Tired of twanging your guitar? Trade it in for a nice turntable instead.
Around this time last year Activision sent us a lovely new game to play called DJ Hero. It was unique to the budding music sim genre and it brought something incredibly different. Starting with a nice turntable instead of a guitar, DJ Hero tested the waters of what a North American audience thought about a European club scene music maker.
The result? Nothing but good vibes.
So fast forward nearly a year and we saw the second rendition of the game and I have to tell you it was impressive at E3. The talk of having a DJ career, the possibility of party play and mixing your own music certainly intrigued us. On top of this the development team at Free Style Games also promised more freestyle and less restrictions, which was an ambitious notion. Of course, all of this talk was 'E3' talk, which meant it wouldn't mean a darn thing until we got our hands on it this month; which we did.
Gotta tell you folks, this game just got better.
First, before I dig into the review please know this about me; I'm not a fanboy of the music gaming scene. I never took to Guitar Hero or Rock Band. I felt like if you're going to learn an instrument you should maybe, I dunno, learn an instrument. The idea of pushing buttons never really interested me.... until DJ Hero.
So, with that said, let's talk about how DJ Hero 2 rekindled my love for music games that was started back in October 2009.
DJ Hero 2 brings everything that the developers at E3 promised. Starting with the 'Empire' mode, you get a lot more depth out of the game than in the previous edition. Having the ability to make a player, customize them and then lead them through a career as a DJ is a tremendous upgrade from the first game. It adds personality to the music adventure and keeps you going. What's fun about this mode is that you constantly are challenged by the game. It starts out easy and progressively gets harder with the skills you have to use. The songs get a bit more complicated and everything is a consistent challenge. What's even cooler about this is that you do the usual thing of unlocking music as you go, and venues, but now you also go up against other DJs as you progress forward. For example, when I reached Berlin I played a few sets and then came up on a DJ Battle. You go head to head with another DJ and you win 'checkpoints' as the music plays. Between checkpoints the game evaluates how you did versus your opponent. In the middle of the screen you get a blocky point meter, which gives you a visual indication on who is winning. It's a fast paced portion of the game that really does instill that sense of competitiveness that creates your drive to do better. I love it!
As you play as your own DJ you're going to run into a few new things in DJ Hero 2; mainly the freestyling that you might have really wanted in the first. Freestyling in this edition is a large focus, as you'll run into moments where you'll do freestyle scratching, moments where you use the fader to go between the two pieces of music playing, freestyle samples and freestyle effects dial. While the first game did feature all of these things in one capacity or another, there wasn't quite as much as there is in DJ Hero 2. That was one of the bigger highlights in the game and something that particularly interested me. I want a bit more freedom to contribute my own style to the music and Free Style Games provided that perfectly. Thankfully they didn't open it up too much, as I would certainly have ruined the music.
Now, related to that, and going back to the DJ Battles, is the fact that your freestyle can shut off your opponent if you do it faster and better. For example, when you're going up against a DJ, or your friend, if you get to the fader before they do their side of the fader will shut off while you can freely bring the funk on your side. Again, it's just another small element that creates a little bit of competition and motivation to keep going in the game. It's a small, but huge improvement (if you get my drift -- or is it fade). I wanted to mention that before I get too far ahead with this review and forget (cut me some slack, it's the holiday season).
What's particularly cool about progressing in DJ Hero 2 is that the better you do in the game the more stuff you unlock. Obviously the game wants you to keep playing, so as you complete places (like Berlin) you unlock the next location. If you do really well in each location you unlock items like clothes, headphones and other neat items. You can use those to customize your DJ and add just a bit more flavor to your experience. When I brought this game home, my wife instantly fell in love with it. She never plays games, as she is not a traditional gamer. Anyway, my point here is that when she starting to do well she began unlocking said items and started to customize her own DJ. I always thought this sort of stuff was sorta passe', but she was instantly drawn to it, which speaks volumes. People like her, people who aren't use to playing games, will simply love to mix/match/customize their own DJs. I find it fascinating and cool that such a thing works so well for people who have never experienced the series before. It really shows you what is effective and interesting that reviewers might take for granted. Anyway, it's a nice little incentive to do better and something that just adds another dimension of personality to an already good game.
The biggest plus, and push, this year at E3 was the new selection of music added. You get stuff ranging from Lady Gaga to the Chemical Brothers to Janet Jackson. There are around 80 plus songs in the game (that's before you probably start adding the DLC) and each one has some flavor to it. Going back to the story of my wife (I love using her as a guinea pig), she didn't really care much for the first go around with DJ Hero or its music. I'm not sure why, but she just didn't have any interest in it at all. Well, with DJ Hero 2's list it speaks more to the youthful generation of MTV. You'll get a lot more people wanting to listen to the music, which means you're going to get a lot more people playing the game. The music truly is catchy and it does work a tiny bit better than the original. Most everyone else will probably really like it (especially Lady Gaga), so the game has that going for it.
So, is there anything wrong with this game? The only flaw I can see in this game is that people might be turned off because it's not a guitar, which is a positively sad thought. For me, DJ Hero 2 is not only an upgrade from the original, but it's sort of like a great television show getting its contract renewed for another season. It deserves your attention and you deserve the pleasure that comes out of playing it. It's a unique experience that has gotten better with some purposeful tweaks and additions.