– Unique music game experience (mostly)
– DJ Turntable is actually quite fun to use and fairly intuitive
– Difficulty range means anyone from noobs to pros can have a challenge
– Lots of songs of…interesting mixes
– Considering what they were working with, they pulled of something surprisingly good
– Can play with both a guitar and a mic
– Music actually alters based on how you are playing the mix
– Mixes are really weird, mostly older songs (Jackson5) mixed with modern stuff (50 Cent?)
– UI is taken straight from Guitar Hero World Tour. This is not a pro.
– Feels a little too stapled to the Guitar Hero name to really be it’s own thing
– Menu UI/mix selection is atrocious
– Have to unlock songs. Like…no.
– Can’t have two DJs spinning at once
– No Deadmau5? All the Daft Punk are remixes? No dubstep remixes? What?
– Difficulty jump from Medium to Hard is much too large
– Thing cost like $150 when it came out for the game and controller (which was corded).
– Character designs for the DJS are downright horrific, because they look like Guitar Hero
I ain’t DAFT, this game’s got PUNK. …no, I don’t know what that means either.
Yeah, so I’m reviewing DJ Hero in 2015. Sue me.
For a bit of history for those of you oblivious to the big music game explosion of last gen, basically Guitar Hero (made by Harmonix) showed up on the PS2 and made a bit of a scene. People were buying giant plastic Fisher Price guitars and pretending to be rock stars in their living room (myself included), and everybody was having a great time. Activision (also known as “Anti-fun”) quickly snatched up Guitar Hero without Harmonix, making Guitar Hero III and focusing heavily on using the name of the franchise to push sales (much like what they do with Call of Duty even to this day). Harmonix, on the other hand, went off to make Rock Band, making more toys including drums, mics, and…well, just those. Activision, who didn’t have a creative brain cell in its bureaucratic body, copied the idea wholesale with Guitar Hero: World Tour and, in an attempt to outdo Harmonix, pumped out a hot new music game, that used it’s own plastic thingy and was totally unique.
This was DJ Hero. And despite all signs pointing against it, this game doesn’t suck.
Hello ladies, let’s get mixin.
DJ Hero borrows a lot from Guitar Hero. In so much that they put “GUITAR HERO” on the box, in the opening credits, and wholesale lifted the UI for the star ranking, points, and star power from it. I’m only going to mention this once because I don’t want to go back to it: the fact that it’s weirdly tethered to Guitar Hero during the point in time when Guitar Hero was easily at its worst is one of the biggest things bringing this game down. The UI from World Tour is pretty atrocious (they fixed it in Guitar Hero 5), and it doesn’t even fit all that well with DJ Hero. Star power is hard to see when filled, the points are in a bad position (upper left would have worked better), the indicator for how far you are to the next star is some weirdly glowing light bulbs for some reason (also, bad), and just overall fairly weak.
While I’m on gripes, the menu UI is also really, really bad. So bad nobody bothered to put any screenshots up on google, so you don’t get to see it. But the point is this: the game is broken up into various “mixes,” meaning 3-10 songs that you play in a row on location. But rather than sub-menu this, it’s right there in the main menu. All 15 odd mixes. Hidden amongst all of that are things like settings, co-op, quick play, etc. (though there isn’t a quick play, just “make a mix,” where you can add one song to quickplay it), but the menu is oriented in Cover Flow style (large graphics that scroll left to right), making it hard to find anything. And when you’re trying to drive an UI on a freaking turntable controller, it’s…kind of a massive pain.
Look mama, I’m a real DJ!
But enough about that, what about the game? How does it work? Well, it’s actually very well designed. Similar to Guitar Hero or Rock Band, DJ Hero employs the “freeway” idea of notes coming at you in three dimensional space. However, DJ Hero is much more than just tapping buttons (though you do that). A big portion is aligning the highway to the right mix. As you can see in the screenshot above, the blue line is moving to the right (and then has a tap button). For those instances, you slide the little slider tab (you can scroll up to the controller for reference) to the right, then slide it back to the middle to put all the lines at “default” after tapping the note. You can do the same with the green to the left. It’s a simple mechanic, but tricky when you add all the other crap you have to do.
Pictured: all the other crap you have to do
Key portions of the game are “scratches.” Basically, you hold down a button on the turntable and then “scratch” back and forth for the duration of the scratch. It’s simple, but surprisingly satisfying to scratch this fake turntable. These get more and more complicated with scratches that have to be scratched in a particular direction (either all up or all down), and sliders that you have to slide over just for a split second in the middle. Add on top of that having to tap buttons, and (the bane of my life) twist a knob over particular segments to earn double points, and you have yourself a complex game. The usual nonsense of blue notes giving star power (or “overdrive” in Rock Band) is there, activated by pressing a large button next to the twist knob. Lastly, the big change is “rewind,” which lets you spin the DJ wheel back every few whiles and “rewind” a previous area, either in an attempt to do it right (if you screwed up), or get more points by replaying it. A cool idea, but unnecessary.
