Final Glimpse: Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it...
It is hard to believe that the first Guitar Hero came out less than five years ago. Since November of 2005, we have seen five GH games, two GH expansions, two artist-specific GH games, three On Tour DS games, two Rock Bands (three if you count The Beatles), and many, many, MANY, downloadable tracks. That doesn't even count the upcoming Band Hero, Lego Rock Band, or Guitar Hero: Van Halen. It is overwhelming, isn't it? Well, DJ Hero is looking to change things up by tweaking the familiar formula and introducing brand new mixes that have been created specifically for the game.
If you have played any of the music games that have come out over the last few years, the basic concept and note highway of DJ Hero will be instantly familiar to you. However, the turntable that comes packaged with the game should mix up the formula enough to breathe new life into the genre. As you might imagine, the turntable replaces the guitar as your controller in DJ Hero. How it works takes just a little bit of explanation?
As Jamie Jackson, the Creative Director for DJ Hero, discusses in a video clip on the game's website, the turntable controller is comprised of five different elements, the most obvious being the turntable itself. On top of the turntable platform, rotating with each movement, are a set of three buttons. The other side of the peripheral includes a cross-fader, an effects dial, and a euphoria button. The effects dial can most directly be compared to Guitar Hero's whammy bar and the euphoria button is basically DJ Hero's answer to Star Power. The other three elements replace the fret buttons and strummer of guitar controllers.
Reading that last paragraph again makes me realize that the DJ Hero turntable isn't as straightforward as a plastic guitar. I mean, we all played air guitar and are pretty familiar with the idea behind playing a real one. It isn't quite as common to play air DJ and practice juggling beats in your room. Rest assured the game play looks pretty straightforward and should be accessible for most of us.
As expected, DJ Hero is going to deliver the majority of the track content through the single-player experience, with us unlocking additional tracks as we progress through the game. However, Activision is also including a head-to-head DJ mode and a DJ/Guitar cooperative mode, the latter of which will allow a friend to plug in their existing guitar peripheral and jam while you juggle their playing with another track. This mode shows just how well everyone involved with this game is thinking outside of the box. Might it be a prelude to future Guitar Hero functionality? I doubt it, but you never know.
For a game like DJ Hero, just like the Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands before it, the set list needs to be strong in order to really grab the attention of game players. As far as I'm concerned, DJ Hero is going above-and-beyond with their offering for DJ Hero. You can expect 93 tracks featuring more than a hundred different songs to tickle your fancy. These are all new mixes of existing songs, many of which you probably already have on your MP3 player. Artists such as 50-Cent, Jay-Z, Eminem, Daft Punk, and the Beastie Boys are all represented and some of the new mixes are from some very recognizable DJs, including DJ Shadow and the late DJ AM. I am really interested in this soundtrack and, from the samples that are out on the interwebs, could easily see playing it at a party. Activision seems to have the same faith in the music and is including a Jukebox mode in DJ Hero, letting you select the tracks you want to hear and just letting the game run. As a nice feature, you can even jump into playing along with the playlist and make it the focus of the party.
Even with this fresh take on the rhythm music genre, DJ Hero has somewhat of an uphill battle to fight when it is released later this month. The first hurdle that it must overcome is the crowded music game market. Between September 1st and Christmas, I count a total of six major releases between the ??Hero? and ??Band? games. Add this to the second hurdle, the $120 price tag for the standard version of the game, and you may see consumers sticking with titles that their existing peripherals already work with. You can almost assume that there will be a sequel next year, so the turntable can be reused again, but it is still a significant investment for a currently untried innovation. However, with its diverse set list and new take on music gameplay, DJ Hero is setting itself apart from the crowd. Only time will tell whether it is far enough to find commercial success.