DJ Hero

Scratch This

Well, crap. DJ Hero is actually fun. Just beware of sticker shock and bring a healthy love of mash-ups (not to mention the tolerance for the noise they can descend into) and you'll be set. Get it? Set? Like a DJ? A DJ's s-aww, forget it.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 30, 2009
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Before I start this review, I feel I should probably set a few things straight. 1) I abhor mash-ups. I think they're a blight on both music as a whole and especially the club scene, and seeing actual, real turntablists like DJ Shadow and Grandmaster Flash involved in this stings a little, it does. 2) I've long since given up on mainstream hip-hop with very few exceptions. Given 1) + 2), it should equal that DJ Hero would be something akin to digital kryptonite, weakening me to the point of near death just by proximity to its pricy required peripheral.

But... I like it. I like this game. A lot. Oh, sure, I struggled a little with some of the songs, not because of the difficulty (you can't fail out of a song anyway, no matter what difficulty you're on), but because some of the songs are literally a cacophony of forced-together bits of noise. I don't mean that in the old fogey "music these days is too loud" sense, I mean it in the "I took this game home and my roommate came in asking what the hell that racket was" -- and she likes both hip-hop and mash-ups. Despite this game illustrating why I can't stand 90% of the pairings out there and perfectly demonstrating that, no, sometimes some songs don't go together no matter how often you flip back and forth between them, there's absolutely no denying its appeal, raw and overwhelming.

$120 dollars. That's what Activision is asking you to shell out. That's what developer FreeStyleGames requires you pay before you can begin your career as a pretend DJ. Is it worth it? That's something I'd answer by just having you go and play the thing at a Best Buy where they're all set up for demo play (and soon before the turntable controller ends up as battered as all those other clicky plastic instruments). Run through the tutorial, play a song on medium and, if it gets your head bobbing, try it again on Hard, then again on Expert.

What you'll notice upon sampling a bit of the game's flavor is how it builds upon itself. Like any good rhythm game, DJ Hero starts out with the basics and slowly layers more tasks in the further up the difficulty ladder and deeper into the massive series of sets you head. At about medium, you're doing all the basic stuff; flicking the little sliding crossfader from the middle to the left or right to isolate that track, adjusting the single effects nob to wash out any bass or treble (normally the work of multiple dials, but simple here is good since you'll eventually end up doing a bunch of stuff while fiddling with the effects), tapping the three colored buttons when they reach the bottom of the screen like any other Hero game, and pressing and holding a color while scratching up and down with the turntable to, well, scratch.

Those are the basics, and they're fairly easy to understand right away -- even without the tutorial. Move up to Hard, though, and things get a little more "realistic." Scratches will increasingly be manual affairs, meaning instead of simple zig-zagging lines, you have to actually scratch in a particular direction. Later on and in Expert songs, you'll encounter fade spikes, which require you to flick the crossfader quickly out and back to the middle, something that actually necessitates keeping your thumb in the right place to keep from sliding too far and bouncing over to the other track.

As each of these techniques is introduced, it makes the whole process busier, yes, but it also turns it from a quaint little act of following on-screen prompts into a proper game that really tests your ability to quickly react and begins to approach genuinely feeling like a DJ. You're actually mimicking most of the actions -- albeit in a simple way -- with a single turntable, knobs and sliders that a real-life one would be doing with two or three. And when you learn to use Euphoria, DJ Hero's version of Star Power, you can leave the crossfading to the game and start acting like one too. Things really get interesting when you factor in that streaks of perfectly hit notes eventually charge a rewind feature and flicking the platter around once or twice will actually rewind the song and double the note values.
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