The original DJ Hero was one of those games that shouldnít have worked, but ended up standing out as one of the best the music genre has to offer. With its own turntable peripheral and totally different style of music where hip-hop and rap songs were mashed up with R&B, rock and some classic tunes, it was a game that seemed doomed to failure. In time, however, it managed to find its audience, providing enough confidence for the production of a sequel that goes out of its way not to mess around with the core formula while also bringing in some interesting tweaks.
The core mechanics of DJ Hero have been retained for the sequel, which, given its pure fun factor, is a good thing. In Guitar Hero fashion, series of triggers stream down an onscreen turntable, corresponding to buttons you tap on your turntable peripheral. Things get more complicated rather rapidly as you fade between the two "records" making up the songís mash-up, not to mention scratches, and other various tricks to keep your hands busy. It seems basic, and the core problems surrounding the faderís physical design Ė i.e. too easy to slip too far in one direction Ė still remain, but itís still as much fun as youíre likely to have with a music game this year.
What has been added to the mix this time around is freestyle fading and scratching. Players can now, in certain pre-defined song sections, slip the slider back and forth to force the audio track to focus on whichever of the two songs they prefer, and zap between them to create whatever soundscape youíd like. Itís great fun, even if your sense of whatís "good" isnít always something the gameís scoring system agrees with. Similarly, freestyle scratching sections have been put in, though these work far less well as the fading. Thereís an odd and noticeable lag that not only makes it difficult to do what you wish, but also artificially increases the difficulty of many of the songs, particularly when youíre going head to head against other DJs, be they AI-controlled or other people. This lag doesnít exactly make it less fun, as itís still a blast. However, it does make it somewhat of a nuisance when youíre one or two wrong moves away from losing a battle. Also having been tweaked is the sample system, which has been improved upon with the elimination of the "choose your own sample set" system of the first to song-specific samples. The result is a drastically better audio experience, and one that pulls you out of the game to a much lesser degree.
The game has also taken on an attempt to create a career mode for you and your DJ, albeit a rather half-hearted one. After throwing together some very minor choices such as logo and character options, youíre left to "travel the world" by starting in Ibiza with a tiny club and then circling the globe as you supposedly grow in stature and success. Itís rather a limp affair, though, as thereís no sense of actual progression beyond merely unlocking new song sets and venues as you score set numbers of stars. Whatís more, your attachment to your DJ is nil, given that youíre often swapping out through celebrity DJs such as Deadmau5 and Tiesto in certain venues, and that youíre actually encouraged to play through some of the gameís own proprietary "character" DJs, which are admittedly amusing. Toss in the fact that you can actually play using your Avatar Ė another entertaining addition Ė and youíre left with a career option thatís in need of some work, though it never feels as though itís interfering.
Also new to the game is the addition of a microphone, which works out about as strangely as it sounds. In a game that focuses on mashing up familiar songs in new and dazzling ways, itís difficult to know the exact combination of lyrics to a given track, though the one-line-in-advance lyric preview alleviates that someone. Still, itís not enough to really justify pulling from the "two turntables and a microphone" lyric, as entertaining as it is to try and watch someone muddle their way through a vocal mash-up. Thankfully, itís not intrusive in the least and is totally optional. If anything, itís as much of an oddity as the guitar bits in the first DJ Hero, which were easily ignored.
The multiplayer options are great, offering some terrific call-and-response DJ battles alongside the opportunities for other song square-offs. Even the single-player component has a whiff of rivalry about it, as your friendsí scores can be posted in the margins of the screen while youíre playing a particular song, urging you to do better and try harder. Itís a neat mechanic that reflects the greater emphasis thatís been placed on playing with others, and one that enriches the overall gameplay rather nicely.
Of course, a music game wouldnít be worth its fancy bells and whistles if the songs were no good, so itís fortunate that DJ Hero 2ís tracks are pretty stellar. Somehow, you always knew that Snowís "Informer" would one day be mashed up with Jackson 5ís "ABC," though the latterís mix with Naughty by Natureís "OPP" is far more fun and disturbingly joyous. Interlaced throughout the proceedings are a hearty dose of Top 40 performers: thereís some Lady Gaga, Chemical Brothers, Soulja Boy, Pitbull, Rihanna, and even some Pussycat Dolls. Itís a pretty mainstream-focused collection, much more so than the first gameís music; whether that works for you depends on your tastes. While itís great to see Basement Jaxx mixing with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, or no end of Deadmau5, none of the tracks seem to be as instantly memorable as those in the first. Thereís nothing on par with, say, Marvin Gayeís "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" mixed with Gorillazí "Feel Good Inc.", or the massive Daft Punk Megamix, as great as the music itself may be. Not to say the music is particularly lacking; far from it. In fact, itís a testament to how great the original gameís setlist was when something as high-quality and catchy as this gameís collection of tunes somehow seem to fall just an inch short.
While DJ Hero brought its own ideas to the (turn)table, DJ Hero 2 expands upon them in glorious and entertaining ways that, for the most part, make sense. The itch to freestyle can now quite literally be scratched, and the small tweaks to multiplayer are very welcome. The sampling system has been improved with song-specific contextual bits, and the presentation is clean and strong. Musically, the game may fall a rung below the tunes of its predecessor, but itís still a rather fantastic collection of songs that swing a bit more Top 40 than before. Even the egregious in-game advertisement which was such a horrible eyesore in the first has been scaled back to a few rather innocuous references here. The microphone is a weird addition that doesnít really bring much to the proceedings, but with some work, it might find a better role in future iterations. All told, DJ Hero 2 is arguably as strong an outing as the first, making it one of the better games to have been released in 2010.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)