Reviewed: October 19, 2010
Released: October 19, 2010
Just eight days shy of its one-year anniversary, the sequel to one of the most original music games has arrived to put an even fresher “spin” on the genre. DJ Hero 2 shouldn’t be taking anybody by surprise, especially if you watch Comedy Central or any of the other channels where those catchy ads have been playing nonstop for the past week. And while I was only mildly interested in this game before it arrived, I was totally hooked once I started playing.|
Being a DJ means something entirely different than it did during my 10 years working in the club scene from 1985-1995. But back then you only had to mix the end of one song with the beginning of another to create a seamless block of nonstop dance music. You learned beat-mixing so you could chain 10-12 songs together into 45-minute sets working up from 80-90bpm to 200+ bpm, driving the crowd into a frenzy, and your success as a DJ was measured by the crowds you could bring to the dance floor and how long you could keep them there.
Today, professional DJ’s create their own original music by mixing two songs together with cross fades and scratches and inserting their own digital sound samples. It’s an entirely new art form where turntables have become their own instruments. At the core of the game is the DJ Hero 2 turntable controller. This clever device takes on the role of what real-life DJ’s would require of two turntables. You get a single platter with three buttons. The green and blue buttons control the two individual song mixes while the red button adds effects and freestyle samples specific to that mix. The controller is also split so you can reverse the mixer half with the platter half for lefties.
A comprehensive tutorial takes you through the process of learning how to tap to match the cues on the color-coded note streams as well as sliding the fader control back and forth to favor one music track over the other or split the two equally. And then you have scratching, the art of holding down the track button then jogging the platter back and forth. On the simpler skill settings this is pretty freeform, but when you get to Hard and beyond you will have to scratch in a certain direction or even perform scratches while doing fader slides. It gets pretty crazy on Expert.
One of the new features, and the reason I love this game so much more than the original is the “freestyle” portions found in each mix. You now have freestyle scratch zones, sample zones, and mix zones. In these areas you can work the controller to finesse your own unique sounds and beats and the game somehow manages to judge not only your creativity, but also your ability to stay in beat with the music. More than ever, you really feel that you are creating the music rather than simply following along with preset note streams.
The presentation in DJ Hero 2 is much better than the original. Rather than simply working through boring menus of songs you now have the Empire mode that takes you around the world to various clubs. In these venues you will play various stages that range from Mega-mixes to DJ Challenges. The Mega-mixes are pretty cool, the endurance test if you will, where several songs are chained together for a mix experience that can last more than 10-12 minutes. DJ Challenges will have you face off against famous real-world DJ’s in Checkpoint Challenges where you are graded on accuracy, with any tie scores being decided by your ability to Freestyle. The computer DJ’s are pretty good, especially in the higher skill levels, so it is wise to perfect those freestyle skills.
Party Play is still a great feature for you next gathering that lets you setup the game to run on auto-pilot, providing 80+ awesome mixes by real-world DJ’s, but at anytime someone can step up to the turntable or grab a mic and join the mix. Once you have people hooked on the game you can face off in two-player challenges, DJ Battles, and cooperative gameplay. The guitar feature from the original has been removed (it sucked anyway), and an awesome vocal mode that includes a fairly sophisticated “rap simulator” has been added. If you thought you could sing in Guitar Hero, just wait until you try matching the words and the rhythms in this game.
Empire mode uses the star system to unlock new venues. Earning stars requires skillful gameplay and high scores, which means going for those multipliers. The easiest way to double your multiplier is to activate Euphoria. When you manage to complete a section of the track perfectly the red Euphoria button lights up and when pressed your current modifier is doubled. Another way to double your bonus is to use the effects knob to freestyle your sound in designated Effects Zones, as noted by a yellow arch over the track. And finally, my personal favorite if you can work your way up to it, is the rewind where you can spin the platter backwards and rewind the last bit of music you just played and replay it over at double the points.
There is a rather lengthy learning curve to DJ Hero 2, at least if you want to move beyond Medium and venture into the Hard or Expert settings. I mastered the basics and the new freestyle features by the time I finished the game on Medium but am still having considerable troubles with the more advanced moves like directional scratches and cross-fade scratching.
As far as presentation, you have some very atypical visuals that fit with the same style we’ve been seeing in the Guitar Hero franchise; exaggerated character designs and loads of color and a visionary artistic style that is simple enough that there is no noticeable difference across any of the systems. The characters are flashy with awesome animations and the featured DJ’s resemble their real-life counterparts for those who would know them. If you are watching the game rather than playing it you will be treated to awesome camera angles, swooping pans, and jump zooms that pulse with the beat. The club atmosphere has been perfectly recreated, even if the PS3 can only output at 720p - yes; it's not quite as sharp as the Xbox 360 but it makes up for it with slightly superior sound.
Given the nature of the title sound quality is paramount and DJ Hero 2 pumps up the jams with a fantastic Dolby Digital mix (off by default, so make sure to activate in options) that will bring down the house, or at least summon the cops if you aren’t careful. At lower volumes I detected a bit more clarity on the PS3 but when you crank this game up to rave levels you won’t hear anything but awesome beats and crazy mixes. A big subwoofer is mandatory as is a solid foundation.
DJ Hero 2 features the new Hero Feed, an online community that lets you track your friends’ achievements and issue and participate in player-generated challenges. And if you have the urge to compare your DJ skills there are leaderboards that feature the top scores for all the songs in the game.
DJ Hero 2 is a significant improvement on last year’s original title. Freestylegames responded to nearly every single issue I had with the game, but mostly, they’ve created a DJ simulator that makes me feel like I am creating the music rather than just following along. That added level of immersion makes all the difference. If you love awesome club beats and want to know what it feels like to be a DJ then this is the game for you. The track list is awesome, even if you’re like me and don’t know half these songs, and the gameplay is tight, fun, and totally addicting. Don’t even think about having your next house party unless DJ Hero 2 is on the guest list.