Last year’s introduction of DJ Hero was a breath of fresh air for rhythm games. Not only did it introduce a new way to play, but it did so within a genre that was–up until that time–largely untouched. While Activision’s Guitar Hero is clearly creatively bankrupt, their platter spinning series has made serious improvements over the first release and is now their most exciting musical franchise.
While the developer accurately captured the basic motions of being a DJ in the original game, it was really missing one of the core elements of the art: customization. While DJ Hero 2 still presents players with predefined tracks, you are now able to do a significant amount of on-the-fly music alteration while playing. While this mechanic is limited to specific ‘freestyle’ sections, you’re able to cross-fade at-will and actually mess around with the two different musical tracks for a few beats. Additionally, you’re able to use the effects button in a much more fluent way as they’ve removed the “Internet Flash soundboard” style effects, opting instead to use context-appropriate effects from the current song instead. I’m glad I don’t have to hear Flavor Flav yell “Yeah boyyyyy” over and over just because I forgot to choose some new samples at the selection screen. Both of these changes really help add to the experience and make you feel like you’re doing something meaningful.
The rewind mechanic also has minor but extremely helpful updates. You’re still able to rewind the track after hitting a string of taps and scratches to get more points, but now instead of just doing an arbitrary and unknown reverse, there are actual markers on the track where the rewind will jump back to. If for some reason those markers take place during a cross fade, you’re also given time now to adjust instead of immediately losing out on your streak. Unfortunately, the crappy rewind sound effect is still there and feels as out of place as it did in the first title. The heads up display has also been reworked and fits better with the title, instead of looking like a Guitar Hero rip-off.
While most music titles rely on your familiarity with the songs that are included as a major selling point (yeah, congrats on being so cool for knowing the words to Snow’s “Informer”), it’s not a necessity to enjoy the tracks in DJ Hero. Instead, part of the awesomeness is hearing these mixes and mashups for the first time. Hey, you may even find a new-found interest in an artist you previously didn’t like (Lady Gaga?). If you’re going through Empire (career) mode, the soundtrack starts off strong and only gets better as you progress. Most of the mixes were created in-house at FreeStyle, but other DJs did lend their skills to a few key sets and some are even featured as playable characters.
The real stars are the Megamixes. FreeStyle took this mode (which almost seemed like an afterthought in the original game) and expanded upon it quite a bit, even granting them their own main menu item. Each venue within Empire mode has a Megamix associated with it hosted by big-name DJs like Deadmau5, David Guetta, and Tiësto. They’re at least three mixes long and flow together seamlessly to create one non-stop super track. If you’re into house, club, or trance music at all, this is pretty much what you’d expect to hear all the time instead of the hard stops you’ll experience through other sets. I honestly wish all the music from DJ Hero 2 was available outside of the game because it’s really one of the best soundtracks you’ll find in the genre.
As you may have gathered from the marketing, there has been some attention to the multiplayer components, which try to address complaints levied against the franchise’s solo-centric approach to music. The addition of a friend’s list-based score marker while playing solo is welcome, but most of the actual multiplayer modes aren’t terribly different from one another or all that interesting. Much like the first DJ Hero, they’re serviceable at best. The addition of vocals is kind of dumb considering you’ll need to jump from one track to the other often. To help, words are color coded to correspond with the tracks they’re a part of, but it’s an unnecessary feature in general. I understand the attempt at bringing DJ Hero into a par-tay setting, but it’s a weak area that still needs work.
All in all, DJ Hero 2 is one awesome game. Sure the multiplayer really isn’t anything special, but the soundtrack, mechanics, and gameplay updates make this a great musical package. Now, I just wish FreeStyle would release the soundtrack outside of the game so I can throw my own raves just by pressing play.
Score: 4.5 out of 5
The best soundtrack of any music game currently available.
Thoughtful and important improvements over the previous title.
Makes you wanna be a real DJ, maybe.
Multiplayer and singing still isn’t great.
That stupid, generic rewind sound is a serious sore thumb.
When advertising says two turntables and a microphone, you need to have Beck on the soundtrack.
Originally posted at Evil Avatar.