By Special Guest Writer – Daniel Lipscombe
When Guitar Hero first launched in 2005, Gamers were dubious that a rock game that featured cover songs and was controlled by a plastic guitar, would ever be a success. So who would have thought, four years later, many sequels released and enough plastic peripherals to stuff a small land fill, that it would be one of the biggest selling franchises in gaming history. But guitars were a simple idea, everyone plays the air guitar so a natural transition was to put five fret buttons, a strum bar and a whammy bar into the mix and get people rocking out to the classics. Having played each and every game in the Guitar Hero franchise, I approached DJ Hero with the same scepticism of that when I first picked up the Gibson SG in 2005.
When first approaching the DJ Hero turntable controller it’s easy to be intimidated, if you’ve played any GH games in the past you may be used to only four fret buttons and the strum bar. Here, however you’re faced with three buttons on a fully revolving platter, a crossfader that moves from left to right, an effects dial and a euphoria button. But it’s not just what’s on the controller that creates fear. Now rather than having a challenge of hammer on’s and pull off’s, you’re asked to scratch the platter in certain directions, for particular periods of time, crossfade records from left to right in quick succession and perfect fast hand movements to ensure a seamless transition through each track. Sounds tough? It is.
DJ Hero is a tough game, perhaps not as tough as mastering ‘Through the fire and flames’ on expert, but it certainly requires an amount of dexterity that you won’t be used to. Starting with the tutorials it’s easy to see that there is quite a learning curve to master, in fact the last few lessons techniques won’t even appear below the hard difficulty. I started the game on medium difficulty, as that’s where I’m comfortable on Guitar Hero, as the game starts the hardest part of it isn’t mastering the songs, it’s the crossfader.
Unfortunately the actual crossfader on the controller doesn’t make the game any easier, it’s hard at first to find the middle of the slider, which means moving from the left or right record to the middle, will cause a lot of problems. I constantly found myself jumping from left to right, rather than to the middle as instructed. Besides this hiccup though, the controller is solid, sturdy and relatively easy to use throughout the game. It takes time to get used to the movements required, particularly when it comes to scratching.
When scratching the record you must hold the correct button and move the platter as instructed. On lower levels you rapidly move the platter back and forth, but on higher difficulties you’re asked to time each scratch perfectly in specific directions. The best way to sum up the control methods of DJ Hero is to compare it to rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time, but now you’re asked to hop up and down on one foot whilst beatboxing Jay Z’s latest hit.
The game does generally take it easy on you though; there were only a few of the 94 mixes that had me perplexed as to how I would ever ‘switch fade that section’ or ‘scratch over three buttons for 40 seconds’ but in my first playthrough I never failed a song. This may be due to playing the GH games a lot and being very familiar with rhythm games, but even those who don’t have that experience will still enjoy the game, albeit on a lower difficulty perhaps.
One thing DJ Hero has that the GH games don’t is an easier transition between difficulty levels, moving from medium to hard seemed a smoother progression than in the guitar based games. This will likely extend the longevity of the game for many who would usually stick to one level and stay there. And there’s a lot here to enjoy, creating your own setlists, team up with a friend on guitar and play against others online. Each of these will keep you amused for a spell, but if competitive play is your thing, then DJ Hero online is where you’ll find yourself. Set up a setlist of mixes and attempt to best your opponent. In the short time I played online, finding a game was relatively easy and I didn’t experience any latency either, which is a blessing for a game based solely on twitch reactions.
For all the good that DJ Hero does, in terms of new control methods and inventive game mechanics, you can’t help but feel a bit let down by the tracks you play along with. There are some great mash ups here and some are unexpected, who would have thought that Vanilla Ice vs MC Hammer would be fun? But it is. The game starts off strong, mixing Queen with Daft Punk and Genesis with Dizzee Rascal but as the game goes on and you begin to hear the same tracks but mixed differently it can become stale. There’s only so many times that Disturbia by Rhianna can stay interesting.
However each mix, no matter how dubious the song choice, is great. All are mixed well and sound as if they would in a club, with the background ambience from the crowd that dance in front of your DJ avatar. Everything looks as you would imagine, strobe lights punctuate the beats that you play and the DJ’s can often be seen pumping up the crowd during scratches. Freestyle Games have certainly created an atmosphere that matches the music. There are some guest appearances that will allow you to take over famous DJ’s such as DJ Shadow, DJ Yoda and the Late DJ AM, through in Daft Punk and Grandmaster Flash and any music fan will feel at home here.
While there may be dips in the track choices, slight issues with the hardware and a devilish difficulty at times DJ Hero excels at pushing the music rhythm genre to a new level. Playing this title creates an excitement not felt since 2005, when Guitar Hero caused trepidation for gamers. Only time will tell if DJ Hero has a similar future as its guitar based cousin. With DLC already released I’m sure people will continue to play and enjoy this new franchise until its inevitable sequel, which I for one will welcome with open arms.