When DJ Hero 2 launched last year, it was met with a large amount of skeptical nay-saying. I myself wondered if gamers needed yet another music/rhythm title with an expensive peripheral cluttering up the house. But to the surprise of many, DJ Hero ended up being one of the highest-grossing new IP’s of 2009. It also injected electronica to a gaming genre that had previously been dominated by pop or rock music by titles like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Some may attribute the sales totals down to the pricey turntable controller that every copy of the game required. But there is no doubting that Activision had done their market research and knew what wannabe DJs desired.
Following up DJ Hero with an equally successful sequel would have been no easy task. Simply throwing in some new tracks and re-packaging it would have seen the game slammed as a cop-out. Instead the developers have taken feedback from the gaming community and offered some phat new improvements to DJ Hero 2.
Although the game looks and feels identical to the original, there are some key features that have been added or tweaked for a more realistic DJing experience. Gameplay-wise, players still need to mix two or more tracks together according to the coloured highways of light presented on screen. In order to mash-up your tracks, players press buttons, toggle knobs and twist the ‘vinyl’ plate on the turntable peripheral to cross-fade, repeat and control the flow of the music. Of course, just like with Guitar Hero games, the order and timing of your actions are pre-scripted. Matching your movements to the sequence of glowing lines and tokens on screen determines your score and the quality of the mix.
On a harder difficulty, players can expect to be dealing with up to four different actions at once. The ambidextrous nature of the turntable controllers means that each of these actions require a mental and physical dexterity as well. Sort of like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time; except add in kicking a ball with your right leg and then whistling La Macarena simultaneously. It does make you appreciate the “behind the scenes” athleticism and nimble hands of a DJ. Sure they make a living by borrowing other people’s music and then calling it their own, but you do have to admire the skill involved in composing new tracks from old ones on the fly.
To embrace this creativity, the most welcome new feature to DJ Hero 2 is the ‘freestyle’ mode. The original DJ Hero did allow you to insert your own flair to the tracks with a library of sound-effects and samples. However, as anyone who played the first game will agree, there is a limit to the numbers of times you can stand hearing “Check this Out!” or “Get Down!” within a track. It’s around three. But now DJ Hero 2 makes freestyling more fluid with your inserted sample now taken directly from the track itself. For example, it could be a tone or a chunk of vocals that you can manipulate, repeat or scratch the hell out of. For beginners, getting your freestylin’ mashups down will take some serious practice. Newbie players will probably approach the freestyle segments by spazzing out and hammering as many buttons and dials as possible. However with practice you’ll realise there is a fine art to it and the game rewards correct technique. Once a master mixologist, you’ll be earning huge point bonuses for your final score.
What should have been DJ Hero 2’s more impressive feature is the addition of vocals to the gameplay. To quote the words of Beck (one of the included artists in the original soundtrack) the game now allows for “two turntables and a microphone”. However this doesn’t turn DJ Hero 2 into a family friendly karaoke session. The person behind the mic will need to be quick lipped to keep up with the crazy mashups and quick fades to provide the vocal samples in synch with the music. The end result is usually a frustrating and highly repetitive chore for the vocalist.
As anyone would know, DJ’s mix and scatter vocals of tracks throughout their mashups, often doubling words or entire phrases until the cows come home. It usually doesn’t matter, as everyone listening is dancing like a loon or simply off their head on drugs. But anyone attempting to sing a Lady GaGa remix will probably wish they were on drugs themselves after getting stuck in a loop of “Bad Romance”. The addition of a microphone, on top of duelling DJ’s with two turntables, allows up to three players to all simultaneously lay down their beats and raise the roof. But pity the fool who is stuck on the vocals.
Of course, this game all comes down to the music. Just like in the original DJ Hero, the game’s setlist brings together a massive range of musical styles from different eras in a creative manner. Some of the artists included are the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, House of Pain, Eninem, Kanye West, the Chemical Brothers, Lady GaGa, Daft Punk, Justice and more. Naturally the game also includes a range of mix masters like David Guetta, DeadMau5, DJ Shadow, A-Trak and the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff. A personal favourite of mine is the genius goulash created when the Prodigy goes up against Orbital for a mix of “Omen” and “The Box”.
Overall the game includes 105 songs sliced up and mashed into 80 different mixes. Personally, I feel the setlist isn’t as uniquely brilliant as the original DJ Hero. The first game really pushed the boundaries of combining far and wide musical genres and apart from the appearance of Metallica, DJ Hero 2’s cross-section of artists isn’t nearly as innovative.
DJ Hero 2 also introduces ‘Empire Mode’, the single-player campaign where wannabe DJ’s can go from small underground gigs to stadium superstardom behind the turntable. Players start off creating their own DJ before performing sets to growing audiences around the world. Unfortunately, the ‘Empire Mode’ doesn’t allow for a large amount of customisation and falls short of allowing you to truly place yourself in the game. Like all rhythm/music video games you are still confined to the sequences laid out in front of you and even the improved freestyling sections will cage in those with actual DJ experience.
For fans of the original, DJ Hero 2 is sure to please. Those who have their turntable controllers gathering dust in the cupboard will also be pleased to hear that Activision have hardly changed the peripherals and they will work perfectly with the sequel. There is still life in the DJ Hero franchise, but I feel this title should be the last unless some radical changes occur in the gameplay. What if players could select any two or three tracks and mix them together in their own way in an effort to please crowds? Of course the main obstacle would be how to judge users and score them across a variety of different areas. Until the developers sort that out, DJ Hero 2 is still a great party game and a worthy addition to the ever-growing music/rhythm market.