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DJ Hero 2
Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: FreeStyle Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 3; 2 (Online)
Genre: Rhythm/ Party/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
I don't consider myself much of the "club" type, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't fantasize about being behind the turntables at a bumping nightclub because of DJ Hero 2. Since last year's breakout hit, I have been itching (and scratching) to get back behind the deck for more megamixes. With DJ Hero 2, I know that I can have an awesome club experience at home without the guilt or shame of late night drinking ruining my fun afterwards.

Although it was during this time last year (2009) that I was experiencing DJ Hero for the first time, I forgot how much the art style matched the music perfectly. DJ Hero 2 continues to impress with colorful visuals as well as stylized night clubs and characters. The neon glow has a trippy, ecstasy-like effect which actually looks pretty great during the high energy dance mixes. DJ Hero 2 should also be commended for a great User-Interface (UI) design. During each track, the use of space is managed perfectly, with all the useful information (like power-ups and note streaks) being in easy-to-see locations so as to not distract from the DJ notes falling down the note highway.

As a special note, this is probably one of Activision's most blatant and tasteless uses of in-game advertising to date. Advertising is generally appropriate when it is used for real life items like headphones or turntable decks, but the use of Coca-Cola is simply out of control. Whether it is a Coke bottle, poster, banner, or clothing, you will see the Coke logo EVERYWHERE. While I think in-game advertising is far from a deal breaker, when it is this intrusive and obvious, it is simply annoying.

Enough about product placement and trippy color palettes, the real value is the track list. With over 100 new songs and 80 different mixes, there are more than enough songs to keep things fresh. One of my personal favorites was an Eminem and Lil' Wayne mash-up of "Not Afraid" and "Lollipop." Even songs that I don't care for outside of the game, I found myself bumpin' along to with some of the coolest mixes I have ever heard, like Lady Gaga or Kanye West. The tradition of including real-life DJ's is continued here with a few cool hidden surprises to please fans as well (Deadmau5!)

Allow me to catch you up to speed if you aren't familiar with the series. DJ Hero 2 is to club music as Guitar Hero is to rock music. Instead of a plastic guitar or plastic drums, you play on a plastic DJ turntable with buttons and sliders to control the action on-screen along with the music. There is an in-depth tutorial available in-game if you want all the finer points, but it boils down to tapping one of three colored buttons when prompted, turning the DJ platter to "scratch" particular songs, or using a crossfader to switch between the two song mash-ups.

It was obvious that the focus of this year's efforts on DJ Hero 2 were well spent and there are three areas that received noteworthy attention: Online, Party Play, and Empire Mode. I will start with Empire Mode first because it replaces the Career Mode from last year. In much the same way as you did before, you start as an aspiring DJ and you earn stars based on your performance through a series of venues and set lists to claim your own growing DJ empire. Each venue now has boss battles with unlockable characters and your skills can earn you new equipment that can make life easier for you throughout the game, like a special DJ deck that doubles the points you earn from tapped notes or a deck that allows triple the amount of Rewind action you can have in a single song. During the boss fights with rival DJ's, you can experience some new game types like a Checkpoint Battle, where each DJ is ranked on a song mix section-by-section and whoever is the first to win 8 checkpoints overall wins the game. There is also the standard Duel Mode where two DJ's battle for highest score, and overall star count, to claim victory, but I think the most time in multiplayer will be spent during Party Play.

Like each Hero game that came before DJ Hero 2 in the last year and a half, Party Play is a drop-in, drop-out karaoke style experience that simply allows groups of players to have fun at their own pace. Gone is the pointless guitar connectivity from the first DJ Hero as it is now replaced with microphone support for aspiring back-up singers or rappers hanging out in your crowd. You can select your difficulty on the fly, as well as the next track in the set list and the seamless integration of each instrument as it drops in is smooth. Freestyle sections of songs allowed us to add our own personal touch by either adding custom scratches or sound effects. Playing with a large group of my friends, we found DJ Hero 2 was much more fun for us when we could pass the wireless turntables around the room without penalty, but we still got worked up over competition in the Online play too.

The Online play may look like a mere extension of the standard local multiplayer, like head-to-head battles and the checkpoint matches I mentioned before, but like the recent Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, DJ Hero 2 includes addictive online profiles that reward skilled and persistent players. Your online DJ can gain new levels, earn medals and mottos, and even issue challenges for specific songs to anyone on your friends list. With Hero Feed, you can stay up to date with your progress or your friend's through Facebook and Twitter support. The special powered equipment you earned from Empire Mode can even be used in special online game types too. I don't think there will be much longevity to the more experimental online modes to anyone but the hardcore until the online song store is active (it was unavailable during the review process), but the regular online play is still fun enough to offer good practice for building your next high score.

Once again, the difficulty is scalable depending on your play style. Total DJ Hero 2 novices can start with Beginner mode and work their way up to Expert eventually. Personally, I play on Hard most of the time, unless the songs require a lot of scratching of the turntable. Then I drop it down to Medium because I still can't get my hands to do four things at once; scratch the DJ platter, tap the note buttons, switch the crossfader, and tweak the equalizer knob for the maximum multiplier all at the same time. I did notice, however, an overall level of forgiveness with some of the more complicated actions that I know I wasn't able to pull off in last year's game. I don't think my luck has to do with my improved skill, but instead with modified enhancements to the mechanics of the turntable equipment.

Game Mechanics:
In games like DJ Hero 2 that require an external instrument to play, I find the quality of the instrument really affects the enjoyment of the whole experience. Luckily, the instruments for DJ Hero 2 are solid and satisfying peripherals that benefit much more from the game being more lenient with mistakes. Crossfading in particular is made much easier because it no longer needs to be at either extreme of the track to register. There are many shades of gray between the left track, the right track, and the center that takes a lot of stress out of the focusing too much on the fades.

It isn't all perfect, though. The addition of the microphone vocals feels half-baked. It is definitely the right move to allow players to sing along to popular remixes, but forcing the singer to hit each skip, effect, scratch, and fade seems a bit much. The lyrics and pitch indicators appear at the top of the screen as you would expect during vocal performances, but for the singer's sake, it would have been nice to be able to choose individual songs to play without mash-ups to offer a more authentic club experience.

The design motto for DJ Hero 2 should be "quality, not quantity." There may not be that many improvements over the original DJ Hero, but the attention to criticism and added level of polish makes DJ Hero 2 a much better investment than last year's game. The improvements to the party atmosphere and mechanical enhancements still prove that the DJ Hero games are simply the coolest games you might play all year. DJ Hero 2 hasn't worn out its welcome yet, but the developers may need to take some time off to work on giving fans something new for the inevitable DJ Hero 3.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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