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DJ Hero

Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: FreeStyle Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Rhythm/ Simulation/ Party

Graphics & Sound:

Before you tear into me for the number at the top of the screen, hear me out: I like hip-hop, trance, and all kinds of party music. I'm a fan of artists like Daft Punk, Grandmaster Flash, and Infected Mushroom. However, my time with DJ Hero has not convinced me that it's the next big thing for music games. I see potential... a lot of potential. DJ Hero is a confident first try that deserves a lot of credit for daring to be different. You should definitely try the game when you get a chance, but I honestly can't recommend shelling out $120 for it unless you are a dedicated enthusiast.

There's not too much to complain about when it comes to DJ Hero's visuals. I dig the funky art style and I like the faux-record track, neon lights and all. I especially appreciated the awesome introductory cut-scene. The symbols on the game's signature "highway" are accurate and appropriate. The visuals suffer pretty heavily when you look at the actual parties, especially when you notice all the clones in the audience. I've never seen the next-gen versions of DJ Hero, but I hope for their sakes that the Wii version pales in comparison. Many of the DJ avatars you get to choose from are practically made of jaggies, but the character design is so eccentric and wacky that it's easy to look past the technical shortcomings. To be fair, none of the technical weaknesses are really a problem, because chances are you're not going to be looking at anything other than the bottom of the screen. The highway will have your undivided attention, and you'll rarely get a chance to look up from it.

Music is the core of games like this, and if it's not done right, the entire game is pretty much broken. DJ Hero sounds really fantastic, and the word "diversity" doesn't even begin to describe the soundtrack. When you screw up, part of the audio track will drop; this feels much more natural here than it does in Rock Band or Guitar Hero. Most of the mixes are interesting and fun. However, some of the mixes that aren't awesome are, in fact, pretty terrible. I had to bite down on a wooden stick in order to survive The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" vs. Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life." Still, for every one of those, there is an inspired (and gut-bustingly hilarious) blend like Beck's "Loser" vs. Eminem's "My Name Is." You don't need me to tell you that musical taste is as subjective as it gets, so just take that criticism with a grain of salt. I can say this, though: if you're looking for pure techno/trance, you'd best look elsewhere; DJ Hero makes heavy use of the kind of music that the average radio listener will instantly recognize. This probably kills the chances of the game being a niche title, but it should gain quite a bit of ground with people who like all kinds of music instead of a few different genres.


DJ Hero follows the groundwork laid by the pioneer gaming franchises of the music genre. You play songs and unlock the motherlode of new songs, avatars, and assorted goodies by giving great performances and earning stars. Of course, what's different here is not only the music style, but the game's special peripheral. DJ Hero trades the hammer-ons and whammy bars for scratches, samples, and crossfade switches, though it retains the signature "hit the notes falling down the track" formula. In truth, the whole experience makes DJ Hero something of a spiritual successor to Frequency (or Amplitude), which is a good thing.

DJ Hero's biggest drawback is that it doesn't live up to its core premise. The main strengths of most music games are in the ways in which they successfully emulate the music-making experience. I have a huge respect for disc jockeys, but they don't exactly make the music. They mix and experiment with it. The natural disconnect between music and disc jockey is part of the symbiosis, but it is also one part of what keeps DJ Hero from being as good as most other music games. The other part is a bit more important. The performance of a disc jockey is the kind of performance that hinges on personal innovation and creativity. Unfortunately, DJ Hero doesn't allow you to get seriously creative with your tools, save for special (and brief) sections. Perhaps I'm being too hard on the game, but I can't help but feel that it's impossible to capture the DJ experience while chaining down what's supposed to be an inherently spontaneous form of musical expression.


DJ Hero has quite a learning curve, thanks in no small part to the new peripheral. Keeping track of the three buttons can get tricky when you're scratching away, and it can be difficult to get a good-enough grip. On top of that, you'll lose track of the crossfader's position quite a bit. The occasionally cumbersome juggling act of scratching, cutting, fading, and sampling makes it more difficult to sink into the trance and feel the music, but when everything clicks into place, it really clicks. It doesn't feel perfect, though; even if you are able to score 100% on the hits, the payoff doesn't always feel like it was worth the trouble.

Failure is literally not an option in DJ Hero. You won't fail out of a song for missing too many cues. If your performance goes to pieces, you'll temporarily lose any earned multipliers and your chances of earning five-stars will be destroyed. This takes some of the pulse-pounding urgency out of the challenge, but I think it's something other music games should offer in the future.

DJ Hero may not be the best music game out there, but at least it follows its predecessors by being addictive enough to bring you back for more. Of course, there's also the promise of improving your skills when you practice. There's also the lure of the game's many unlockable items, as I mentioned earlier.

Game Mechanics:

DJ Hero features the first genuinely new home console peripheral in quite some time. The Wii-mote plugs into a cradle near the top of the peripheral; a handy analog stick allows you to actively move your cursor around not only DJ Hero's Menus, but the Wii Menu, as well. Of course, the peripheral includes a turntable with three color-coded buttons, as well as a crossfader and an effects dial.

Symbols indicate the kind of action you must perform to earn points and keep the music going: just about every action that doesn't include crossfading involves the three buttons. Sometimes you'll simply have to tap the buttons; other times, you'll have to hold the button down and give the turntable a nudge forward or backward. The scratches themselves are pre-recorded, so the intensity of your scratch isn't registered. I found the non-directional scratches somewhat unsatisfying; you can simply hold the button down while moving the turntable at any speed and in any direction for it to trigger the prerecorded scratch. If the scratching felt truly authentic, DJ Hero would have been much better as a whole.

The effects dial allows you to play around with the sound filters in certain segments, but it also lets you choose between a number of samples that you can customize between songs. You may want to mix it up and make it all sound fresh and legit, but my favorite moments with DJ Hero involved spamming a sound bite of Flavor Flav screaming "YEEEEEEEAAHHH BOYEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

DJ Hero recycles the Star Power system as Euphoria, which can be accessed by a large black button that glows red whenever it's ready to be used. In addition to that, a clockwise rotation of the turntable will rewind the song a few seconds, allowing you to replay your favorite sequences. It's nothing mind-blowing, but it's a neat mechanic that helps DJ Hero stand out from the pack.

DJ Hero is a fun music game, but it's got its share of kinks. If you have to choose between the three consoles, the Wii version is naturally the one to avoid. Most importantly, $120 is hardly a good value for the only current-gen game of its kind. I would at least wait until the downloadable content starts flowing (if the Wii version even gets it), or until the sequel has a chance to mature the formula.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Related Links:

Sony PlayStation 3 DJ Hero Microsoft Xbox 360 DJ Hero

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