November 25, 2009
As if you didn’t have enough plastic musical peripherals lying around your house, Activision decided to make one more to add to your collection. Without it, you’re no longer the cool kid on the block... with it, well, you’re still not the cool kid on the block, but you have definitely broadened your horizons. Of course, I’m talking about Activision and FreeStyleGames’ latest musical title, DJ Hero. Initially, the title seemed like a typical Activision musical cash-in, but if you dig beneath the service, what you have is an innovative – slightly expensive – game mechanic and impressive peripheral that can reward you with hours of addictive gameplay.
The mechanics and the decks do actually take a little time to get used to, but with a little help from Grandmaster Flash who runs you through the tutorial, you’ll grasp it in no time. It works a lot like Guitar Hero, and most other musical games, whereby you will have a “hit zone” at the bottom of your screen and notes will flood down a series of audio streams. All you need to do is hit the correct button to match the corresponding icon that passes through the hit zone and that's stage one learnt. Okay, so that bit’s fairly simple. From a gameplay perspective, there are two other basic moves that you need to grasp if you are going to succeed at becoming a "DJ Hero"; scratching and using the cross-fader.
As well as hitting the icons as they pass through the hit zone, if players are presented with an elongated icon on either of the outside streams, then it’s time to start scratching. Scratching is pretty simplistic and will require you to hold down the corresponding button for the duration of the note whilst moving the turntable back and forth. Depending on the difficulty, will depend on how you scratch. For instance, on difficulties below hard, you can scratch in any direction and at any speed, whereas if you ramp it up to hard and above, you will have directional arrows that you have to correspond with. It truly is one of the most important and tricky factors that you will need to comprehend if you want to be successful on the harder difficulties.
The cross-fader only comes into play on medium or higher, and it will have you moving the slider on the peripheral so that it matches the corresponding zone on the screen. When in the centre, all audio streams will play, when to the left or the right, then only one audio stream will play. Once you’ve grasped that, you’re ready to take on the world... nearly.
There are also a few “advanced” moves that you may want to master if you’re going to be pushing those high scores. These include; cross-fader spikes which require a flick of the cross-fader in its relevant direction; using the freestyle sample zones where you simple press the red button during freestyle sample sections; the effects dial sections which can double your score through certain zones so long as you’re twisting the effects dial on the peripheral, and last, and by no means least, the rewind sections, which allows you to spin the disc back to rewind the song once you’ve got a high enough combo.
As it seems to be the case these days, the accessibility of DJ Hero’s bottom end is left open as to not demoralise new players. So when playing on beginner, there is a beginner bar that allows you to press any of the buttons on the decks so long as you get the timing right, and no-fail mode is permanently turned on. There is also plenty to challenge the expert player as well and some of the quicker tunes on expert are that demanding, that can actually cause you to break a sweat. Seriously intense – and fun – stuff.
The aim of the game like any other musical instrument game is to get the highest score and earn that 5 star rating. The combos and star power, I mean, Euphoria, work exactly the same way as they do in Guitar Hero/Rock Band, and that basically means, the longer the combo, the more points you rack up. Euphoria is activated with a large button on the controller, but only after you have passed through a preset Perfect Region without missing a note or fade.
That is all you’ll need to get through DJ Hero. To start with, it definitely does take a while to get used to getting your hands working all channels at the same time, but once you do, it is pure, unadulterated fun. That’s the crux of the game and that’s where the fun will likely come from. It does help though that it’s complimented by such a large and diverse track list though.
DJ Hero comes with a whopping 93 songs and over 100 mixes which range from hip-hop and classic soul, to pop and dance. The mixes themselves – or mashups as the cool kids call them – are mixed to a high standard, although that’s to be expected considering that the line-up is mixed by the likes of DJ Shadow, DJ Yoda, Cut Chemist and more. There is even an epic 8 track set list from the legendary Daft Punk which was the most fun I’ve had with a game for some time!
Aside from the mechanics though, there isn’t anything else hugely innovative or outstanding about the game. The career mode has no driving purpose behind it other than to play a constant stream of tunes. Worst thing being, you actually have to play sets as well, so no nipping on to knock a quick few songs out in the career... you’re looking at a minimum of 3 per set, usually 5, with that going up to as many as 8. Sure you can earn stars and unlock items that you can customise your DJ with, but other than that, there’s nothing to keep you grinding through it. Truth be told, you may as well spend your time making custom set lists and jamming that way.
There are other options like plugging in your mic which is pointless, playing a DJ vs. guitar which is throwaway, or even heading online, which can be frustrating. It’s not the mechanics that let you down online per se, in fact, it was actually lag free, but when you play 7 songs of an 8 track quicklist only to have the other person quit on you without punishment their end or reward your end, you’re inclined to waddle your way back to spinning tunes on your own.
The achievements on the whole are pretty damn impressive. They have a great balance, with the vast majority available for most who put the effort in, but reserving a few high valued ones for those that truly master it – 5 star everything on hard, and expert. There are fun ones that include the rewind function, maxing out certain things on any song – not missing a tap or cross fade – and unlocking and playing through certain sets. The list however is let down somewhat by asking players to either use a mic or a guitar, which could be tricky if you own neither. Even more absurdly, it wants you to play a local DJ vs. DJ match for a lousy 10 points. It’s hard enough to get a match online, yet alone expect someone to have it in your street. An impressive list that is marred by one or two exceptions. Shame really.
With DJ Hero, Activision and FreeStyleGames have created one of the hottest musical titles of the year, actually, the past few years. The game mechanic is spot on, the peripheral is durable and responsive, and the track listing is perfect for the style of game. The stumbling block comes with the relatively expensive price-point, and without the ability to test whether the game is for you, it’s hard to recommend you go out and slap nearly £100 on the full kit. If you’re like me and have a background and love for all things that involve a set of decks, chances are you’ll love it to pieces, but with a peripheral that is likely to only ever work with one game, it all boils down whether you can justify spending more than the price of two retail games for something that might not strike home. Remove the price issue and I’d recommend everyone pick it up. Maybe it’s best to wait for the sales, because otherwise, it’s a big gamble.
A fantastically diverse track list with plenty of choice. Only let down ever so slightly when you start to hear the same track used a little too often. Thankfully, that’s an isolated issue.
The crowds look decent, as do the DJs... and yeah, well that’s it. It’s a musical game, what did you expect? That being said, the opening cut-scene was wonderfully weird in a trippy, bizarre kind of way.
The mechanics are pretty damn addictive and the peripheral works like a dream. It’s fairly durable as well which is a bonus. It’s hard to find many flaws with the controls. It's pure DJ’ing bliss.
Delivery is a tricky aspect to score. On the one hand, there is no purpose to the online career, the guitar vs. DJ is throwaway and the online is frustrating. But it’s a music game, and there isn’t much they can do. Instead, they tempt you to continue with tons of unlockables, which we actually don’t mind so much, but that's about it.
A list that will no doubt please everyone. There are some quirky funs ones including rewinds and what not, and the balance is spot on, with achievements aimed at varying difficulty levels. All musical games need to take a leaf out of the DJ Hero book. Oh, except for the local DJ vs. DJ achievement... that’s ridiculous.
A great package with a fantastic peripheral, diverse track list and addictive gameplay mechanics. The only hurdle you may have to overcome is justifying the fairly high price tag, otherwise, it’s a must buy.