I’m no stranger to music games. I purchased PaRappa the Rapper day one. I went to Best Buy daily to play their pre-release demos of Guitar Hero. I can beat “Painkiller” on expert drums in Rock Band 2.
Due to my storied career with the genre, it takes a lot for a music game to impress me.
Thankfully, DJ Hero lives up to my expectations, despite its flaws.
Developed by FreeStyleGames and published by Activision, DJ Hero is to turntablism what Guitar Hero is to rock music. With the turntable controller in-hand, you tap, scratch, and crossfade notes as they move toward the screen. The songs you play are mash-ups of two different tracks, and the game tasks you with “mixing” them together on the fly.
It’s an immensely satisfying experience when you do it right.
A music game lives and dies by its track list, and DJ Hero contains more hits than misses. FreeStyle managed to jam a lot of genres into the game, more often than not pitting widely disparate musical styles against each other.
This pays off most when the guest DJs are behind the mix. The entire Daft Punk set list could justify a purchase, if you’re of the right persuasion. Other standout contributors are DJ Shadow and the Scratch Perverts.
These tracks work because you can tell what’s happening with the mix, which can be difficult sometimes since DJ Hero’s concept is more abstract than Guitar Hero’s. The interface is incredibly complicated, since the game is asking you to perform a wide variety of actions.
There’s no jarring “thunk” if you miss a note: the track just doesn’t play. This lack of feedback makes it difficult to improve at the game, as does the inability to fail out of a song.
The music falls flat whenever guitar based rock songs are featured. Those mixes are absolute trainwrecks. The guitar set list, in which one person mans the turntables while another plays on a guitar controller, can be safely ignored.
The music genre thrives in a social setting, but DJ Hero’s biggest flaw is that it’s an incredibly solitary experience. I imagine you could pull it out at a party, play it, and expect people to dance. But I can also imagine being beaten up at said party, because that’s really lame.
A word about the turntable controller. It’s a solid piece of work, and it only takes about 30 minutes to get used to it. There is a very comprehensive tutorial, but unfortunately it can’t be skipped. I recognize that it’s necessary, and quite helpful, but non-skippable tutorials are never excusable.
Eventually you get lost in the music and forget that the controller is even there, but some glaring flaws keep it from being a great device.
My biggest issue is with the crossfader. There’s a “click” when it’s in the middle, neutral position, but it’s not sticky enough. Too often, I’d overshoot my mark while fading back to the middle, and break my combo. Forget about nailing the faster sections. Perhaps some more practice will negate this, but probably not as quickly as a redesigned crossfader.
It sounds like I’m down on this game, but I nitpick because I see potential. Don’t be misled for a second, the game drew me in. I started playing DJ Hero immediately after it was delivered to me. Four hours later, I realized I’d forgotten to eat dinner. It offers a new challenge for music game veterans, something that hasn’t happened for a few years.
DJ Hero feels like the original Guitar Hero. The “one more song” compulsion is overpowering, it forces you to develop new hand-eye coordination, and offers fun insight into the music being presented.
It also seems a little unpolished, and will certainly benefit from another iteration before it truly hits its stride.
I will award extra points if the sequel contains tracks from LCD Soundsystem.