The props I must give this game is how easy it is to pick up and have a great time. Unlike Guitar Hero or Rock Band where I felt the game meant to emulate something in real life, DJ Hero‘s biggest strengths is that it’s a fun music game. I never felt like a DJ doing this because…let’s face it, I never wanted to be a DJ. But as someone who loves music games (especially dexterous ones that get nice and difficult the more you play), DJ Hero knocks it out of the park. The controller is extremely solid (granted, I have a DJ Hero 2 wireless one) and scratching and managing all those buttons is…fun. You feel like you’re launching a nuclear missile or something when you pull of a crazy mix, and it’s exhilarating and satisfying. It doesn’t press the same buttons (hur hur) as Rock Band does with its group rocking concept, but as a single-player game about dexterous reaction times, it’s incredibly solid.
Oh look, it’s a “party game” now
What isn’t solid is all the ham-fisted features added at the last minute to merit that stupid Guitar Hero logo in the opening. Yes, you can play with one turntable and a guitar, or even a singer (though why you’d want to attempt to belt out crazy remixes is beyond me), but not with two turntables at once. Playing with a guitar is also fairly painful, as the mixes keep switching up and there’s really no rhyme or reason to it all. It’s obvious they added this to make it seem like DJ Hero wasn’t just a game where you spent a bunch of money on a single player plastic DJ experience, but…DJ Hero is best as a single player plastic DJ experience, so the extra crap is not really welcome.
Another oddity is the setlist, which is all over the place. Basically, you can make any song in DJ Hero by doing this: take one popular club artist (50 Cent, Daft Punk, Eminem) and smash them into somebody in classic rock (David Bowie, Jackson 5, Queen) for some weird reason. There’s 90% of your setlist, with the other 10% being even stranger match ups (Jackson 5 and Third Eye Blind? What?). I feel they were trying to reach as wide of an audience as possible, so they just took a bunch of classic rock and a bunch of modern artists and smashed them together, but the end result is something relatively unsatisfying for everybody. Where’s Deadmau5? Skrillex? Lady Gaga? Actual legit Daft Punk? Well, they’re in DJ Hero 2, but that’s a review for a later time.
The fun of the gameplay itself makes up for the totally out there playlist, but just barely. A playlist makes or breaks a music game, and DJ Hero‘s very nearly breaks it.
He’s gonna scratch his way into your heart
Graphically the game looks like Guitar Hero World Tour, and that’s not a good thing. I’ve mentioned the menus, but the art they plaster over the bad UI is like bad graffiti art mixed with some quasi-modern pop club album art nonsense that just looks cluttered and atrocious. Character models (aside from Daft Punk, probably because their faces are covered) look absolutely horrible, drawing from the Guitar Hero 3 and World Tour idea of “let’s make the most nightmare plastic abominations the world has ever seen and have people play as them” line of thinking. The clubs themselves look ok, and the general graphics of the highway are good but somewhat uninspired. Again, World Tour‘s UI bits looked really low-def to me, and because of this DJ Hero‘s do too. The only thing that may really matter is that highway and its notes (which is fine and easy to read), but everything around it looks like trash.
Yeah this is weird.
As it stands, DJ Hero was an interesting experiment that I thought was going to be a trashy awful spinoff (like Band Hero). Instead, the game pleasantly surprised me in that it was, if not a good DJ simulator, a fun and challenging dexterity game. Managing all the things going on screen on their weird turntable was genuinely interesting and fun, even if the jump from Medium to Hard is a bit too far. I spent a good portion of time in DJ Hero (enough to get pretty good at it) and enjoyed my time with it. However, it’s worth pointing out (at the risk of spoiling a later review) that DJ Hero 2 does everything this game does and does it a billion times better. Just saying.
It’s also worth pointing out that I’d bet this game is super hard to find now, as you have to dig up a turntable (I’d suggest the wireless ones from DJ Hero 2; why they even sold wired ones this gen is beyond me) as well as the game itself, both of which are becoming scarce. If you do manage to find it on Craigslist or something, and you enjoy music games that are challenging and don’t care too much about a setlist, DJ Hero is a pretty good time.
Just don’t go taking your newfound “mad skillz” to the club. Just…trust me on this one. And don’t ask how I know.
Three out of five stars.
Sweet bling totally included.