DJ Hero 2 review
Everyone knows the 'wicka wicka' motion, which has as much to do with real DJing as a guy drunkenly air-guitaring to a Slayer solo. For people without the money to invest in records and a set of tables, not to mention the hours learning to match a beat, DJ Hero was the next best thing to laying it down in a club. It was fun, had a great soundtrack, and was about as realistic as you could get with a plastic controller. DJ Hero 2 takes those attributes and blows them into the stratosphere.
The concept is simple and, of course, sadistically hard to master; two song tracks stream down the screen while you crossfade between them to mimic the mix and keep the music playing. The turntable is used for scratching and rewinding the track, while the three buttons on top act as a drum machine to tap out extra beats when indicated. The lowest levels of play are breezy, offering a button tap here and there to make you feel like you're doing something. There are no kid gloves on Hard and Expert, and you'll quickly wonder how anyone can perform such feats without a third hand.
DJ Hero 2 features some very welcome additions to the previous controls, including held notes and freestyle sections for crossfading, scratching, and samples (button taps). Instead of allowing players to rack up the points by simply spamming the controls during freestyle sections, DJ Hero 2 scores you on variety and timing as well. I also want to make special note of the effects dial, which no longer responds to hyperactive twisting. The points start flowing as soon as you give a quick turn, which makes it both easier and more fair in multiplayer - previously, far too many matches were decided by who could twiddle the knob faster.
The controller is the same as last year's model, for which one of my main complaints was that the crossfader felt flimsy. It's still working perfectly to this day, so I believe I can safely throw that issue out the window. This is especially settling, since these mixes will have your hands slapping and maneuvering all over the controller. Even if you mastered the original game, you are still in for some surprises.
I tip my hat to the DJs, including the legendary DJ Qbert, DJ Shadow, and RZA. DJ Hero had a thoroughly enjoyable soundtrack, but the majority of tracks sounded more like mashups than actual mixes. The songs of DJ Hero 2 are far more cohesive. Styles run the gamut of trance, house, pop, old and new schools of rap and R&B, and everything between. I would never listen to 75-percent of the artists alone, but together, I'm hard-pressed to find a track that I hate. Among the 83 mixes, you'll see Nelly, The Chemical Brothers, Q-Tip, Deadmau5, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Stevie Wonder. For better or worse, the contributors are higher on the pop-charts this time around, but I am most glad to see the returns of Dizzee Rascal and M.I.A.
Party Play is here, as seen in Guitar Hero 5 and Warriors of Rock. The songs keep playing and players are free to drop in and out, change difficulties, and skip songs as they please. As the name implies, it really would make a great asset for a party. The duets with a guitar are out, and instead, you can hook up a microphone to rap/sing along with the songs. It's a completely optional and rather sparse feature, which is fine with me. I don't want to see DJ Hero change to fit the molds of the many other band-based games already available.
Multiplayer was a sorely underdeveloped feature the last time around, but received the platinum treatment in DJ Hero 2. There are six modes online and off, from the standard battles for high scores and note-streaks, to the semi-tactical Power Deck Battles, which has turntable decks that boost multipliers, rewind abilities, and more. A new Rep section keeps you connected to any announcements and the leaderboards. The process of checking friends scores is unnecessarily convoluted, but the highest score will always appear in the main game, constantly pulling you forward to improve.
With so many music games suffering from 'me too' syndrome and racing to pack in the freshest features, it's a relief to see DJ Hero 2 stay the course. There isn't a single extraneous feature, and every addition, except possibly the mic, serves to improve the core gameplay. Perhaps it's time for the older boys to check out the new kid on the block for inspiration, because DJ Hero 2 owns the music scene.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]