Okay, so here's the deal: I missed DJ Hero when it first came out. It was under my radar. That's what happens to games that aren't on your "list" sometimes, especially when none of your gamer buddies are playing it. But, having a wife does have some interesting consequences, and when your wife plays video games, those consequences often include picking up games that you wouldn't normally choose.
So, with DJ Hero 2 coming out this October, I wanted to look back and give a review on the original DJ Hero game.
To set the stage for my eventual judgment call on this game, it may help to understand my experience with the rhythm-game genre and with music itself. While I'm not an absolute pro (I tend to play on "hard" difficulty), I've spent a fair amount of time on games like Rock Band 1 and 2, various DDR games, Guitaroo Man, and Guitar Hero 1 and 2. All of these different rhythm games have given me their own unique perspective on the genre. Also, I am a musician. I play acoustic guitar and the drum kit. Rock Band - for many people - is the pinnacle of the rhythm genre, but for me there's something lacking. After all, I already know guitar and drums. Why play a game about it? Don't get me wrong. Rock Band is incredibly fun and it serves its purpose, but for me, the whole "be in a band and play music!" escapism in Rock Band and other rhythm games isn't escapism at all for me: it's reality.
Enter DJ Hero. In real life, I do not know how to "scratch" or "crossfade" or mix tracks of any kind. For me, this immediately sets DJ Hero apart from the likes of Rock Band and Guitar Hero. DJ Hero DOES offer the escapism that Rock Band lacks, so that is one reason why I actually prefer it instead of the other mentioned rhythm games.
Another thing that sets DJ Hero apart (for me) is how the songs are handled. In DJ Hero, I don't feel the same "bullet hell" design philosophy that other rhythm games have (for example, how Guitar Hero's sole aim is to throw a bajillion gems at you so that you can make a Youtube video of it). Instead of assaulting you with a ton of falling gems, DJ Hero takes a more realistic approach. The "complex" songs are complex not only because of the number of gems on the screen, but also because of the crossfades, scratches, and freestyle sections you'll have to pull off. And unlike Guitar Hero, you're not just playing one instrument. You're in control of the whole song. If you mess up, you'll hear it. If you pull off a difficult sequence, it feels incredibly satisfying. The high quality of the turntable controller also helps to keep you immersed in the game instead of fumbling over buttons.
The music selection itself is also something most rhythm game fans are going to find interesting. Other than the aforementioned Guitaroo Man, rhythm games tend to do cover songs. In other words, you aren't playing "new" songs in either Rock Band or Guitar Hero. You're playing games that you've already heard on the radio or on CD. But in DJ Hero's case, you get to play COMPLETELY NEW tracks mixed JUST FOR THE GAME. Yes, you'll recognize the songs used in the mix, but you won't hear these songs on the radio. That is very cool, and I have to applaud Activision for going the extra mile in this regard. The mixes are really good. There are only a tiny handful of dud tracks in an otherwise mindblowingly-good setlist. These mixes are so catchy and a blast to play. Even when I'm taking a break and watching someone else play the game, I still enjoy sitting back and listening to the tracks.
Also, you know how on lower difficulties in Rock Band/Guitar Hero, even though you won't be tapping all of the gems, you will still hear all of the complicated notes in the background? Yeah, the computer does that for you. Well, in DJ Hero there IS a little bit of that, but I have noticed that as you increase difficulty, THE SONGS CHANGE AS WELL. There are different scratches, different taps, and slightly different crossfade patterns. In some songs, the difference isn't noticable, but in other songs it is very easy to tell. Again, GOOD JOB Activision for going the extra mile.
There are features of the game that fall short. The menu system is very barebones. If you're accustomed to the flashy "Globe of the Earth" map in Rock Band 2, prepare to be disappointed with DJ Hero's scrolling mix list. Also, the DJ vs DJ battles are nothing special, but apparently DJ Hero 2 is going to address this problem. I also hope that DJ Hero 2 has more downloadable songs. Admittedly, I have been spoiled by Rock Band's huge selection of downloadable game, but DJ Hero only has 5 track packs available. That's sad. Again, I hope DJ Hero 2 steps it up in this regard, because I will gladly shell over my $$$ for overpriced track packs.
I am a fan of music and a fan of rhythm games. DJ Hero is exactly the sort of rhythm game that I want to play. It offers something new to me, not only as a gamer, but as a musician. Yeah, I'll still play Rock Band with my buddies, but when it comes to sitting down and truly enjoying a rhythm game, DJ Hero has my vote, and I can't wait to sit down and play DJ Hero 2 later this year.