During my life I’ve been through several musical phases. In the mid-nineties I enjoyed the guitar-lead refrains of Britpop; at college I strayed into dance, mixing and the superclubs; whilst my uni days brought me swiftly into the domain known as “cheese”; and since drawing a salary, iTunes tells me that “rock” is my most played genre. By a strange quirk of fate, it appears that the Hero brand is also going these exact phases. Except in reverse.
Starting off with the rock of the initial Guitar Hero, it then slipped into the family pleasing pop of Band Hero before rather swiftly morphing into DJ Hero, complete with amply sized peripheral. Does this march through my music tastes mean that my prayers will be answered and an Ocean Colour Scene Hero will soon be brought to market?
Sticking with the now familiar Hero formula, the aim of DJ Hero is to “play” along with the music being piped through your speakers, matching the on screen actions to obtain as high a score as possible. The only difference between this and the original Guitar Hero being that in addition to pressing buttons in time to the beat you must also scratch and fade between tracks at specified points, mixing two tracks together and sending the crowd euphoric in the process.
To achieve such feats, the DJ Hero controller proves a substantial device. To the left side are a series of buttons and knobs corresponding to crossfaders and effects dials, and to the right a movable turntable, slightly smaller than a dinner plate, with a trio of buttons embedded in it. A somewhat large and yet surprisingly lightweight block of plastic, it is just the right size to sit on a person’s lap without impediment.
Whilst feeling your way around this new fangled device, on-screen three glowing lines run towards you, curved slightly as if they were being spun on a giant record and each representing an aspect of the mix you are about to play. Along them stream a series of dots, all corresponding to one of your three buttons on the deck. Tapping them in time to the rhythm will earn you points and the admiration of the gathering turned out to hear you play. Missing them, however, will cause the music to falter and your set to go askew.
This in itself is not a captivating experience. Apart from the red centre track that represents effects, it is hard to say what you are tapping along to. The rhythm may be flowing and you may be matching the beat but I couldn’t comprehend what those actions were comparable to. In Guitar Hero it is plainly obvious that you are strumming out the tune on your virtual guitar but when mashing The Killers in with Rihanna, why am I tapping out the riffs other than to fill the void in gameplay?
However, this is the folly of starting DJ Hero on an easy difficulty setting. Its strongest credentials are held back for those wanting to brave a stiffer challenge and it is here where the wheels of steel are really spun.
Long coloured bars then charge down the glowing tracks at you, representing a scratch, with the tracks themselves then jumping back and forth to indicate the need for a deft touch on the crossfader. The tapping still persists but these two elements begin to raise DJ Hero from being just another rhythm-action cash in. As with the Guitar Hero, I found myself having a much better time when I pushed myself. It is one thing to score an almost perfect percentage on the middling difficulty settings but it wasn’t fulfilling. Until I felt that I was being asked to try and fade or scratch every ounce of the record I never felt truly involved in the experience, swiftly whipping the fader back and forth and furiously scratching in a bid to keep up with the latest mashup.
Though my enjoyment did increase on these more technical sections, my faith in the hardware diminished. True the turntable is smooth and responsive, but the crossfader was too light and inaccurate. There is a notch in the centre to help differentiate its three settings, nevertheless it had a tendency to fly past my intended track and straight onto the one on the opposite side. When staring at the screen and being asked to flick it back and forth at great speed it seems a little disappointing that such a tiny thing that would ultimately have a large impact on the game was overlooked. I have looked up solutions involving sticky tape to limit the amount of travel but the fact that even needs considering is a shame.
As with all other Hero games, your aim in DJ Hero is to march through a career mode, playing gig after gig and unlocking songs as you go. There are multiplayer modes, including hooking up another deck or a guitar to jam along with the mix but both feel a little strange. None of them have the same group togetherness that you find in any of the band games on the market. Whereas grabbing three extra mates and forming an impromptu Foo Fighters tribute act is the basis for a Rock Band party, I can’t see DJ Hero ever evoking the same emotions in me.
DJ Hero is a solid rhythm action game though, and should be given a chance by the naysayers. The wealth of music included (93 songs) is incredible and the execution of the Hero mechanics has evolved just the right amount so that it is both familiar but also unique, set itself aside from its Guitar brethren and playing to strengths of mixing. For me, however, it just lacked the connection that could have made it a great music game; far too often I felt that I had too little involvement with what was going on, standing on the periphery and occasionally poking buttons. Compare this once again to the Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands of the world and with every song you are not only involved from the very first bar until you repeat-til-fade your way to the end, but you are the star and without you none of that would be happening. Those wanting a fresh challenge will find it here but those wanting another music revolution will leave disappointed.