I’ll say up front that reviewing DJ Hero threw me for a loop. I went in expecting another derivative entry in Activision’s seemingly endless musical “hero” stable, similar to the numerous and tiresome Guitar Hero single band spin-offs. I got something altogether different. DJ Hero might have the same general styling and branding as the ubiquitous Guitar Hero series but the gameplay is an almost entirely new animal, referencing and imitating a (largely) different musical scene.
You might not believe this when taking a cursory glance at the game’s new peripheral. The DJ Hero turntable controller has the same clean black finish and colored button design of RedOctane’s guitar controllers, and even the same font is used for the “DJ Hero” lettering at the center of the platter. The platter itself spins freely like the real thing, but has green, red and blue buttons reminiscent of every plastic guitar since the Guitar Hero 3 Les Paul. The platter is textured like a vinyl LP and the buttons have a moiré pattern engraved in them to keep your fingers from slipping off.
Accompanying the platter is a control deck with an effects knob, a button for activating “euphoria,” the DJ Hero equivalent of star power, and a crossfade slider. While the PS3 and 360 turntables have a control panel with the respective console’s buttons, the Wii turntable has a pop-open compartment for plugging in a Wii remote, just like all of the RedOctane Wii guitars thus far. The Wii turntable has no power source or wireless communication on its own—the Wii remote handles all that once plugged in—so make sure you have a fully charged remote on hand. The control deck itself can be removed and attached to either side of the platter, making the turntable fully ambidextrous.
The similarities to any of the Guitar Hero games end once you take the turntable for a spin. The gameplay uses a note highway of sorts, represented as a rotating LP, but the way you play takes a different approach than Guitar Hero. The three colored buttons correspond to three mixed music tracks: green for the first record, blue for the second one and red for samples and effects. As the trademark “skittle” notes come down the highway, you must tap the buttons in time to recreate the mix that’s playing.
Long patches on either track mean that you have to hold a button to scratch, and on hard and expert these patches have small arrows that dictate the precise direction you must scratch and at what time. Once your multiplier is high enough from tapping and scratching you can rewind through a small section of the mix at will, by spinning the platter backwards. Doing this strategically can let you replay a portion with a lot of notes, so it’s important for getting high scores. The whole setup is quite different than holding a fret button, waiting for a note to arrive and then strumming, and took me about an hour to get used to.
The basic gameplay is pretty simple, but the effect controls turn complicate things quickly. Certain portions of the track are bracketed by a yellow bar and this is your cue to rotate the effects knob, which skews the sound high or low and doubles your score multiplier. The knob also selects which effect you add to the freestyle portions that show up on the red track. Certain lengths of the track are also highlighted blue, and if you complete these portions perfectly you gain euphoria. Once euphoria is ready, the euphoria button next to the effects knob glows red; a nice indicator for when you can throw it on and double your score.
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