|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: FreeStyle Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Activision||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 27, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-3||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Bringing original and compelling features to music gaming, until very recently, has been a difficult feat for developers and publishers to pull off - the conventions of the genre are already deeply entrenched. However, The Beatles: Rock Band and the ladle of awesome sauce that is Guitar Hero 5 have been able to lift the genre out of the doldrums of churned-out mediocrity. This reclaimed paradigm of innovation continues with Activision's latest: DJ Hero. Undoubtedly, DJ Hero's set list and gameplay mechanics, at first glance, are not for everyone. That being said, the relatively narrow demographic being targeted by the title will be enthralled by the rewarding mechanics and oodles of quality found in DJ Hero.
Admittedly, I'm not part of this game's intended audience. In fact, the breadth and depth of my musical knowledge peters out before the turn of the millennia. Nevertheless, I had a good deal of fun with DJ Hero. Despite being far outside my musical inclinations, it's easy to tell the songs have been mixed with craft. Also, classic tunes from several decades as well as contemporary chart-toppers have been blended in such a way as to please anyone willing to sit (down) and spin. Furthermore, playing the game with the turntable seems to replicate the act of DJ-ing as readily as the fret buttons and the strum bar do for guitar playing.
Like all of the plastic peripherals used in rhythm and music games, the turntable controller is the key to the fun and immersion. The turntable is generally well manufactured. The only issue that became immediately apparent is that the crossfader switch soon breaks in. While this actually improves your ability to hit quick crossfades, it likely won't hold up to extended use. Otherwise, the controller seems to be quite solid. It's also comfortable to use either on your lap or on a TV tray. I don't recommend resting it on a coffee table, however, unless you need an excuse for a massage. Cramping aside, the controller can be arranged to make playing the game intuitive for lefties as well as righties.
In terms of functionality, the turntable allows you to scratch, blend, rewind, crossfade, and sample as if you were a real DJ. The basic mechanic has you depressing the three buttons on the faux record. These buttons represent the two streaming tracks and their mixed amalgam. This is soon varied by the use of the crossfader, which lets you emphasize certain portions of a track or blend both simultaneously, on the fly. This first layer of difficulty is very intuitive to enact (with your secondary hand); although, it does get quite challenging at steeper levels of complexity with much more intricate fading and blending. Ramping things up just a bit more, players will have to scratch the virtual LP by moving the turntable back and forth with the indicated track button held down all the while. Doing this for scratch-heavy tunes can be trying (especially as your fingertips gets sweaty - yes, your hands will get clammy), until you get the used to implementing the fleshy portion of your palm behind the track buttons or with your thumb alongside of them. Scratching, blending, and fading are the three basic functions that make up the majority of DJ Hero.
Living up to the 'Hero' moniker, secondary features that greatly heighten the experience are also included. The analog to Star Power is called Euphoria. It is earned by hitting every action mandated in a specific, highlighted section. Rather than lifting the turntable on its side or shouting at it, it can be activated via the Euphoria button. Turning on the juice will boost your score multiplier and help you with tight fading sections, allowing you to focus on track inputs and for working the effects knob. As you can imagine, the effects knob parallels the whammy bar on guitar peripherals - adding a touch of yourself to each song. The combination of these five mechanics work together more or less harmoniously - any deficiencies in placement of buttons (I'm looking at you Euphoria) actually seem to enhance the perception that you're a real DJ fiddling around with your deck.
Two final mechanics round out the features of the turntable: rewind and sampling. Rewinding, which produces the iconic mixing screech, is simply and nicely activated by spinning the vinyl platter 360 degrees. This will take you back a few phrases in a song, letting you hit the same tight section over again to amass big points. Unfortunately, unlike rewinding and the effects knob, sampling is not particularly well implemented and it doesn't make the song yours. At certain points, you'll be able to rotate the effects knob to choose from a list of samples; tapping the central red track button will then let you add a "Yeahhhboooyyy!!!" or some other tired shout out. While the idea behind sampling is cool, it ends up coming off as repetitive and shallow - almost always clashing with the music. Thankfully, not using it won't penalize your score multiplier. The devs do allow you to marginally customize the samples by letting you pick from several of them before each song. However, only a few of them are particularly good, and during the song you'll be stuck with just five, so choose wisely. What would have made sampling more compelling would have been the addition of a sample editor that allowed you to import your own MP3s and create unique clips - I imagine licensing issues might have interfered with its inclusion. Regardless, at least having the ability to record your own shout outs with a mic would have been better.