For all you Guitar Hero lovers out there, you haven't seen tricky until you've met DJ Hero.
More beats, more music, more motion
When you first unbox DJ Hero you can already tell that something is incredibly different about this game. Outside of the fact that you're equipped with a turntable instead of guitar, the physical differences say a lot about what you're in store for. Three buttons firmly attached to the turntable that is also equipped with a fader and mix knob, you're about to test your multi-tasking skills to their very limit.
Let's talk difficulty.
The game comes packed with 93 original mixes from some of the most acclaimed artists that ever were in music. Sure you have a mixture of new pop and R&B, but you get some great songs paired together. For example, when you can mix Daft Punk with Queen, that's something special. What this does is ask you to control 3-4 different pieces on the turntable as the songs are cleverly placed together. By the way, the game looks almost exactly like the Guitar Hero set-up. You have small blobs, color-coded, indicating which button to press at which time. The difference is that some of the buttons require a turntable scratching motion that ranges from small scratches to long scratches. They come at different times (sometimes close, sometimes far away), and sometimes they ask you to scratch, press a different button, while moving the fader from left to right. So, right from the start you know this game is going to be far more difficult than what Guitar Hero had in store for you. The difficulty of this game is extremely high, even when you're playing on medium during the early stages. I'm not sure if this is going to be a plus or minus for the game, but it sure presents a challenge. All you kids have been warned! This game packs a wallop and doesn't give an apology.
Shifting gears a bit, let's talk about the actual gameplay. While I explained briefly about the controls in the previous paragraph, you should know that this turntable is vital for your survival. Simplistic in nature, the turntable is a lot more comfortable for a gamer than a guitar. Your pinky finger won't hate you as much with the turntable. The game helps you out from the get-go through a series of tutorials. The first set is the basics; the second set are advanced moves. The tutorials are extremely helpful, as they guide you through simple ways to use the turntable device. You learn about the fader bar, which buttons to push while scratching and how to handle multiple scenarios in the game. This is the good part of the tutorials; the bad part is that you must do the tutorials to truly get started in the game. I don't mind a game helping me out, but don't force the help. When you get to the advanced tutorial you'll appreciate what you must go through. The method of scratching has different types of motions and different types of methods that help pull the music together. Both tutorials will show you that and then unlock more DJ music for you to use.
Speaking of DJ music, like I mentioned above you get a cornucopia of music to play with. Ranging from R&B, to oldies (60s) and rounding it out with 80s music, you get a nice variety. Each DJ has their own set of songs played in their own way. Sometimes you'll see repeats of music you've already played with, but it's done in a different method. Each DJ requires you to through a set of four - five songs which grade you using a star scale. The more you get right, the more stars you obtain. At the end, all the scores of each set are put together to create an certain about stars for that particular DJ. If you obtain enough stars trophies and unlockables become available. Sometimes you'll get more DJs, while other times you'll get more locations opened for you to play at. It's motivation to get more music and have it played at different venues. When you're talking about 93 original mixes and each DJ has four - five mixes, that's a lot of DJs ready and willing to put you through the musical ropes. That's incredibly impressive and creates enough motivation to keep moving in the game. I had to drag myself away from the game to write this review if that gives you any indication about the addictiveness of DJ Hero.
Now, since we all can't be astronauts (musicians), the game does give you a bit of leeway during the songs. When you miss a beat in the game it temporarily makes that beat line disappear (by the way, you're equipped with three beat lines). Once it comes back on, or you hit a beat traveling on it right, you're back in the game. Every time you get a certain amount of beats right a star is added (and you score goes up). Try not to pay too much attention to this during the game as it can become a distraction and mess you. Speaking of distractions, when you're getting a good amount of beats right and go on somewhat of a streak, the game gives a 'rewind' indication. You can choose to 'rewind' your turntable or just ignore it. Rewinding in the middle of a song is a bit tricky, as you literally will spin your turntable counter-clockwise and quickly get your fingers repositioned on the buttons. For some people this will become an annoyance. I wish the game gave you at least one second to reset your fingers, but it doesn't. It's a neat method to get into the music, but it's risky if you pick the wrong time to choose it. Another perk of the game is during your song you'll find a certain part of the tracks glowing a brightly; this is the Euphoria track. This allows you to gain 'Euphoria' and will help you get through some potentially tough fader bar moments. The only way to gain Euphoria is to perfectly perform what is asked during the brightly lit beats. If you do that then you gain Euphoria; if you don't then you simply don't. Euphoria will take control of one section of fader bars for you and help you during difficult times. The problem with Euphoria, and it isn't because you have to be perfect in that particular section of the song, is that to activate it you must find the big red button on the turntable. It's literally a glowing red button.
