Rhythm action games are a big thing these days. Between Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it's difficult to see how anything else could possibly break into the mainstream. Adored by thousands and ridiculed by the minority, the sight of an arrogant grown man and his inability to play a real instrument has left many in search of an alternative. In a sense, Guitar Hero is comparable with Kings of Leon, promising to sell out to the masses with each and every new release. The problem with the two core music games of this generation has nothing to do with the actual gameplay, it has more to do with the people playing them. Pushing coloured buttons and pretending to be a true rock legend is serious business, apparently. What about everyone else? What about the gamers who want something fresh, something with a relatively low profile? That's where DJ Hero 2 comes in.
People foolishly ignored the original, citing it as little more than a cheap spin-off from its guitar wielding brother. Last year, DJ Hero stood up and provided a special experience. It may have been overpriced, but the new peripheral and almost revolutionary gameplay meant that a sequel was inevitable. Even though the original received praise across the board, improvements had to be made and now we can finally talk about DJ Hero 2 as a game that can compete with the very best. If you're new to the series, it's time to prepare for the most incredible fusion of contrasting genres known to man. While competitors are limited to pre-recorded tracks from musical vaults, DJ Hero 2 has the added bonus of being able to blend tracks together and create a music game like no other.
DJ Hero 2 works off the exact same peripheral as the original, a sturdy replica of a disc jockey's mixing desk, albeit stripped back to the bare minimum. The basic part of the gameplay is familiar and requires you to tap a beat using one of three different colours. Each coloured button (green, red and blue) is assigned to a specific track. Depending on what style of beat is in the mix, you'll have to tap and scratch your way to stardom. The principles established by Guitar Hero are also used here; 'Euphoria' replaces 'Star Power' and you're rewarded for high combos. Rewards are dished out in the form of a rewind, allowing you to go back and play through the previous area of the track. The control scheme is very natural so as expected, you'll have to spin the disc backwards in order to activate the bonus. Following so far? Good, because it starts to get a bit more complicated from here.
Outside of scratching and tapping, the crossfader is another massive part of the gameplay in DJ Hero 2. Essentially, this little slider flips between each track, shifting the focus of an individual mix. Spikes along the way require you to rapidly move the slider, an increasingly difficult task as you progress. It's easy to get lost, but DJ Hero 2 rarely punishes you and it's nearly always possible to recover. The peripheral is extremely well designed so everything is within reach and never feels too cumbersome. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is a small knob. Give it a twist and you can distort sounds and change the vibe. It's not mandatory, but it's essential if you want to increase your score. DJ Hero 2 is complex, but quite easy to become familiar with. It doesn't end there, but in case you become totally befuddled with this barrage of information, let's talk about something different.
DJ Hero 2 is structured just as you'd expect it to be. 'Empire Mode' is the newly branded solo career where you pick a character and travel across continents. The locations are pretty generic like most nightclubs, but that doesn't really matter because you don't need to pay attention to them. DJ Hero 2 does a good job of creating respectable character models, they all have a stylish visual appeal. TiĆ«sto pops up from time to time, along with the man dressed up as a red mouse. The original had some zany fictional characters who don't feature here. It's disappointing that they're absent, but far from a major worry - we're here for the music, and it's fantastic. A greater emphasis is placed on hip-hop this year. The alternative and electronic artists don't feature quite so prominently. Regardless of whether or not you like the artists involved, it's irrelevant because DJ Hero 2 captures the essence of what rhythm action games need to provide - addictive gameplay. A perfect track listing doesn't exist and developers will never please everyone, but the music is mostly fresh and varied. Megamixes make an extraordinary comeback and crank the difficulty up for the more experienced players out there. Maybe they haven't made the best use of DJ Shadow, maybe Lady Gaga shouldn't have been included, maybe there are too many 'playas' singing about nonsensical garbage...maybe. It's all down to personal preferences, but DJ Hero 2 should get most people tapping their feet and nodding their heads to some very obscure combinations.
As you can probably tell by now, there have been plenty of improvements made to DJ Hero 2. One new feature really elevates the game into greatness, it's called freestyling. Certain sections of the song will allow you to scratch in whatever direction you like. The scoring system reflects this depending on how your contributions fit into the rest of the beat. You can do the same thing with crossfading, switching back and forth between two separate tracks. Samples aren't new to the series, although a fairly important change has been made. DJ Hero 2 doesn't let you pick and choose the samples you want, the game plucks them from inside the song. Instead of introducing a sci-fi effect that doesn't complement the mix in any way, you'll be dealing with samples that fit. Once again, the scoring system will reward you for making good use of them. This might sound overwhelming but everything is implemented with ease, freestyling takes very little time to become accustomed with. Combine all of these together and you get a level of interactivity that Guitar Hero has never been able to match.
Those of you looking to expand DJ Hero 2 into a multiplayer experience will be happy to hear that a makeover has taken place. There's no more room for co-operative play with guitars. DJ Hero 2 has a brand new vocal option for the majority of songs, and you can also team up with a friend to battle with two peripherals. Unlike its competitors, the game works wonderfully well on your own or with a group of friends. There doesn't need to be a room full of intoxicated clowns to get enjoyment from DJ Hero 2, it's a finely balanced game. A proper online community with leaderboards and numerous different modes mean that the package is comprehensive and has hours worth of content. The whole game is streamlined to the max, with an enormous amount of polish spread across every corner of the presentation. Plans have already been made to start releasing DLC soon, a mostly missed opportunity with the original. The potential is endless if the developers support DJ Hero 2 with interesting extras, and we won't be accepting any excuses this time around.
The great thing about DJ Hero 2 is that you don't need to have any interest in the profession and you don't need to like the soundtrack (although it's almost impossible to hate it). Gameplay is the pride and joy of the experience here, and everything else is simply a bonus. Fans of the original will be treated to a vastly superior and incredibly challenging sequel, and new players will be introduced to one of the best music games available. Not only does DJ Hero 2 surpass the original in every way, it confidently rivals its influences. Where it lacks in family fun, it more than compensates with originality. After all, if DJ Hero 2 can make Kanye West sound remotely decent, then it has to worthy of your attention.