Monday, November 30, 2009



It started back with that wacky, stepping sweat inducer, DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION. Keeping time with music has become a major part of modern videogaming. With the GUITAR HERO series (which is beginning to clog up with too many incarnations like the TONY HAWK series), it has come time to further push the boundaries of music/videogame fusion. DJ HERO makes a heroic push in the direction of innovation. Where GUITAR HERO has been primarily concerned with rock and metal acts, DJ HERO covers the rap, soul and R&B tunes that have been ignored for too long in video games.

You seasoned video gamers might look at the turntable controller and think it simple in design, unchallenging, and dismiss DJ HERO outright. This would be stupid. DJ HERO has game, and the game that it pulses with is thick, rough, and full of potential peril. The spinning wheel has three buttons (green, red, and blue) on the left side of it. Several music track rounds will be needed to get a feel for the easy rotation and scratching. To the left of the platter is the crossfader that slides left and right. The Euphoria button and the effects dial are slightly above the crossfader. By the time any player has hit the “medium” level of gameplay, all of these controls including the spinning of the platter will need to be integrated smoothly without a glance to the board. Your eyes need to be locked onscreen, or you’ll fumble. If you fumble and gameplay has been tight enough, a “rewind” feature allows you to bring back the fumbled area immediately and come correct.

This game stresses you hard with multitasking. Scratching is done by spinning the platter back and forth. Some of the scratching requirements are short and precise, and others are longer and a little looser. A choice of freestyle samples (For example Flavor Flav’s nasal “Yeeeeaaah boyyyyyyy,”) can be dropped within certain frames of each track. Adding to the complication is the crossfader which determines the use of the green and blue buttons on the turntable. Suddenly three tracks have the potential to be four tracks, and the four tracks will ultimately skip back and forth, forcing you to re-calibrate your hand-eye coordination.

DJ HERO separates the stadium DJs from the high school prom DJs almost immediately. Strategy becomes king, but first, mastery of the controls is required. There are no shortcuts in DJ HERO. You have to put in your work; then you can look around and see how to make that work in your points favor. The learning curve starts off brutally but ultimately balances. More than anything, this is a game that needs certain parts of it played over and over and over again until mastery is achieved. When you crossfade out, spike a few scratches, drop a sample, and tweak the effects dial for double point value then crossfade back, the feeling of accomplishment is huge. Work all of those motions under Euphoria, and the payout can be monstrous. All of the required moves down to every last snare hit are based on the track’s time signature. More advanced levels completely disassemble every sound in a track and require responses for each of them. The feeling of actually being an organic part of the mixing/creation of the music is completely in place with this game. With the right investment of time, skill, and patience, anyone can take this game all the way to the top.

DJ HERO contains some densely packed gameplay and a lot of familiar, superior music. You will recognize immediately that these remixes are complex and not some Casio Keyboard hogwash. DJs who love this music tweaked it for DJ HERO, and there isn’t a track that comes off as “weak” or “unrealized.” In most cases, a four to six minute track would have been welcome to thump for another several minutes. Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” is the initial backbone that training and some in-game tracks are based on. DJ HERO embraces its hip-hop roots with GRANDMASTER FLASH and proceeds to bury those roots deep in your head with infectious groove after infectious groove. The unlockable DJs range from typical, goofy ACTIVISION fantasy palette swaps to real-life heavies like DAFT PUNK and even DJ SHADOW himself. The music selection alone deserves attention. MOBB DEEP, THE BEASTIE BOYS, CYPRESS HILL, BENNY BENASSI, PUBLIC ENEMY, BLONDIE, MOTORHEAD and more are all mixed down and sampled the hell out.

DJ HERO is much more than a five minute diversion. This is the kind of game you play until your hands hurt and you are hours past that “one last song” commitment. I went into it with the intent of having a fun evening or two, and now I am locked into some competitive gameplay that doesn’t look like it will be loosening up anytime soon. DJ HERO is fresh and entertaining, delivering that innovative punch you have been looking for.


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