80Activision is steadily making an industry out of their music Hero line, which have officially moved well beyond mere guitar rock emulation. Thanks to Band Hero and DJ Hero, fans of more than just rock can get their fake music fix. While Band Hero is catering to pop-loving casual gamers, DJ Hero boldly walks the musical line toward the hardcore.

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Freestyle Games
Oct. 27, 2009

That’s not to say anyone can’t play and enjoy being a virtual DJ here. The game caters to all skill levels, but to really get the most out of the mix table peripheral, you’ll need to master the higher skill settings. Regardless of which difficulty level, DJ Hero is amazingly fun.  Almost 100 mix tracks come with the game and it’s the first music game since Dance Dance Revolution to especially appeal to the techno crowd. The mixes cover the musical spectrum though—plenty of rap, hip hop, Motown, and pop from the last 30 years. But the magic is how the game mixes two tracks together to create something new.

Nowhere else could you hear Marvin Gaye crossed with the Gorillaz, the Beastie Boys and Queen, the Killers vs. Rihanna, David Bowie and 50 Cent, and an impressive and entertaining number of other great mixes. It’s not a stretch to say that this eclectic, dance-centric line-up is the best yet for a Hero game and it makes the color-coded button pressing gameplay feel more distinctive than ever.

The mix table controller is a cool new addition to any gamer’s stash. The main focus is on the turntable, which both spins and has three colored buttons. On the medium difficulty level and below, this is all you’ll really need, and the game plays just like any of the Hero/Rock Band games. Color-coded circles stream down three trails on the screen and the object is to hit the appropriate button at exactly the right time. At times, you’ll have to spin the turntable up or down based on the onscreen cues. The concept is simple, the execution is fun, and the presentation is bright, colorful, and quirky.

Once you get comfortable with the basic gameplay and switch to a higher level, the crossfader becomes a major part of the game. This slider bar is at home in the center, but at times, you’ll have to slide it right and left in time with the music trail, while keeping pace with the button presses and spins. The crossfade bar adds an interesting level of challenge in general, and adds some great variation to the music. On the downside, it can be a bit unruly. Despite have a bit of feedback, when the game is in high gear, paying attention to the current position of the bar without having to actually look at it can be frustrating.

There’s little in the way of onscreen prompts to keep track of the slider’s position as well, making the learning curve a bit steeper than it could have been. Another feature that is great in concept, but still in need of some work is the overlap with Guitar Hero. Some of the tracks allow for a guitarist, yet few of them felt particularly optimized for this feature. Usually the guitar tracks end up being painfully repetitive. Still, it’s a nice bonus feature that could use improvement in the sequel.

The overall presentation is much like other music game, with the moving gameplay tracks taking up most of the screen acreage, and stylized graphics of your on-stage DJ, the crowd, dancers—all reacting to how well you’re doing. The pumping soundtrack is especially awesome for home theater-equipped systems, but as expected, it sounds great in general.

Blast Factor: Without a doubt, DJ Hero is the most distinctive and original music game on the market. While the game is enjoyable for all skill levels, it takes on a whole new level coordination for the hardcore crowd. The packed soundtrack is phenomenal and mix table controller is responsive and fun to use. The  main problem for DJ Hero is the steep asking price. $119 is a lot to spend on one game with only a single controller. If you don’t mind the cover charge though, this is the coolest virtual rave in town.

Another Take — Bradley Ouellette

Activision’s latest Music game is an interesting new twist. They have taken the well-known style of the Guitar Hero franchise, and instead of playing a guitar, the player spins a record, and acts like a DJ mixing tunes. The Music in the game always consists of two pieces that the player has to mix together, fading between the two pieces and adding other effects including scratching, freestyling, and cross fading.

The game plays similar to any other Guitar Hero style game, moving the cross fader to select the track, scratching, or pressing the buttons to cause different effects to the music. When the player gets all of a lit up section correct the game gives a charge to the Euphoria button–this is the same as star power.

The scoring in DJ Hero feels different than the scoring in Guitar Hero also. The multipliers earned from rows of correct notes is very important since if you don’t hit 4x multiplier for a while in the game, you pretty much can’t score more than 3 stars. So hitting an extra note that isn’t there can kill your rating. Also if the player gets enough notes correct in a row, there is a rewind button that will show up in the display. This looks like the regular rewind button on a remote. When that’s on the screen, spinning the turntable back one full turn will rewind the song, and let the player replay a section to increase their score. This can be especially fun, if in Emode, when there is a bunch of cross fading back and forth, since it will allow the player to get a huge score with little effort. That being said, the rewind mode can also kill the score, since while it rewinds it’s easy to mess up a note and lose the multiplier.

Over all, I loved the game. I thought it was a neat new twist in the music genre; whereas the guitar band games haven’t had as much innovation lately, this was completely new. I found that game played smoothly, except for the cross fader. Even with the issues of the cross fader, loved the game, and will highly
recommend it if you generally like music games.

DJ Hero is available on the Wii, Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, and retails for $119.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes.

About The Author

Jason D’Aprile has been writing about technology, games, movies, and gadgets for the last three decades. His musings on all of the above can be found at addgamer.com. Jason only condones virtual violence and wishes we could all just get along.

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