I’ve never played guitar well, so I could never get in on the argument that kids should learn how to play a real guitar instead of Guitar Hero. But I was a DJ in college, and while I totally advocate learning how to spin for real, I don’t want you to miss out on a great game.
The turntable peripheral itself is a smooth ride, going a long way in terms of making you feel like a real DJ. No, it isn’t exactly like scratching, but you’ll get to bobbing your head with your headphones half-on in no time. The last home DJ peripheral we’ve seen, for Konami’s undervalued Beatmania, featured a mini turntable and a bunch of big plastic buttons to slap. We’ve come a long way.
Activision’s turntable is about the size of a 45. On the surface of the “record,” there are three buttons: green, red, and blue. Those buttons function much like they do in Guitar Hero: when the falling jewel crosses the line, you tap or hold the corresponding button. Your green jewels on the left correspond to the first track in the mix, your blue jewels on the right correspond to the second track. Sounds easy, but throw in scratching while holding buttons down, and you’ve got a party. You’ll also be tasked with cross-fading (pushing a bar to the left and right), activating sound effects with the red button (Flavor Flav lends his voice to two sets of these, although if I hear “Yeaaahhhh boyyy” one more time I will eat your turntable), and tapping a separate button to activate Euphoria.
Euphoria works like Star Power in Guitar Hero. If you need me to explain how this works, there is nothing more I can do for you. On the peripheral, the black Euphoria button lights up red when it’s activated. You’ll also be told on-screen when you have Euphoria, and in combination with the fact that you’ll never really be looking down at your turntable, this function is pretty much extraneous. But it’s still a nice touch that I enjoyed.
Continue to play successfully and you’ll unlock an option to rewind part of your track. The Rewind power comes in handy when you’ve just botched a patch of notes and want a mulligan. Grab your “record,” spin it backwards, and your mix will be rewound for a few seconds. You can then play that messy patch over again, and hopefully get a better score this time. Rewinding your turntable in time with the music
, especially spinning it then catching it, is one of those X Factor moments in a game that takes it from proficient to fresh. For a while there, I thought I was spinning a hot party instead of sitting on a recliner with an open box of Kix.
Southpaws will also be happy to know that the controller can be pulled apart and pieced back together to accommodate left-handed DJs.
Most of the mixes here were done in-house at developer FreeStyleGames, and they’re more mash-next-to-each-others than mash-ups. Despite the fact that these mixes aren’t terrific for the most part (there are some notable exceptions—including “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” vs. “Feel Good, Inc.”), DJing their source material is still fun. To put it simply: mashing together 50 Cent’s “Disco Inferno” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” is foul on several levels. But being able to DJ those songs is great. It’s a mixed bag.
I would be proud to call some of these set lists (namely, those done by Daft Punk and DJ Shadow) my own. Others, not so much. DJ Jazzy Jeff and Grandmaster Flash have both seen better days, while DJ Z-Trip’s treatment of Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero” is embarrassing. Chanting “he’s a DJ Hero, got stars in his eyes” over the classic rock track just makes things awkward for everyone.
You may have heard that you’ll be able to play guitar along with the DJ part, but be aware that this is only true for a few songs. I can’t imagine it would’ve been brutally difficult to write guitar parts for more than ten songs, and given that music games today are generally party games, isolating DJ Hero players is a step backwards. If you don’t know someone else with a DJ controller (not currently available separately), expect to play mostly by yourself unless you want to go online.
Listen up, because I’m not going to steer you wrong: buy this game. I know times are tough right now, but you can get it new for about $80 if you look carefully. I bet we’re going to see big things from this new peripheral (think full band with DJ). Wouldn’t you like to lay down your own tracks and rap along with them? What about importing songs (maybe even from Guitar Hero) and creating your own mash-ups to share online? Recording your own sound effects? I predict that given enough interest, this kind of functionality is on the horizon. So make the investment.
DJ Hero brings the funk 9.0 times out of 10.