Within a few minutes of playing DJ Hero, it’s clear to see that it’s one of the more technically advanced music games on the market. There is a steeper learning curve to it than most, partially because of all of the elements involved in handling it and the general unfamiliarity with turntables that I expect most players to have when first trying DJ Hero. At the expert level, you have to think about pressing the three buttons on the the platter, rotating the platter forwards and backwards for scratching and back-spins without losing track of where the buttons are, moving the cross-fader, turning the effects knob and activating the euphoria button at the right time.
If that freaks you out, it shouldn’t (yet). There are a number of difficulty settings, with the beginner setting giving you the bare minimum and every difficulty setting above that gradually introduces new gameplay elements to the mix. There’s no shame into jumping into the game at beginner. As for me, I started out at medium and had a blast. By the end of my first day with DJ Hero, I had begun gaining 5-stars on the early mixes on expert difficulty. I don’t expect myself to be the next DJ Q-Bert anytime soon, but the thrill of tearing through a mash-up is pretty awesome.
Speaking of the mash-ups, the game is made up entirely of mash-ups. This “genre” of music isn’t necessarily my bag, but these all sound great and are almost all fun to play. There are two downers though that come with this package. The first one is that the set-list reuses a lot of songs. A lot of the songs get used more than once, and at least one song gets reused four times. The other downer comes from the implementation of the music. Outside of the back-spins and the effects knob, there’s no room for your own creativity. In other music games, such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band, that isn’t much of a problem, because you want to play the songs the way they’re meant to be played. But the nature of DJ-ing lends itself to a certain type of creativity that you just can’t do by replaying someone else’s mix.
OK, I lied; there’s one more downer in regards to the music in DJ Hero. The game also comes with 10 mixes which can be played with a person on the turntable and another person on guitar. I appreciate the gesture, but these mixes are the least fun to play and sound very forced. In particular, the guitarist is getting the short end of the stick, having to play fairly boring guitar charts. Even if the tracks were great to play, 10 tracks isn’t much to work with. DJ and guitar mode will probably last you an hour at most before both band members run out of stuff to play.
If you’re in single-player mode, you will be spending much of your time in the game’s career mode. This mode feels very bare-bones, especially compared to the likes of Rock Band, which does a lot outside of the gameplay, such as a loose story and unique challenges to spice up the experience. In DJ Hero, you simply move from set-list to set-list, earning stars to unlock characters and accessories as you go. There’s no story or extra motivation beyond that. The other weird design choice here is that songs are grouped into sets, and you can’t progress unless you beat all the songs within a set. While I see the benefits in being able to play through multiple songs without having to navigate a menu, it is a bummer when you come up short on the very last song, and have to play through the entire set again to redeem yourself.
DJ Hero is a pretty good game that has reinvigorated my interest in music games. It’s core gameplay mechanics are a joy to experience if you can overcome the learning curve. In order to compete with the likes of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, it’s going to provide a deeper experience outside of just mixing music, such as a more compelling single-player mode and more downloadable content. I look forward to seeing what improvements Freestyle Games has in store for DJ Hero 2. Personally, I’m praying for the ability to hook up two turntables to one mixer for “real” DJ-ing action.
Before I go, I should talk a bit about the value proposition that DJ Hero at regular retail price offers. At the price I paid for it ($50 refurbished), I can fairly easily overlook the game’s shortcomings and scratch away. However, at regular retail price of $130, I don’t know if I could justify owning the game for that much, even though I think it’s great. As for the special edition of this game, which is $220 in my country, forget about it. If you can get this game for under $100 and you’re a fan of music games, then this may be right up your alley. At regular retail price, I would pass.