When Activision launched “DJ Hero” last year, it was easy to take one look at the $120 price tag for a box including the game and turntable controller and skip it, despite some pretty positive reviews. A $200 limited edition promised an even more direct hit to the wallet.
But now that the game’s been on the market for a year, it’s surprisingly affordable. The game plus turntable now sells for around $70 on Amazon, and the bundle has been on sale for much less than that at various retailers during the last month or so. Considering the controller for the upcoming “DJ Hero 2” is, aside from some cosmetic differences, identical to the one for the first game, there’s probably never been a better time to get in on the franchise.
I had the chance to check out “DJ Hero 2” (rated T, $60 on Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) at a preview event last week. Because I’d expressed interest in the game a month ago, Activision sent me a copy of the first game and a turntable controller. I made sure to play through the tutorials before I tried out the sequel, but that’s about as far as I got until this week. More on that in a bit.
Gameplay for “DJ Hero 2” works much the same as it did in the first game. You’ll keep one hand on the turntable, pressing three different colored keys, “Guitar Hero”-style, when on-screen cues tell you to. Some cues will indicate scratches, essentially sustained notes that require you to keep a button depressed while scratching back and forth on the turntable.
Your other hand works the cross-fader, used to switch back and forth between the two records featured in your mix. You can generate some samples and affect proceedings with a little knob-twisting in designated spots, but those are pretty much the basics.
At certain points in your mix, you’ll get a chance to bank Euphoria, which acts pretty much the same as Star Power in “Guitar Hero” or “Overdrive” in “Rock Band.” You’ll hit a glowing button to double your score for a brief time. Another way to ramp up your score is by rewinding. Periodically, if you nail a bunch of notes in a row, you get a chance to spin the record backward and rewind the mix a few clicks to rack up even more points.
“DJ Hero 2” makes a number of refinements to the formula, chiefly in its multiplayer modes. Whereas the first “DJ Hero” mainly featured a straight-up score battle, “DJ Hero 2” makes a number of additions, such as a battle mode that has players trading off parts of a song, or another mode that keeps track of which player can rack up the longest note streak. In “checkpoint mode,” players battle it out over segments of each song, with the winner getting a brief opportunity to freestyle and rack up more points. It’s cool in theory, but it might mean that one dominant player gets to have all the fun.
At least a few of the modes aim to put differently skilled DJs on a more even footing. One has players competing to see who can get a higher star rating, which means I can play on hard while my nongaming wife tries easy or medium. In another concession to nongamers, an awkward mode from the first game that had one player using a turntable and another using a “Guitar Hero” controller has been replaced with a new emphasis on singing. Jamie Jackson, creative director for the game’s developer, Freestyle Games, told me that, if players want to, they can play “DJ Hero 2” entirely as a karaoke game the way players could with a “Guitar Hero” or “Rock Band” game.
The fact that players can step in and rock the mic seems most suited to the game’s drop-in/drop-out party mode, which is designed to let party-goers trade off between songs without having to grapple with tedious menus.
The last key change I noticed was that Jackson and his cohorts have overhauled the way the game handles sampling. Instead of interjecting a handful of lame, canned samples from Flavor Flav or whoever, you’ll be mixing in samples from the actual records your spinning. It sounds like a small thing, but the samples have been the lamest, most fun-killing part of what I’ve played of the first game so far.
Since I had fun sampling “DJ Hero 2,” “what I’ve played of the first game” has grown by leaps and bounds. I haven’t made my way through all the mixes yet, mostly because I’ve been in the newsroom every day since trying “DJ Hero 2,” but I’ve made time to play through a few mixes each night, and it’s a blast. I’d definitely recommend picking up the first “DJ Hero” at a steep discount, then using the controller once the sequel comes out.
Jackson said Freestyle and Activision had nothing to announce yet on whether downloadable content for the first game would be compatible with the second, so you might want to hold off on ponying up for any new songs until that plan has been made clear.