By Matt Harper
It has become harder and harder for rhythm-based games to be innovative and stand-out in the market-place in the last few years, but "DJ Hero 2" succeeds simply because it embraces the fundamentals of rhythm. With 83 unique mash-ups, this game boasts an extensive, first-rate roster of mixes.
For those familiar with rhythm-based music games, "DJ Hero" follows a similar style and structure to any of the "Guitar Hero" or "Rock Band" games. The player taps buttons in time to colored "notes" that approach on a runway. In addition to hitting corresponding buttons in time to the music on the turntable controller, there is also a cross-fader, and effects knob.
Of course the music is the real star of the game, and unlike the first "DJ Hero," the sequel skews more towards Top 40, and straight-up electronic music (the first "DJ Hero" had a bit more variety in styles, but subsequently seemed a bit more unfocused, style-wise). You can play these mixes in either the jump-in-jump-out Quickplay mode, or play through a loose narrative in Empire mode.
Let's Get This Party Started
In real life, DJs are akin to party-conductors, using music to bring together and entertain partiers, and in this way, "DJ Hero 2" really succeeds. Although the game is fun to play solo, it shines when played in groups or online. When some of my non-gamer friends came over, I was surprised and impressed with how quick they were able to jump in and join the game. Once the figured out the game mechanics, I had a hard time tearing them away from the game. That's not to say the game is simplistic – for those looking for a serious challenge, the Expert mode is impressively complex, offering a true test for rhythm game fanatics.
Additionally, newly added Freestyle sections allow the player to put his or her own flourishes to each of the songs. Players can Freestyle Sample, Crossfade or Scratch, and while they are all welcome additions, it's the Crossfade that is the standout extra, allowing for the most amount of originality.
It's a relief to find not just musical variety, but also quality music in a music game. The songs in "DJ Hero 2" are all made specifically for the game, and because of that, they work really well in a rhythm based game. But it obviously wouldn't be enough if the songs just played really well – the "DJ Hero 2" playlist is something that I could easily see myself listening to when not playing the game, which says a lot about the quality. In fact, the some of the mixes are so good that I wish the game came with MP3s of the songs so I could load them onto my computer. (It's worth noting, that while you CANT load the songs onto your mp3 player, you can set the game to “Party Play”, which prompts the game to play the mixes on its own, creating an on-the-fly playlist.)
DJ Throw Down
A big part of DJ culture is battling, and "DJ Hero 2" expands on the first games lackluster battle mode with some welcome additions. Now there is the ability to actually do call-and-response type battles, so there's actually a sense of trying to outdo one another. In total, there are 6 different battle modes in the new game – all of which can either be played locally with a second controller, or online. As mentioned, the DJ Battle mode, with the call-and-response format, is a stand-out, but my personal favorite is the Accumulator – a mode where you have the ability to "bank" your streaks. It's a simple concept, but creates a great sense of racing against another competitor.
This might seem like a petty gripe, but it was honestly my biggest annoyance when playing DJ Hero 2: When you're in Quickplay mode and you finish a song, you have to go back to the main menu to get back to the playlist. Combine that with load-times that are a bit on the long side, and this can really break the playing experience. On one hand, the fact that this is my BIGGEST complaint is probably a plus for the game in the grand scheme of things…but man did it get annoying at times.
Mic Check, One-Two
DJ Hero 2 now supports an in-game vocalist, who can participate and have their performance rated. The problem though, is that because the songs are all chopped, scratched, and mixed, they are impossible (or at least really hard) to sing along to. There were a few times were I'd be singing a part of a song I knew, would get pretty into it, and only a few lines later did I realize that the song had changed and I was singing a completely different song. It's nice to have something for a third person to do, but more often than not, it just ends up being frustrating. It's hard to completely write the mic off as negative, since it's an addition that isn't necessary for the core gameplay, but as an extra feature it doesn't add that much, and can be frustrating.
Empire Mode in "DJ Hero 2" isn't bad necessarily; it just feels a little shallow. In the game, you have the ability to pick your avatar, logo, and the name of your club…but that's about as deep as the customization goes. From there, you travel around the world to different clubs, building your brand and competing against other famous DJs in battles. You unlock new clothes, equipment, and set lists, but you never really feel like you're working your way up from start-up DJ, to full-on music superstar. The set list gets slightly more difficult, but I kept wishing that there was more of a feeling of growth instead of just feeling like I was grinding through set lists. Again, this didn't take away from my enjoyment of the game as a whole – it just felt like a good idea that was left unfinished. Would the game be better if it was left out? Definitely not. But it's something that could most certainly be improved for "DJ Hero 3" and beyond.
"DJ Hero 2" shines as a game because it nails the trifecta of rhythm-based games: solid and intuitive gameplay, fun multiplayer modes, and most importantly, seriously good music. As mentioned, the career mode, and addition of microphone gameplay leave a little bit to be desired, but ultimately they are additional elements that don't detract from the core experience of the game. If you enjoyed the first "DJ Hero," the sequel is a solid choice.