Gift Guide For Music Nerds: DJ Hero

by Dakin Hardwick on November 27, 2009

All the cats are groovin' to DJ Hero

All the cats are groovin' to DJ Hero

Here’s the situation: I am a video game novice. My girlfriend owns a Wii. I use it to practice yoga. I don’t consider myself to be a very competitive person, so most games don’t really appeal to me. On a handful of occasions, I have played the various different versions of the music games Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and I usually enjoy myself, since I don’t practice on a regular basis, I generally am humbled by the experience.

You may ask then, why am I discussing DJ Hero with you? Well, at this point, anybody that is an experienced music gamer has already read plenty of reviews of this, and more likely than not, either pre-purchased it months beforehand, or has already decided that it’s lame. I’m not writing for those people. Our audience is music nerds, and as a music nerd, my job is to tell you if this product helps feed the nerd or if it talks down to them.

So, since we are music nerds here, you, the reader, are probably more interested in my thoughts on the set list than anything else. Well, wikipedia has the list, which means that I don’t need to sit and retype it all for you, but it is interesting. We’ve got a nice mix of music that runs from contemporary electronica, hip-hop from throughout the last 25 years of the genre, a good amount of 90’s bubble gum pop, and only a sprinkling of current stuff. I believe the track listing is designed to create a sense of timelessness with the game. The focus is on music that has stood the test of time already, and that newer tracks that were selected are “better” (Kid Cudi’s “Day N Nite”, MIA’s “Paper Planes”, and Black Eyed Peas sampling-easy hit “Boom Boom Pow”)

The first step with the game is the set up. It’s pretty easy. My copy of it is for the Wii, which is a little bit different from other game systems in terms of general operation, but I don’t believe that the game play itself is all that different. You simply plug your Wii Remote in a flap on the turntable. The space under the flap is really snug, and the cover is a little flimsy, so if you don’t have it the remote in all the way, there is a fair shot at snapping the cover. Aside from this small issue, the turntable itself is quite sturdy and comfortable. Also, for the left-handed player, you simply unplug the turntable from the cross fader, or basically separate it in half, then simply switch the two sides around. After you are set up, the turntable controller acts as a giant joystick for game navigation. (The joystick is really cool looking, and at some point I plan on testing it to see if you can play some of the older games available for Wii with it.)

So, next is game play. I turn everything on, then I follow the instructions on how to calibrate the turntable to the television, which is pretty simple, as long as you don’t watch the screen while you do it. They calibration process requires you to hit a button when you here a beep, but there is an image that comes on the screen at about the same moment, and I ended up using the visual cue instead, and that screwed things up a little bit.

After calibration, I decided to go through the tutorial. The instructions that came with the game said that most proficient Guitar Hero players probably won’t need the tutorial, but since I am not one, I decided to give it a whirl. It’s kind of neat; Grandmaster Flash teaches you the basics of the game, and in a second round, he teaches you some more complex stuff. The first round gives you enough to play the game up to medium, and the other tutorials make you aware of the elements of the game that come from the harder levels.

So, that’s the mundane stuff. On to actual game play. There are several difficulty levels, and I decided to start on in simplest one. In this case, it seemed almost too easy. A turntable swooshed by, and when a colored button appears, you hit the button. It reminded me of George Jetson’s job, where he sits around all day hitting a single button. Kind of boring, but the music was good. So, I took the second level after the first level, I jumped up to “Easy,” which integrated all three buttons, and also gives the player opportunity to “scratch the record.” This is where the game gets fun. You end up really digging deep inside the song, but it didn’t hurt that you start out with Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City),” which is a pretty killer song, no matter how you enjoy it.

I opted to play a few rounds solo, and then invited a friend over to try out the guitar parts. This is one area where the game isn’t quite ready. Since these are all remixes and manipulations of the original tracks, having a familiarity with the songs is practically a handicap. We played a Rihanna/Killers mash up that was rhythmically a little “off,” therefore almost impossible to play. Instinct and natural sense of rhythm were both thrown out the door, and it became a game of matching the buttons. The other tracks in the guitar portion were much smoother, but the guitar parts still felt unnatural. (The exception: Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” blended with Gang Starr’s “Just To Get A Rep”- difficult to master, but fun to try.)

As for the rest of the game, things unlock as you master them. This is all measured by the number of “stars” you get, which are kind of like super points. (You also get individual points, but I don’t really get what’s good about them) And, as you progress, the new songs get more challenging, but musically more interesting as well. It’s fun and addicting. When I’ve found myself playing, I’d decide to just take on a level, and usually that would turn in to three or four. For me, that’s a commitment, since I usually don’t have the attention span to watch a feature film at home. (Each level tends to be about 4 “mixes” which means about 20-25 minutes of music each)

There are a few things I’d like to fix: I wish it was easier to let the system just play the songs. You can do it, but it wasn’t very clear at first. Many of the mixes are really good, and there are a few times I would like to just listen. I also wish you could get more creative with it. I’d like to be able to add my own scratches, or try to make my mash ups, but I guess that’s all in the cards for DJ Hero 2. I also don’t feel that it really teaches you how to DJ, but it’s not a DJ simulator, it’s a video game. I’m also sad that whenever I tried to play over the internet, there was never anyone to join with.

So, in a nutshell, I think this is a really fun game to play at home alone, when you want a greater experience with music than merely listening at home. I don’t feel that it’s a “party game,” but I would put it on at a party.

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DJ Hero is available on the Wii, Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, and retails for $119.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes.

DJ Hero is available on the Wii, Xbox 360, the PS3 and PS2, and retails for up to $119.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for review.

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