The hype surrounding DJ Hero has been quite interesting, from a clinical perspective (what, you didn't know we were doctors?). There are the folks who sighed heavily as soon as the game was announced, preferring instead to wait for the inevitable DJ Hero 2, going by how often we get Guitar Hero games. Others couldn't see the merit in playing a rhythm game based on DJ-ing, which is in and of itself a creative process, where a nearly infinite amount of mixes can be created, and a game based on it would only allow you to play pre-existing mixes made by other DJs. But still, there were some who were just happy for a new kind of music game that played differently to the flood of guitar-related titles on the market, and that had an awesome soundtrack. Obviously, DJ Hero is something of a divisive game. But what's the real 411 on the game? Well dawgs, let's take a look.
DJ Hero comes with yet another plastic peripheral, this time in the form of a turntable. At first it seems quite complicated, although simpler than an actual DJ's turntable, having only one record platter. On this platter are three buttons, used for hitting notes in the game in a similar fashion to Guitar Hero. There is also a detachable side-plate for the turntable, which can be attached to the left or right side depending on whether you're left or right handed. On this are the crossfader, used for switching between tracks, the effects dial and the euphoria button, which in a cool addition actually lights up. Just above these controls is a small door you can lift up to reveal a hidden panel of regular controls for navigating menus. Overall, the controller feels very solid. The platter has a very nice grip to it, as do the buttons on it, and subtle touches like the euphoria light also help. The crossfader is a little loose, making it hard to know when it's reached the center position when you're just starting out, but everything considered it's still a great product.
As you've probably surmised from the screenshots, the game takes a fair number of cues from the Guitar Hero series. You've still got a highway of notes which you have to successfully hit, although now it looks like the surface of a record, while in the background your character jams on stage as a crowd of onlookers party. Of course, the new controller and new theme means that there are some key differences. For starters, instead of selecting from a setlist of single tracks, you have 94 mixes composed from over 100 songs. That means instead of playing Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust', you'll be playing that song mixed with another, like 'Da Funk' by Daft Punk. These have all been mixed by professional DJs such as DJ Shadow, DJ AM and Daft Punk, so for the most part they actually sound pretty good.
Whether you'll appreciate the soundtrack of DJ Hero comes down to personal taste, but for us there were some pretty sweet mixes that crossed old and new very well. Take Jackson 5 and mix it with Third Eye Blind, and instead of an overdose of saccharine you get a pretty awesome tune. Marvin Gaye vs. Gorillaz? It works. Vanilla Ice vs. MC Hammer - once again, it works, although mostly by limiting Ice's involvement. A couple of the mixes get a little samey, but there's a lot of variety here, and if you were actually to play this at a party, it would make some very fine background music.
The front-end of DJ Hero is pretty minamalist, and all about getting you into the music, really. As soon as you start up the game, you can slide the crossfader to the left and right to select from the various setlists, or to enter a quickplay mode and create your own. It's an easy enough system, but it's a little counter-productive, as since there aren't any sub-menus, you'll sometimes have to scroll through the entire list from left to right to get to the option you want (luckily you can use the d-pad). Progression through the game is based around stars. You can gain up to five stars in every song, and collecting stars unlocks more setlists, mixes, characters, turntables, turntable styles, etc. The amount of content to unlock is astounding, perhaps the only thing that could have been added would be more samples, but we'll touch on that later.
At first the game seems much like Guitar Hero, except instead of its five tracks, you only have three. The outer two represent the songs you're mixing, while the middle is their combined power, and also where you can insert your own samples. As the song plays, you'll have to hit notes along the tracks with the buttons on the turntable, much like Guitar Hero. There are also 'scratching' sections, where you'll have to hold down a specific colour and scratch with the turntable. On the hardest difficulties, you'll have to scratch in the direction you're told, while on normal you can scratch in any direciton and on beginner's difficulty (which is really, staggeringly way too easy and recommended only for five year olds), you can hold down any button to do this.
You'll also be required to crossfade between the tracks, sliding the crossfader at just the right moment to play just a single track, as well as hit crossfade spikes. Sometimes on the center track you can add your own samples from a sample set you choose beforehand, however there are relatively few on offer and only a couple of them actually sound any good (the 'Posh' set being our favourite). Sections of the track that appear thicker and are framed by an orange border can have effects applied to them using the effects dial, doubling your points. Hitting glowing notes on the track will build up your euphoria meter, which you can then use to also double your points by hitting the euphoria button. Finally, if you play perfectly for a certain amount of time you'll earn a 'rewind' which you can use to replay a small section of track for, you guessed it, double the points. This is accomplished by physically flicking the platter backwards, which at first is tricky but eventually becomes second nature.
All of this gameplay is very fun, especially from the normal difficulty onwards, and juggling crossfading, hitting notes and using all kinds of euphoria/rewinding tricks to get double the points. There's a lot more to keep track of than in a Guitar Hero game, and there is an initial learning curve to get your head around the controls. For this reason, we can't see this game being a massive hit at parties, unless you play it yourself while everyone else just listens to the cool tunes. The two-player multiplayer in the game is fairly standard, as both DJs play exactly the same notes, so it's really just a competition for points. You can also connect a Guitar Hero guitar and play co-operatively with the turntable in about ten songs, which is a nice feature but definitely feels tacked on.
Our only problems with the game are things that will probably be addressed in inevitable future instalments. While mixing between songs completely by yourself is best left for professional DJs, it would have been nice to throw players a bone and allowing them some freedom in how they mix songs, perhaps in some sort of studio mode similar to what's been in the Guitar Hero series since World Tour. Finally, sometimes it feels as though the game could get a lot crazier and over the top than it already is. The maximum multiplier you can get is an 8x multiplier, no matter if you have euphoria, rewind and effects all activated. With so many ways to achieve double the points, it would have been cool to let people stack multipliers to get some insane scores happening, but for balance reasons this may have been excluded.
Graphically, the game looks very nice on the PS3 and 360. The DJs themselves (of which you cannot create your own and must select from a list) are all very well-rendered, especially celebrities such as Daft Punk, and the stages are suitably cool with light-shows and dancers and all kinds of party goings-on. The crowds are simply pixellated animated sprites, which is disappointing, but given the scale of some of the venues it is perhaps understandable. There are also some really cool filters that are thrown into the visuals during the songs, and everything seems really synched up to the music. Sound quality, as you would expect, is excellent.
In the end, we would very heartily recommend DJ Hero. While the music may not be to everyone's tastes, and the game perhaps hasn't completely capitalised on the amount of DJ-ing insanity it could achieve, it's nonetheless a challenging and refreshing change for the music game genre. If you've looked at the setlist and yawned, then this probably isn't the game for you, but for anyone who's grown up with Gorillaz or Daft Punk and has been waiting for a music game that doesn't involve ear-shattering karaoke or the constant clicking of plastic guitars, DJ Hero is definitely for you. Although to be honest, if that does describe you then you're being a bit picky.