Despite a glowing welcome by critics, it seemed like the first DJ Hero game never got the respect it deserved from the gaming public. In a time where the words “innovation” and “novelty” are being spit out by many without really understanding their meaning, Activision and UK-based developer FreeStyleGames thought it was time to re-educate folks by introducing something new to a stratosphere dominated by drums, guitars and microphones. Here we are twelve months later and over a million and a half units sold; the DJ Hero franchise returns with a new and improved version ready to rock your socks off. If you’re ready to try something new and fresh, DJ Hero 2 is the game you want to spend your bling on.
Building upon one of the best new intellectual properties to hit the current generation of consoles, DJ Hero 2 sees the main gameplay mechanics from the first tour make a return. Of course, this is to be expected as a sequel usually means new modes and new features. Luckily, DJ Hero 2 has plenty of them.
Freestyle is omnipresent in the DJ world and while the first game was never truly hurt by its absence (unless you ended up mastering the game at the highest difficulty), it was still something that needed to be addressed in future iterations. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait long to see its insertion into the franchise as DJ Hero 2 now features brand new freestyle elements which dramatically changes the way sampling, crossfading and scratching is done compared last year. Moving away from the user-based selection system via the Effect Dial on the deck, Freestyle Sampling is more accessible this time around as the samples are now embedded into the mixes. When indicated on the middle stream, all you need to do is press the red button at your leisure and improvise. The new Freestyle Crossfading sections let you fade between the two tracks at any direction and highlight either the beats or vocal phrases to create new sound patterns. Freestyle Scratching is pretty much self-explanatory and is certainly the weakest of all freestyle features. In all cases, your creativity will be compensated with extra points to your final score, so when you enter these particular zones, listen to the music and let yourself go! Held notes (Medium difficulty and higher) and Length Scratches (Hard and Expert difficulties) are also being introduced to spice up your gameplay session.
The guitar playability has been completely dumped, but vocals do make a return. Only this time it’s a fully implemented feature. Not all songs feature vocals, but if you do play one that does, lyrics and the pitch stream will appear on the top of the game screen. Plug in a compatible USB microphone or sync up one of those wireless mics from the LIPS franchise and sing or rap along to the mix. Unfortunately, aside from a few slow-paced exceptions, most of the mixes aren’t very enjoyable to sing. Just say to yourself that it’s there for fun as an extension of the experience, but not as something that you would do in-lieu of working the deck. Now if you really want to sing or rap, there are other games in the market that will give you a more conclusive experience. Little detail: there’s no way to turn down the original vocal track with the controller during gameplay as found in the other music games. The option is there, but it’s hidden deep within the pause menu.
Another new feature in DJ Hero 2 is the Empire Mode, which acts as the game’s career mode. Pick a generic DJ from the list, create your club and travel across the globe to set the dance floors on fire. As you progress through your career, new characters, outfits and decks will be unlocked. Moving through the mode also unlocks extended mixes called “Megamixes” via battles against all-star DJs such as Deadmau5, Tiesto, David Guetta, RZA and others. Once unlocked, all six Megamixes can be replayed from its respective menu. It may be more enticing than simply playing through set lists and racking up stars, but the Empire Mode remains incredibly barebones. There’s no way to create your own DJ, design your own logos or even choose the name of your club.
Multiplayer received a much-needed and welcomed facelift as well. Dropping the utterly boring DJ vs DJ mode, six new options were added in its place for DJ Hero 2: Streak (whoever “banks” the highest note streak wins), Accumulator (similar to Streak but each “bank” adds to the player’s accumulated score – the highest total wins), Checkpoint (tally the most checkpoint sections to win), DJ Battle (same rules as Checkpoint with an emphasis on call-and-response challenges), Star Battle (earn the most stars before the song ends) and Power Deck Battle (use unlockable special decks and engage tactical battles for the most stars). All these modes are playable both off and online.
Taking a cue from Guitar Hero 5 and the latest Warriors of Rock, Party Play has been adjusted for DJ Hero 2, making the mode more closely resemble it’s band-based cousin. Selectable from the main menu, it allows players to jump in an out of the songs at anytime without disrupting the set. Both the difficulty and music can also be changed on the fly. While I was writing this review, I had the set list play continuously and at anytime I could grab my turntable and start scratching whenever I felt like it. Since there’s no way to get the game’s soundtrack on a separate audio disc or via iTunes (yet), this feature will end up being a fan favorite.
Other novelties include the new Hero Feed, where you can keep track of your progression and even challenge your friends to beat your scores online. The Star Meter (Star Ranking-Note Streak Meter) now sports a brand new look. When replaying a mix, it will even display a yellow marker indicating your previous Star Ranking.
All these additions and changes look good on paper, but they shine even more as you scratch your way through 83 original mixes created specifically for the game. With more than a hundred tracks from recognizable artists such as Lady Gaga, Gorillaz, Eminem, Kanye West, David Guetta, Timbaland and the support from producers that includes RZA, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Qbert and Tiesto, the DJ Hero 2 set list is far more interesting and varied than last year’s effort. Even though DJ Hero 2 continues to showcase an urban/hip hop image, there’s a much bigger emphasis towards the Dance, Techno and Drum n’ Bass genres, which were highly overlooked in the first game. As for the quality of the mixes, those knowledgeable of the scene will still see a small quality distinction between the mixes done by the famous DJs and those from the development team but for the most part, the “scratching” experience feels less random than last time. Plus, the aforementioned freestyle controls will let the most experienced add their own touch.
Visually, DJ Hero 2 is just as solid as it predecessor was and there’s not a whole lot to mention, aside maybe from the menus which were completely revamped and are way more streamlined. You won’t be focusing much on what’s happening behind the colored streams, but if you do manage to sit and watch a friend play, the psychedelic ambiance is definitely easy on the eyes.
Is FreestyleGames introducing a brand new turntable model with a stronger-feeling crossfade slider? Sadly, the answer is no. On the positive side, those who bought the first game won’t need to spend another 140$ for a bundle since the sequel can now be purchased as a standalone disc. Now, if you haven’t bought the first game – even though many retailers had it on sale quite often over the last few months – Activsion offers the game in two bundles: a $100 pack (the game and one turntable) and a $150 Party Bundle (two turntables, a wired microphone and the game). Obviously, if you made the smart move to buy the first DJ Hero for cheap, buying DJ Hero 2 shouldn’t be as restrictive on your wallet as its predecessor was.
Plans for downloadable content have already begun to take shape and while an forthcoming update will allow DJ Hero 2 owners to transfer their DLC from the first game over to the new one (the vice-versa wasn’t confirmed as of this writing), one would hope that the DLC support turns out to be a bit more robust this time around.
With its numerous additions and improvements supported by an amazing list of remixes, DJ Hero 2 isn’t only an automatic buy for those who loved the first one but also a definitive must have music title for all music genre fans. Mainly aimed at the connoisseurs (and the franchise early adopters) while keeping in mind those who just want to have fun in the living room with their friends and family, DJ Hero 2 jumps up on stage and shines from the begining of the set to the final encore. If you’re still on the fence, give it a shot and you won’t be disappointed. The next step: playing with two turntables at the same time. Come on FreesStyleGames, you can do it!
Release date : 2010-10-19
Publisher : Activision
Developer : FreeStyle Games
Gameplay : Music,Tempo, Dance
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