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DJ Hero
Score: 94%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: FreeStyle Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Online)
Genre: Rhythm/ Simulation/ Party

Graphics & Sound:
Music games have become big business nowadays. With the success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, most people seem to forget the games that came nearly a decade before, like Dance Dance Revolution and Beatmania. DJ Hero is the first off-shoot of the Hero franchise and while most gamers will roll their eyes at the concept, DJ Hero proves that a night of clubbing is just what the industry needed.

Besides a drastically different plastic input device, DJ Hero differs from Guitar Hero in its style. DJ Hero has a much more subtle personality than the over the top antics of its bigger cousins. Huge arenas are swapped with bumping dance clubs and the elaborate band setups are traded with equally elaborate turntable equipment. Sure, the venues still grow larger, but it is still a much more intimate experience between your DJ and the crowd.

The biggest shift from the philosophy between DJ Hero and Guitar Hero is that is puts the spotlight back on the music. Now, for a first in the franchise, you are not playing music, you are mixing music. There is a fundamental difference between the two and seeing the parity of so many songs really gives you better appreciation for the art of the DJ.

There are over 100 songs on the disc and 93 individual mixes to play throughout the Career. Some well known artists have featured songs like 50 Cent, Rihanna, and 2pac. To go along with the pop and rock stars the club scene is based on, DJ Hero also gives the DJ's their chance to shine. Daft Punk, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Grandmaster Flash are all heavily featured in DJ Hero and they even have special setlists to show off their unique style. DJ Hero has the most comprehensive and versatile soundtrack of any of the mainstream Guitar Hero games (not counting band-themed entries) which makes it the biggest selling point for anyone interested.

Taking the best of the recent Guitar Hero 5 and mixing it with something fresh and new, DJ Hero offers a much more addictive experience than its predecessor. Each setlist is comprised of three to five songs each, but it allows you to choose the order of each song. The songs play back to back with a few seconds rest in between and your final performance is graded after you complete all of the songs in the list. Now, the most amazing part of the whole experience is how you can't fail. Every single song plays out and finishes every time. You earn stars based on your performance and without the threat of failing, you can earn the stars much more easily. If a particular part of a tough song gives you problems, instead of repeating the song like in previous titles, you can do your best and make up for the lacking performance later in the song. This is the franchise's first step towards a more karaoke-like experience and I think it is a step in the right direction.

When you first start DJ Hero, you have to complete the Tutorial before you start a Career. Just like most other rhythm games, musical notes fall down a highway and you have to press the matching button in time with the music. What makes DJ Hero different is that as you time the button presses correctly, you must also scratch the turntable in certain sections to achieve the right effect. A mixing slider is just as important as the buttons because you will have to fade in between the two songs that are mashed together. As the notes fall, a line appears along the track. As the track moves to the right, you have to move the slider to the right and likewise if the track moves to the left. At first, it is a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach, but after a few easy songs, it quickly becomes a matter of muscle memory. Doing well earns multipliers like in Guitar Hero and specific sections of songs are used to fill a "Euphoria" meter which is just like "Star Power" in the other games.

After finishing the Tutorial, you are set loose on your path to DJ superstardom. The stars you earn from your performances are used to unlock more setlists, costumes, venues, and equipment. At first glance, it seems like too much effort to unlock most of the content, but stars can be earned on any difficulty. This means that there is always one persistent Career to perform in and how much enjoyment you get out of playing DJ Hero is only limited by your own personal goals.

DJ Hero has a broad variety of music to choose from that is sure to please any fan. DJ Hero makes good use of any old guitars that you may have lying around too because of a team-up mode that allows one person to play the guitar while the other spins on the turntable. Actually, the multiplayer in DJ Hero includes DJ and Guitar, DJ and DJ, and DJ vs. DJ. Again, like in Guitar Hero 5, there is a Quick Play Mode which jumps into a song while you pick your instrument and difficulty on the fly. For those that have a need to customize everything you own, DJ Hero also supports editing your own custom setlists and lets you choose them at anytime, provided you have unlocked the song already. With so much personality, versatility, and a bit of nostalgia for an aging art form, DJ Hero is one of the best music games I have played all year.

Learning a new skill is always hard, like a new instrument. It is hard to comment of the difficulty of DJ Hero so early on because while it is a fun and challenging system, there are still moments where I am suffering more from inexperience than game design. I chose to start on the Medium difficulty because I am very familiar with Guitar Hero, so I felt comfortable with the concept, but not the execution. For the most part, Medium is a steady mix of easy practice songs and tough challenges that seem just too far out of reach. It never seemed unfair given the difficulty, although it does spare you from advanced techniques like spike sliding and directional scratching (which is way harder than it looks.) DJ Hero has the standard set of difficulty levels to choose from: Easy, Medium, Hard, and Expert. I wouldn't recommend starting on anything higher than Medium for your first time, but for those looking for trial by fire, trust me... it's tough.

Game Mechanics:
Much like the difficulty, the only drawback to DJ Hero isn't in the game's hands, but the player's. The new DJ controller is fresh and interesting, but unfortunately for me, I cannot find a comfortable way to use it. Most people probably say the same thing when they pick up a plastic guitar for the first time, but this is slightly different because you have to play the DJ controller on a flat surface.

The DJ turntable controller has two components: the turning platter, and the fader and mixer bar. The three buttons on top of the platter: Green, Red, and Blue are spaced close together so you can have enough pressure to turn the platter. There is an option early on in DJ Hero for you to choose if you prefer the buttons to be on the right side of the left side of the platter to suit your playstyle.

The cross-fader is the only frustration in the whole set. Sliding the fader left and right isolates each track the mix is playing and when both tracks are playing, the fader is supposed to stay in the center. Either it is a learned skill or the fault of the plastic, but getting the fader back to the middle is often a bit tricky. Overshooting the area is quite common and more often than not costs you precious multipliers. There is a bit of physical resistance in the middle of the slider, but I don't think it is quite enough. I hope the designers can improve upon the controller because I think for a lot of people, this will be the only unlikable feature.

After playing many hours of DJ Hero, I can safely say that it was the most fun and surprising music game so far this year. Even more fun than the weary guitar-focused franchise it spawned from, DJ Hero epitomizes the way music ought to be played and experienced perfectly. Unfortunately, a sometimes confusing controller interface and high price point acts as a steep barrier to many people. But for those looking for "what's next" in the music genre, DJ Hero is here and it doesn't disappoint.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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