If I had only one complaint to give about this game it is that the turntable is sometimes difficult to control during heated moments in some of the mixes. Trying to toggle between a fader bar, the Euphoria button and the mix knob can be frustrating as hell. As I stated previously, this game demands more of your multi-tasking abilities than Guitar Hero could ever ask for. Sometimes it gets too much and you simply have to stop for a second, gain control of your location on the screen and continue. That usually means the loss of beats, but that's a small sacrifice compared to a disastrous performance on an entire song. I want to pinpoint my particular frustration with the design of the turntable and that is the fader bar movement. The fader bar acts as a panning tool (going from left to right). You move it left to play one song and move it right to play the other. Move the bar in the middle and you get a perfect mix. The problem I have with this simplistic button is that there isn't a definite lock or click to the middle. You'll find that you're in the heat of a mix and moving the fader from left to right (and back) rapidly, only to accidentally fall over to one side when you're trying to keep it in the middle. I wish Activision had put together a bit more of a stopper in the middle. Most gamers will find this being the biggest problem with this creative controller. I know after playing nearly 12-15 hours worth of the game I never got close to perfection with it. Don't get me wrong I did get use to it, but even after completing so many songs it still had a problem with locating the middle. That's probably the very biggest complaint about this game. If you can work past that then you're going to enjoy the hell out of it.
Money, fame and fun
The game is a bit more graphically refined than the current Guitar Hero. There's a possibility of going through an epileptic seizure in the game, mainly due to all the flashing lights, but it still looks pretty sweet for a game based on scratching. You get different environments and different characters to play with. By default I went for the oversized wrestling mask-sporting goon. The customization with the game is pretty good; you can even choose different turntables to play with. For the most part the game isn't too flashy and it's nothing like a graphically intense game such as Uncharted 2. Graphics weren't really the main focus of this game; it was more about music. With that said, the presentation of the game is certainly street worthy. Spray-painted graphics with a colorful dash of graphical fun doesn't elude this title; it embraces it.
Moving on to other neat things, the game allows you to play with another musician in the house. You can either have two turntables or you can break out the Guitar Hero guitar to play alongside (neat eh?). The game also allows you to play against each other or coop. The online experience is neat and seamless, and it allows you to do the same (coop and versus). I'm happy that the online provides the same experience, as generally it's a lesser afterthought.
So with all of this at your disposal (the music, the modes and the small amount of customizing), would you pay $119.99 for it? That's up to you. If you would pay for a Rock Band set or a nice Logitech Guitar, then you will find the $119.99 a steal for such a game. Compared to all the other ways you can play music and how much that would cost (Don't get me started on the Rock Band set), I find this a reasonable price to pay for a fun time. There's so much music here and the use of the turntable is quite high. You are almost guaranteed to run through this game more than once; especially if you have another friend who is ready to play it. The biggest question with such a purchase is, "Are you really into turntable scratching?" That's a question you will have to answer, because if you're not then you may not love the price or the purchase that much. For me it was an easy sell. I love techno music, I love mixing two different types of music from different eras together, so it's really a no-brainer when it comes to purchasing it. There's enough here to make you happy; there's enough music here to keep you going. Add that to the fact that there's destined to be tons of DLC for this game and you can basically see the set paying for itself.