DJ Hero: review

  • Format: PS3(version reviewed), PS2, Xbox 360, Wii
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Developer: FreeStyleGames
  • Players: 1-2
  • Site:

A great DJ can effortlessly mix track after track into a fluid set list, and most importantly, can mesmerise and hold the attention of the crowd despite doing little more than standing behind a set of decks. Individuals like Grandmaster Flash and Jazzy Jeff have mastered this craft and know exactly how to get the most out of the turntable. DJ Hero does not quite reach such rarefied heights, but it does make a highly entertaining attempt.

Scratch, hit, slide, slide.....

It’s very easy to jump straight into DJ Hero, and unlike many other games of its ilk, it’s deep enough to keep you playing. The interface is straight out of the Guitar Hero series, with the required notes and actions hurtling towards you along the sections of a spinning record. There is a lot on offer, with new playlists and tracks being unlocked as you earn stars, one to five depending on your performance. The obligatory online battles are present, as are local two player head to heads – but they of course require two of the DJ Hero peripherals. The controller is pretty sturdy and easy to use, though the crossfader can be problematic, often ending up between positions, neither in the middle nor at either end. This makes fast and accurate slides – essential in a number of mixes – rather troublesome. The crossfader is by far the hardest mechanic, and there are a couple of mixes that really pour it on. However, it’s also one of the most satisfying things in the game when you get it right, alongside the scratching sections. Scratching is never particularly challenging, but it’s those sections that make or break the mixes. Successfully pulling off an extended scratching section will have you arms crossed, mean mugging at your TV screen time and time again.

Mechanics aside, the game lives and dies by the tracks, which range from outstanding to outright atrocious. DJ Hero is in its element when it’s spinning hip hop, soul and R&B, the genres from which turn-tabling derives. However, the tracklist is rather confused, with a real mishmash of genres thrown together. The presentation and look of the game is straight-up hip hop, with Grandmaster Flash guiding you through the tutorial, and luminaries such as Jazzy Jeff, DJ Shadow and the Scratch Perverts appearing and/or providing mixes. Yet at times, you’ll find yourself scratching along unintelligibly to a Third Eye Blind/Jackson 5 disaster and struggling through the Born To Rock set list, which comes across as forced and entirely out of place. There are a number of tracks, mostly featured in the above set list, which give you the opportunity to play along with the guitar peripheral, which just don’t work. They are a shallow attempt to further tie in with the Guitar Hero series, and are a chore to slog through. However, dance tracks are perfectly melded into the fabric of the game, with the Daft Punk mixes providing a real highlight.

Despite the aforementioned hiccups, there are some great mixes. Highlights include Cypress Hill and Classics IV, Tears for Fears and Eric Prydz, Gangstarr and Mobb Deep and any of the mixes with Bell Biv Devoe “Poison”. Tracks like these make it easier to forgive the rap/rock mash ups and the number of songs that appear in multiple mixes. You’ll likely be sick of “Disturbia” and “Big Beat” by the end of the game, if you’re not already.

One of DJ Hero’s biggest strengths is that it remains as much fun three weeks in as it is the first time you play. This is thanks to a very deep roster of musicians, and a huge amount of unlockables, from superstar mixes to new characters and decks, as well as the sheer pleasure of scratching on the mini deck. The medium difficulty setting is quite forgiving, and you cannot fail a mix. On the odd occasion that you find yourself having a rhythmical nightmare, instead of taking you out of the game and informing you that you are rubbish, it simply silences one layer of the song until you get back onto track. This is far less intrusive, and allows you to learn from your mistakes and continue with the mix. Some tracks are naturally tougher than others, offering a gradual curve of difficulty. However, there is a huge jump between medium and hard, and expert is an entirely different kettle of fish. Unfortunately, there are certain techniques that only appear on hard and expert settings, such as controlled scratching and crossfade spikes, so unless you get in a lot of practice, you may never experience these entertaining additions.

DJ Hero is at its best when it features hip hop and dance tracks, and not when it’s trying to please everyone with its eclectic mixes. On the right track, it can be insanely entertaining and make you feel like you are entirely in control of a masterpiece mash up. Sure it’s pricey, being packaged with the well designed peripheral; but as long as you can stomach some of the musical lows, it’s well worth your time, both single and multiplayer. Word to your mother, yo!


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Written by Matt M

Matt has been a gamer ever since Father Christmas left him a Master System II in the early 90's. Santa was clearly a Sega fan, as a Mega Drive and Saturn would follow in later years. Matt has long since broken free from the shackles of console monotheism and enjoys playing a wide range of games, almost as much as he enjoys meticulously ordering them on his living room shelves.

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