I've always appreciated a good DJ, but I've certainly never aspired to be one. So when I had the opportunity to be one of the select few journalists to play DJ Hero at an Activision event a few weeks ago, I was skeptical. How fun could such a thing actually be? I mean, it's just a rhythm game where you're sliding two objects in different directions.
Well call me a convert, because this game is absolutely amazing.
It should be said, first, how much fun this game is just to witness. While waiting for my turn, I watched a producer and a few other journalists try the game. Whether it's the amazing original mixes (over 80 mixes featuring 100 songs come with the game), the great song choices (there's literally something for everyone, no matter what genre you like), or just the overall presentation of the game, it's incredibly fun to watch someone play. You're bouncing to the beat, hoping they make that next transition, and moreso than any other rhythm game, the crowd (meaning the others watching but not playing) becomes part of the equation. Just as a DJ will pump up and feed off the crowd, this game works the same magic.
When it was my turn at the deck, I was already nice and riled from the last couple performances. Being an occasional, but not obsessive, rhythm gamer, I jumped in at Medium difficulty, and started with a mix of "Heard it Through the Grapevine" and "Feel Good Inc."
The first thing is how immersive the game is. It may seem like keeping track of the transition slider and the measly 3 buttons shouldn't be much, but it keeps you involved every second of the song. The transitions aren't just basic left, pause for a long time, right, repeat. There's different rhythms thrown into it, and even points where you keep the mix in the middle and inject your chosen sample into the song (and yes, the classic "YEAAAAH BOOOOYYYEEEE" is one of the samples available).
The basic controls should be relatively easy to pick up for any rhythm game players, as you're still matching notes, scratches (think the whammy bar in Guitar Hero) and the transition slider to visual cues on the screen. The way the game sucks you in, though, you'll want to start throwing your hands up during non-transition points, and popping your samples in whenever you can. That's really what Activision, RedOctane, and FreeStyleGames are doing here, is presenting the DJ experience and not just a game that slightly emulates the actions.
One feature we didn't get to see but is newly announced, is the ability to bring a mic or guitar controller into the game. The mic lets that player "emcee over any track," but it's unclear whether that means actually trying to perform two sets of vocals (doubtful) or simply going all "DJ CLUE" on it. The cooler injection is that of the guitar, which allows one gamer to play guitar parts to the exclusive mixes while another mixes and scratches. This kind of fusion of the old and new sounds like a blast, and lets that crowd get into things a little more personally. Throw in the "Renegade" Edition presented by Jay-Z and Eminem (which features the Black turntable shown above, a carrying case, and a stand), and this game may actually replace your iPod at your next party.
DJ Hero is without a doubt turning from a curious oddity to a real force in the music game field. I can't wait to play more this fall.
DJ Hero is due to ship October 2009 for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and PS2