Even if you are not a fan of the rhythm game genre, you have to admire the sheer inventiveness of DJ Hero 2. The first game was something of a noble experiment, and like most noble experiments, it began with a thud. The sales were low, but word of mouth, positive reviews, and an eventual price cut made up for initial sales disappointments, which paved the way for DJ Hero 2, a game that takes a successful formula and makes it better.
I should start out by saying that I have never been a big fan of rhythm games, and I feel that most of them would be greatly improved by the ability to shoot the notes with a rocket launcher. But I understand the appeal, and I appreciate the party atmosphere that these games thrive in. Plus, as a fan of the video game industry as a whole, I like that a new(ish) genre is able to bring in fans that might have otherwise not been into gaming at all.
But despite my remorse at not being able to throw grenades in rhythm games (yet…), I was interested in the concept of the original DJ Hero. It was good to see the hip-hop and electronica crowd get a little love. I was also attracted to the DJ concept as well. Having listened to a lot of music, I was sure that I could have been a world famous DJ—I was just lacking a few things like the equipment, the comprehensive music knowledge and talent, but otherwise I was a DJ at heart. So DJ Hero was a game for me, and to my surprise, I really liked it.
Unfortunately for the original game, DJ Hero’s timing sucked. There were always going to be challenges introducing a game that required you to buy a relatively expensive controller that simulated an instrument that most people don’t understand, and many have never even touched in person, but add to that the ridiculous over-saturation of the rhythm game genre last year, and things weren’t looking all that great for the game. Thankfully Activision decided to stick with it and sales picked up enough to warrant a second game, the cleverly titled DJ Hero 2.
Yo DJ, spin that wheel!
Using the turntables in DJ Hero 2 is to actual DJ-ing what mashing buttons in Guitar Hero is to strumming along on an actual guitar. Both are fun, but you probably shouldn’t go out and invest in expensive turntables just because you can score 100-percent on the Berlin stage. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun experience, though. In fact, it’s anything but.
DJ Hero 2 doesn’t reinvent itself compared to its prequel, but it does polish several things that make it a better game.
The first would seem to be the tracks themselves. There are more than 80 mixes included with the game, with many more coming online in the near future, and this time out there is more of a focus on big name hits. There is a bit less of the underground music feel that the original had, but it makes sense to try to appeal to as large an audience as possible. Plus, with the inevitable online downloads, the track selection is a non-issue. Besides, with more than 80 tracks, there are going to be some tracks for everyone.
The game features several game modes, including the standard career mode, which is called “empire mode.” It plays out like you would expect if you have played a rhythm game, with each city holding several sets you must complete to unlock a boss battles. The “Megamix mode” lets you play a set mixed by well known DJs from around the world, and quickplay is also included.
As you complete challenges you earn stars, which can be used to upgrade the look of your character. These are cosmetic, but they lose most of their relevance when you realize that you can use your console’s avatar as a character. It is a very cool conceit, and watching your avatar tear da’ club up is equal parts bizarre and awesome.
The biggest improvement between DJ Hero 2 and its predecessor is the battle mode. You can now play against another person in six different types of games, where in the previous entry it was just a point battle. When you are playing an opponent that is either sitting next to you or online, you can play to whatever mode suits your style. You and your opponent can go back and forth and try to one up each other, or you can play to see who can hit the longest streak before hitting the “euphoria” button (similar to the Star Power in Guitar Hero) then let your opponent try to match you. If playing against your friends and random online people is your thing, then DJ Hero 2 is your type of game.
The party game has also been expanded to include a vocals section. In the previous game, the vocals were an additional feature that did not count towards the score and were not tracked. You could sing into a mic if you wanted to, but it didn’t affect the game. Now you can be scored on the vocals, which lets you add another player to the mix. It sounds a bit off when you scratch and cut through the vocal section, but that isn’t a big deal. Strangely, when you are playing the party mode, you cannot choose the tracks—it is random.
The biggest addition in terms of gameplay is the freestyle additions. During the tracks, there are sections that allow you to add a little bit of personal flair to the mashups. One section will let you scratch through a section, while another lets you use the crossfader between tracks. What you do isn’t really taken into account too much, as long as you are doing something, but it does make you feel like you are doing more than just the standard button pushing.
Overall, most of the changes are very well thought out, and generally add more polish to the previous DJ Hero than anything else. That doesn’t mean that the game will convert people that hate the genre, and at its core,DJ Hero 2 is still very similar to the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. The track list is also a bit too pop heavy—which is a personal preference I admit, but compared to the last DJ Hero, the song selection just doesn’t seem as interesting. There will be plenty of new tracks, and odds are you will soon be able to have enough songs to satisfy anyone, but it will cost you (anywhere from $1 per song to $10 for a pack). Still, with 80 plus tracks, even if you hate half the songs, you are still left with a lot to enjoy.
My other problem is something that began with the first DJ Hero and continues through the second game — the controller. The turntable controller is what it is — a simulated vinyl record with four colored buttons on top — and for the most part it is designed in the best way to optimize the style of game, but the scratching is still a bit odd and it is sometimes difficult to find the finesse necessary to pull off the most difficult tracks. A better indentation for the buttons could have offered a bit of grip to help with scratching. It’s not a big deal, and you get used to it, but you never fully have the total control you could with a few simple changes. It just feels like a cut corner.
The final score
DJ Hero 2 will not win over most fans that ardently hate rhythm games, but it could sway a few that like the idea but want to do more than just hit buttons. That isn’t a slight on the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, but is rather a compliment to FreeStyleGames for creating something that is familiar to the genre, but also fresh and unique.
The controller isn’t perfect, but it is a good try, and while the tracklist is arguably weaker than the previous game, that is a matter of taste– if it helps to broaden the appeal of the game, so be it. Paying a fair amount of cash for downloadable tracks isn’t the most fun thing either, but that is the precedent that was set long before DJ Hero came out. The only real criticism I have about the way the game plays is the vocals, which are fun, but seem almost like an afterthought, especially when you are singing in a song with several cuts — it just doesn’t work.
The bottom line is that while I have played rhythm games several times, I am not a huge fan of the genre. I don’t hate it by any means, but it just isn’t my type of game. And yet after playing DJ Hero 2, I found myself going back again and again, listening to the same tracks and trying to improve my score. My biggest fear for this game was that it would be little more than an add-on for the first — something that could have been sold as a DLC for half the price — but there are more than enough improvements and polishes that DJ Hero 2 justifies its status as a sequel, and a highly recommended one at that.
Score: 9 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Activision)