With the abundance of music games out there in the market it’s hard to swallow another one. Even worse is the amount of expensive plastic peripherals you have to invest in to play them. For myself, I happen to enjoy the music game genre based on my music background. Folks I have to say it’s time to open wide and eat up DJ Hero!! This game is absolutely sick.
Every time a new music game title is announced I seem take it with a ten foot pole in regards to anything that has been the successor of previous titles. I have been playing Konami’s Beatmania series forever well before the likes of Dance Dance Revolution’s arrival to the mainstream audience in the US. Even when I saw Guitar Freaks, Drum Mania, Keyboardmania, Para Para Paradise, etc. nothing quite moved me like Konami’s DJ simulation game.
I always thought to myself how could this expand? Then of course some years later the US embraced Guitar Hero proceeded by Rock Band. Now granted that these titles are my favorite pastimes, I still wondered how could they evolve the music game? I mean come on, Beatmania is the one thing responsible for getting me into the whole sub-culture of being a DJ, re-mixer, and musician.
So along comes DJ Hero and thus my prayers have been answered. DJ Hero is by far one of the most unique experiences in regards to the music game genre. There is just something visceral on how in touch you are with the music. Part of the explanation on this is how well the DJ controller is integrated to the game play. I like making the comparison more to Beatmania as opposed Guitar Hero even though it falls under the same skin. Those who not familiar with Beatmania can thank this title for setting the standard control scheme for pretty much every music game made to date. Yes you have a note highway, colored buttons that help tap out the beat as they fall down the screen, star power(Euphoria), note combos and multipliers.
I think that’s about where the similarity stops. What is different is the fact that you have to utilize the turntable plate for scratching, the cross fader for beat juggling, and like Rock Band/Guitar Hero there is a mechanic to allow freestyling which makes the tracks that are being played unique. This is hands-down the most integral component that makes the player in tune with the music, the fact that you can kind of make it your “own”. This is why I feel DJ Hero is so much more than the other games out there. The control scheme sets up the player with wiki-wiki scratches, reverse spins, dropping vocals in and out, tweaking the knob to create filters and envelops, and it’s all seemless. Every song ends up turning into a performance, and it can be as dull or exciting as you want to be. The fun thing about this expression is that you aren’t booed off the stage for trying. So there isn’t a right or wrong way to freestyle.
As you blast through tracks successfully, hitting all of your DJ techniques land you multiplier bonuses that allow you hit the Euphoria button (to others known as Star Power). But while that’s going you can get to sections that allow the player hit the red button which is used to trigger sound bites like Flavor Flav’s “Yeaaaaa Boooy!” or other various samples. Even further down this madness of cutting and beat juggling, if you’re consistently hitting every note, you can spin the record backwards to repeat a section that you want to keep the score going. It becomes just sick! For me I didn’t care about the score it was all about the music I was playing and DJ Hero is right on the money with that.
And money indeed! Activision and Freestyle Games spent a lot of it to get the celebrity likenesses, music licenses, and special mixes. Before any of that even matters you really have to applaud the effort in the music selection in DJ Hero, and the list is huge! Not by the sheer number, but simply by the genres and types of artists that appear. I mean you get to hear the mash-ups of Afrika Bambaataa, 50 Cent, Tupac, Bobby Blue Bland, Cyprus Hill, Sandy Rivera, Beastie Boys, Daft Punk, Gwen Stefani, Rick James, The Jackson 5… it’s too many to name! But it doesn’t stop there. There are over 90 unique mash ups to where you can hear can mix The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” over Jay-Z’s Izzo (H.O.V.A) which will sound drastically different versus DJ Yoda’s mix using Gang Starr’s “Just to Get a Rep” over the same tune. I found myself humming a lot of the quirky mixes such as Gwen Stefani’s “Holler Back Girl” vs. Rick James “Give it to Me Baby”. The talent and mash-ups lent to this game is simply refreshing and probably not heard anywhere else.
The presentation to DJ Hero is as equally impressive and totally fits the culture. I have actually DJ’d to a live audience and the graphics showcase that same feeling of getting the crowd into your set. You’ll spin music to sexy girls with wings, dancing “house heads”, and a huge crowd all jumping to your tracks. The most notable stage was playing with Daft Punk for the first time (big grin on my face). They appear in their normal garb of course, but they actually modeled Daft Punk’s set equipment which is simply surreal. You feel like a part of the crowd and they feel like a part of you. Aside from big names like DJ AM (R.I.P), DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Shadow, and Grand Master Flash, there are fictional characters to unlock. By playing through you the game you earn stars which unlocks the characters as well as DJ decks/skins, venues, set lists, and costumes. You’ll be quite busy for quite some time.
DJ Hero is an excellent music game that is refreshing enough to try for the first time and not get frustrated with it. Eventually you will get how to control the music to a point where you make it your own. It sports a multiplayer mode that allows the second player to use a guitar and has exclusive tacks for the pair. I’d say that this is hit or miss for me and would prefer to DJ battle against someone. Hopefully this will be a component of the game that I expect to see evolve when sequels arrive for this title. I think Freestyle Games are definitely on the right track and I can foresee much more room to grow. Give me a “beat matching” mechanic, allow me to pick which two songs I want to mix, or connect a second deck to the mixer (even Beatmaina had a 2-deck gameplay mode). Hell even thrown different DJ styles: House mixing, Turntablism, Disco era , Drum n Bass ,etc. DJ Hero has brought to the table many things that I wished for in a music game and hopefully this trend will continue. “Mix Master Mike, whatcha gotta say? Goddamn that DJ made my day…”