Monday, November 2, 2009

Review: DJ Hero

Guitar Hero is boring. What is Activision on, like, the fifteenth edition already? I’m tired of that stupid game and I’m tired of always seeing it everywhere I go. In fact, I’m tired of ALL music themed games right now, as they bore the living crap out of me these days. Whether the gimmick is a floor pad, a microphone, or a guitar, if these companies don’t come up with something new fast, then dammit, I’m giving up on the rhythm genre altogether.

That was me about eight hours before I played the new Activision title, DJ Hero, a game that introduces enough new features to the genre that I’m actually excited about it all over again. The wonderful thing about DJ Hero is that it actually makes me want to get up out of my seat and play it instead of just lazily sitting around on my butt and tapping multi-colored buttons and strumming a plastic fret. And after all these years of getting used to that to the point of annoyance, I think that’s saying a lot.

There’s a problem, though, and lies in the controls. DJ Hero is not as easy to pick up and play as Guitar Hero. That has more to do with the difficulty of actually playing turntables, rather than any real fault of the company itself. The learning curve for DJ Hero is a little thick, almost to the point that some people might be intimidated and not want to give it a try, and that’d be a damn shame because once you get used to it, you’ll be mixing Rick James and Gwen Stefani together in no time.

The game comes with a turntable that you can scratch back and forth like a real record. There are three buttons on the record that act like the buttons on the Guitar Hero guitar, and also an effects dial that allows you to make the track all wavy as you hold down the keys. But wait, there’s more! While Guitar Hero is perfectly content to give you just a few keys and a fret bar, DJ Hero also has a cross-fader stick, which you use to flick back and forth to switch up the beat, a “euphoria” button that acts like Star Power in Guitar Hero, and even buttons that key up certain crowd-pleasing phrases like “Yeeeah, boyyyy”. That’s a whole lot of things to operate while playing a single song, and if you just see somebody doing it, your first reaction will probably be, "Gulp."

Even if it is difficult at first, give it a try. DJ Hero is an absolute blast, which I think even rivals how I felt the very first time that I played Guitar Hero all those years ago. In DJ Hero, you pick a wide assortment of funny looking DJ’s, and can also unlock real ones as the game progresses (shout out to Activision for getting DJ Shadow, Jazzy Jeff, and even Daft Punk in the game). Guitar Hero has always had pretty good graphics for the characters on stage, but the audiences are traditionally bland. That's not the case DJ Hero. The crowds in this game look like they’re really having a great time when you mix up a good recording.

The songs you get to mash up are all over the place as well, ranging from David Bowie’s, “Let’s Dance” mixed with 50 Cent’s, “Disco Inferno,” to 2Pac’s, “All Eyez on Me,” mixed with the Aranbee Pop Orchestra’s, “Bittersweet Symphony Instrumental.” All the songs in this game are completely win, so you don’t have to worry about that. Even better though are all the different ways that you can make each song unique. You see, unlike Guitar Hero, where you’re pretty much stuck with tapping along with whatever keys they give you, DJ Hero actually allows you to be a little more creative. You're given the opportunity to splice up the recording with the cool effects dial and rewind the song when you have enough stars so you play certain portions over again. Heck, you even have the option to put your own mixes together, making the game really endless.

So, is DJ Hero the game of the year? Not quite as there are some major problems with it that keep it from totally owning the dance floor. For one, as great as the mixes are, there aren’t really that many songs in the game in general, as many of the tracks are used over and over again in different combinations, giving you the impression that you have more songs than you actually do. Also, the two-player mode is a joke. Since Activision owns the Guitar Hero brand, they thought it would be a good idea to allow one person play the turntable while the other mans the guitar. It’s a good idea in theory, but the final product sounds like a total mess, and not in a good way, like Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello mixing scratching noises one minute and thumping chords the next, but rather like Limp Bizkit. I thought it would be a cool feature, but it’s not. Not at all.

Another problem that I have with the game is that it’s mostly hip-hop oriented. Although there are rock tracks to mix up the monotony, it’s still done like a hip-hop DJ would do it, mixing and fading. My question is, where are all the techno DJ’s? They operate the wheels of steel in a totally different manner, and it would have been pretty cool to see how Activision might have pulled that one off. Maybe that will be in the sequel - or, knowing Activision, in a side-edition that they can sell at full price in a few months. That would be just like them, wouldn’t it?

In spite of its flaws, DJ Hero is a refreshing new game definitely worth the price of admission. Pick this game up if you want to believe in the rhythm genre again.

Players: 1-2 Platform(s): Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii, PS2 Developer: FreeStyleGames Publisher: Activision ESRB: Teen Rating:

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