (depending on which track you are scratching) and move the turntable in the direction indicated or up and down if it is bi-directional. All these gameplay mechanics help make the DJ experience an engaging one, giving the player plenty of things to do and master, especially once you reach expert difficulties which combine directional scratching with cross fading spikes and effect dial usage. Overall the gameplay tailors the unique DJ experience well, but at times it doesn’t replicate the feeling of being a musician like playing a guitar or drum does. At times having to play a fast sequence of tap icons (those green, red and blue icons you need to tap in time) felt hindered by the fairly clicky buttons and at times the tap patterns felt like arbitrarily added to force you to do something to a beat/rhythm.
Gameplay modes consists of various set lists, involving some special mixes developed for DJ Hero by famous DJs such as Grandmaster Flash, Z-Trip and even Daft Punk. There are a select number of tracks that support Guitar play and DJ vs. Guitar play. This mode feels a bit of a gimmick and is probably the only easily accessible local multiplayer mode most players will have. Multiplayer is restricted to two players either online or local. Single player mode involves going through the various set lists, earning stars which you use to unlock more venues and special avatars. A set list consists of pairs of tracks mixed together and played back to back which get longer and often stretch to about 5-10mins per set. Party play, introduced in Guitar Hero 5 is not quite the same in DJ Hero. By holding down the Euphoria button you turn on Party play where the effects dial and freestyle samples are still active but you no longer get scored for that track. There is no DJ Studio this time round though so those budding DJs unfortunately have to make do with the mix selection that you are provided.
Graphically this looks like it is using the same game engine as Guitar Hero 5, your venues this time around have been given more of a nightclub feel but at a glimpse you could have been mistaken you were watching Guitar Hero 5. The crowd still looks like an attack of the clones but you would be too busy mixing up the beats to really notice. Your DJ avatar acts appropriately, pumping it up and grooving around but other than that, there isn’t anything that graphically special that you haven’t seen in the last few generations of Guitar Hero games. The most important part is that it is fairly easy to see the beats coming down the tracks, where to move your cross fader is fairly obvious and visual tweaks on your highway help indicate when you can use rewinds and euphoria’s. Also your DJ controller’s euphoria button lights up red when you can activate it (if you ever look down at your controller). For onlookers, the changing camera scenes, flashy club lights and cloned dancers grooving about provide a good visceral experience that is unfortunately lost on the DJ player.
Being a music-based game, DJ Hero’s track selection is one of its biggest strengths. Its hefty 93 premixed master tracks provide an enjoyable listening experience and the party mode turns it into a virtual jukebox. The developers definitely have put the emphasis on quality tracks and mixes into this game. As with Guitar Hero 5 the sound is rendered in 5.1 Dolby Digital and when you pump up the volume and busting through the set lists it does recreate the DJ experience fairly well. At times the gameplay elements do tend to disrupt the flow of the music, especially when cross fader effects and scratching comes along and ruins the flow of the song but most of the time.
With a RRP of $169 AUD DJ Hero definitely isn’t a cheap purchase but with the upcoming Christmas sales period DJ Hero’s value proposition definitely improves remarkably when you can pick up the game and controller for as cheap as $99 AUD. The track selection and sheer number of mixes available is one of the largest yet, definitely much better than Band Hero’s poor 65 track offering or even Guitar Hero 5’s 70+ tracks. Importing songs from other games is unfortunately not available and the DJ vs. Guitar aspect is fairly limited. DLC for DJ hero games also appear to be slightly more expensive than their Guitar Hero equivalents and not as regular, with only the David Guetta track pack available right now compared to Guitar Hero’s weekly DLC content. The multiplayer component at best is a two player affair and currently you cannot buy the DJ controller itself. Single player replayability is purely limited to score attack and five starring set lists. Somehow it just isn’t as addictive being a DJ as it is a guitarist I guess. Hopefully Activision can work the DJ turntable into its other Hero games but it is quite possible your plastic turntable could be collecting dust in the near future.
DJ Hero is a successful attempt by developer FreeStyleGames in taking the concept of Guitar Hero and translating it to the club DJ scene, tapping into new genres of music so that players can be their own DJ Hero. The gameplay mechanics are fun, challenging and simulate being a DJ as well as Guitar Hero simulates being a guitarist. The track list on offer is very generous, containing quite a few recent chart topping tracks with plenty of mixes to play through. Unfortunately for DJ Hero, it enters a very crowded music genre market, battling against the Singstars, Rock Bands and its own Band/Guitar Hero franchises which all offer a much more party focused environment and gameplay styles which casual gamers can relate to easily. It is a tough market to break through since DJ hero just isn’t as casual gamer friendly or party orientated game as one would think and with the recent discounting of DJ Hero, it appears there aren’t as many wannabe DJs as there are singers and guitarists these days either.
AAG SCORE: 7.5/10
+ Turntable controller works well and is of good build quality
+ New untapped genre of music than the traditional pop / rock music from other games
+ Challenging gameplay elements that mimic the essence of being a DJ
- New controller mechanic can be difficult for new players
- Limited to only two player multiplayer, second DJ turntable is not readily available to purchase
- Enjoyment of the game depends on the player’s musical taste, not everyone has an inner DJ to unleash
Reviewed and Written By Danny Yee