When I first laid my eyes on DJ Hero in person, it was just a few months ago at an Activision get-together in New York City. Immediately I noticed just how much fun the game looked to play, and perhaps a large part of that was due to the superb soundtrack. Marking the first major release for a DJ game, Activision knew that they had to get it right. So instead of just throwing in an assortment of hip-hop and techno/trance tracks, they decided to create a soundtrack featuring some of the most epic mash-ups and remixes you've ever heard.
The game starts you off with a simple two-stage tutorial – the beginner notes, and the advanced stuff. The advanced tutorial is optional to perform, but I highly recommend it since it'll do a fantastic job of familiarizing you with the game. From there on, once you've got the tutorials done, the game will unlock one venue with three songs for you to play. Upon completing that venue, you will unlock yourself an assortment of other venues, and at this point, that's when the game really begins to pick up, as you start venturing into the more advanced and faster tracks. Once you complete your new row of available venues, even more will begin to unlock and so on. Each venue has a certain theme and number of tracks you have to complete. But if you wish to practice those songs before properly performing them, you can enter the playlist editor and select the tracks you wish to practice. Moreover, as some of you may know, DJ Hero boasts 10 unique mixes that feature both turntable and guitar controller support.
Multipliers and power-ups are still featured. You've got the Euphoria button located right on your turntable controller, which doubles the multiplier effect – essentially Star Power in the GH games. In addition you have a Rewind Meter, which is a sort-of power-up you can enable once you've completed certain segments perfectly. When available, Rewind can be activated simply by spinning the turntable clockwise, which will trigger the game to rewind to the beginning of the last segment you entered. Rewind is essential to building up a larger multiplier and increasing the amount of Stars you earn for completing the song.
An amazing track collection of mash-ups totally over 100 songs can be found here, with artists/songs such as 2Pac's "All Eyez On Me" getting mashed together with The Aranbee Pop Symphony Orchestra's "Bittersweet Symphony" instrumental. Or how about Rihanna's "Disturbia" with The Killers "Somebody Told Me"? These mixes are simply epic, and when you're actually sitting there and playing them, they become that much more fun. And that leads me to mention just how well these highways are built, as the scratching parts are easily the best element of each track.
As far as the anatomy of the turntable controller, it's a relatively simple layout. You have three buttons on the record, following three streams. But, the Green and Blue button can be used to play an additional stream, and this is where the Crossfader comes into play. The Green button stream will often go left, which will require you to time and push the crossfade slider left, as well. Likewise, when the Blue stream goes right, you do the same with the crossfade in order keep everything sailing along smoothly. You'll need to get comfortable with the crossfade slider, as it is used extensively, especially in the later and harder tracks of the game.
But, before I continue, I must express a few disappointments with the controller. First of all, the slider is the weak-spot of the device. As I explained, it can be moved left and right, but it also has a center lock that clicks into place. Unfortunately, the center lock is very weak, and during fast and difficult sections of a song, you will often find yourself missing the center and going off track – this will diminish your multiplier considerably, and instantly. This problem almost feels like an intentional fault that Activision will have corrected for a follow-up release next year, and that really puts a damper on things. The best way I've managed to get around missing center is by applying some downward pressure on the slider and instead of flicking it with my fingers, I use my wrist to quickly snap it back into place. Also, the second complaint, and not a very big one, is that some may find it difficult to scratch the blue stream, because the blue button is all the way on the inside of the disc, and so you can't apply as much torque as you would with the green button, which is on the very outside. What I do to alleviate this issue is place my thumb on the side of the faux-record, and use it to scratch the record up and down. It may sound confusing to understand right now, but once you have the game in your hand, you will understand what I mean.
Lastly, I already mentioned the Euphoria button, which will flash red when it can be activated. But it also has a second feature; in freeplay single-player, if you hold it down, it will activate a party-play mode that'll just play the song in its entirety, not requiring any inputs from the controller anymore. Then we have the effects dial, which you'll be able to use when you see a specific prompt on screen. On top of that, when not activated, you can use the effects dial to select certain background freestyle noise, including Flavor Flav's "Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah Boiiiiiiiii!", among a few others. When you've selected the bit you like, you'll be able to trigger it during certain freestyle sections of the Red stream – so when you see those freestyle sections, spam that red button for a few extra points. Lastly, concealed underneath a cover are your standard PS3 buttons and D-pad to sort through the game and PS3 menus with.
Multiplayer is good for only two-people, as you'd imagine, in a DJ vs. DJ mode. Additionally, the collaborative DJ vs. Guitar mode is good fun too, albeit not quite as fleshed out as some may hope for — but it is better than nothing. You can also plug in a mic into the game, and it picks it up, but you won't get scored for your talents (or lack thereof), but it should still be a fun addition to a party. And that's, perhaps, where DJ Hero can really shine, at a get-together of some sort. I know that during the NYC Activision event, everybody was glued watching the player perform on the stage with DJ Hero, and there were smiles abound. Each and every gamer there wanted a shot at the game, it really is that much fun.
As far as the techy stuff goes, DJ Hero looks just about what you'd expect out of the franchise. The characters are weird and cartoony looking, not aiming at even the slightest bit of realism, as they're decked out with not just ridiculous details, but ridiculous clothing and style choices, too. Although, I must say that it seems that DJ Hero may be lacking the anti-aliasing and overall smoothness of the Guitar Hero games, as characters on screen exhibit quite a lot of jaggies. Regardless, seeing as how 90% of the time you're looking at a rotating vinyl record with notes on it, character detail won't bother you very much.
The audio, on the other hand, is absolutely stunning, with the exception of Grandmaster Flash and his painfully annoying presence in the game. In fact, there is one particular track in the game, a Herbie Hancock and N.E.R.D mash-up that Grandmaster Flash put together, and all Flash does is just scream and commentate over the entire track…it's absolutely terrible. The production of the track is slick, but I seriously wished that Flash would just shut the hell up. Otherwise, this is probably the best and most unique soundtrack to come out of a game in a very, very long time. I also highly encourage people to enable the Dolby support and crank the volume up, it makes a big difference in the overall enjoyment.
For $120, I'd have to say that DJ Hero is worth the coin. It's library of fantastic mash-ups are really something worth listening to, and certainly worth playing. The turntable controller isn't perfect, but it's good enough to experience a vast majority of the game and love every single second of it. With every session I pick the controller up for, it becomes harder and harder to put the game down – it's that good. And while yes, the renegade bundle does offer more, I'd say keep the $80 and just spring for the standard game. Chances are, some of that content will appear as DLC anyways. I can only imagine how great next year's game will be.