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DJ Hero: Scratching and Cutting Your Way to the Top

Company: Activision

DJ Snazzy Sniff and the Funkmeister. Never heard of them? I'm not surprised; that's the (until now) secret DJ names of Psibabe and myself. (Well, I also go by MC Geck0, but that's for solo gigs...) Go ahead and laugh, yeah, yeah, I know... it's all too funny, but we're not alone. There are people all over the country who have secretly desired to be DJs. Now, the folks who helped everyone sharpen their air-guitar skills with Guitar Hero have brought DJ mixing to the forefront with DJ Hero. Psibabe and I got a sneak peak of DJ Hero at a special event Activision held in San Francisco... and it's cool... very cool...

There is, of course, a special controller designed specifically for you to scratch and mix with. This controller resembles a small turntable with three buttons on the record's surface that correspond to three note tracks (green, red and blue) that are similar to those found in Guitar Hero. If a circle comes down those lines, you have to press the appropriate button at the correct time, just like in Guitar Hero. However, there are also special rectangular areas that require that you continually scratch during them, as well as directional scratch indicators that specify that you scratch toward yourself or away from yourself. I found that I was wearing myself out on the continuous scratch sections until one of the developers pointed out that you don't have to scratch quickly on those parts, just continuously. I then tried it out and, sure enough, you can do what I can only describe as a "Zen" scratch, where you are scratching oh so slowly, but not stopping the turntable from turning during these continuous scratches. This made it much more awesome (and approachable), in my opinion. There is also a slider on the side that you have to use to cut back and forth between the two sound sources when you are cued by the note tracks moving left, right or back to center. Sound simple enough? It gets more complex. There are certain times when you can add to your score by playing sound effects during a special rounded rectangular bar on the red track. There is a rotary knob that is used to select different sound effects to play during that time, as well as to modify the special effects being applied to a track during certain parts of the mixes. Also, when you build up your "Euphoria" meter (think Star Power), there is a button on the controller that will pulse red, indicating that Euphoria is ready. Press this button at that point and you will double your multiplier and the game will automatically handle mixing (via the slider) until your Euphoria runs out.

It seems that the people at Activision realized that there is going to be a wide audience for DJ Hero; there is a lot of complexity and challenge to be had, but the easier difficulty settings are surprisingly approachable. Psibabe, who doesn't like playing with a guitar controller, found DJ Hero to be fun to play. And, for those who do like playing the guitar in Guitar Hero, there are some songs that allow one player to play the guitar while the other player plays the turntable.

Unlike Guitar Hero, there is no way to "fail out" of DJ Hero. You will hear when you make a mistake, of course, and your score will vary based on your performance, but you don't have to worry about the embarrassment of failing out completely. This is probably a good idea, given the complexity possible in the DJ Hero controller.

As for the music itself, the mixes that are available right out of the box are pretty good and cover a decent variety of music types from dance and pop to hip-hop. DJ Hero has some great support from famous DJs and artists, both in song mixes and with their likenesses being available as playable characters. These include the late DJ AM, who passed away recently, DJ Shadow, Grandmaster Flash, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Cut Chemist, Z-trip and J.Period. DJ Hero is also the first game to feature the likenesses and music of Daft Punk - with eight different mixes featuring Daft Punk music. And, in addition to having their musical skillz and likenesses featured in the game, Eminem and Jay-Z are prominently featured in a special, Renegade Version of DJ Hero, that also features an enhanced version of the turntable controller, with metal knobs and accents and a carrying case that doubles as a performance stand, so you can take your skillz on the road.

DJ Hero is an interesting extension of the tried and true formula, but has enough unique aspects to give it its own personality. The music is different than you'll hear on other games, if for no other reason, because any given music track is actually two songs mixed together. And, although I feared that this might only appeal to the club kiddies and fans of dance music, I was surprised to see that Psibabe was digging the mixes, even though they were blends of songs and even J.R. Nip was nodding his head from time to time, while House and Electronica will cause him to change channels immediately on his radio. Some examples of mixes available as playable tracks include: Feel Good Inc. (Gorillaz) vs. I Heard it Through the Grapevine (Marvin Gaye), Sabotage (Beastie Boys) vs. Monkeywrench (Foo Fighters), Hollaback Girl (Gwen Stefani) vs. Give It to Me Baby (Rick James) and Another One Bites the Dust (Queen) vs. Da Funk (Daft Punk), to name a few. All-in-all, there are 93 original mixes, right out of the box, with more to be made available for purchase as downloadable content.

I think that DJ Hero is definitely going to be the latest and greatest party music game to get your friends and family excited at your holiday party... so it might behoove you to select your DJ name now... you can never be too prepared.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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