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DJ Hero 2 Review

I absolutely adored DJ Hero when it came out last year, it was a change to the storied ‘Hero’ franchise that was a required breath of fresh air. After countless iterations and critical missteps in the guitar and band based games, it was refreshing to see Activision create something so familiar, but also outrageously new and intriguing. Yes, the musical select was very different than what other rhythm games have been churning out and it was not likely to have much crossover appeal – even myself despise the styles of music in DJ Hero, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the game immensely. So when DJ Hero 2 was announced, I was excited – I wanted to see what kinds of new music that I normally dislike would be willingly brought into my house, as well I wanted to see the tweaks made to the first game to see how they improved upon it.

The biggest sigh of relief came when it was announced that no new hardware would be required for gamers to enjoy DJ Hero 2, as the initial setup itself was likely one of the big issues why the game sold slowly. But for those who already had the gear, they could simply buy the software only for the sequel and miss nothing in the game. Good move here Activision. One other change that likely didn’t adversely affect many gamers was the removal of the songs which allowed you to have a second player join in on guitar – these songs were by far the worst ones in the first game so this removal was a very wise decision. To compensate for this however, a vocal track is now included with the game so not only can you have two turntables playing at once – but also a third player on the microphone. Unfortunately, this mode isn’t as well tuned as other vocal games such as the Rock Band or Guitar Hero series, but it still adds to the party atmosphere that DJ Hero can bring to a room.

Speaking of party, a new quick play Party Mode is included which allows players to drop in or out on the fly without having to stop the game in progress. This is fantastic for get-togethers as not everyone is very well versed in the operation of the game so to be able to pick up and play with no ill consequences such as musical downtime, it’s a real treat. The main mode of play this time around is called Empire Mode, and similar to the progression last time where you work through certain setlists in clubs, this is essentially the same thing with the exception that you tour clubs around the world and have to both challenge, battle and beat famous DJs such as RZA and DJ QBert to keep moving through the game. While lacking the progression experience like early Guitar Hero games had, this was a nice change from simply slogging through the setlists but perhaps it would’ve been nice to have the character start out at small town raves and work up towards the world tour, rather than start out in Ibiza. Creating a sense of character growth could be a nice addition for the inevitable third entry into the series (which I welcome.)

From a gameplay standpoint, the game plays almost identical to the predecessor. Notes flow down the track and you must either tap the buttons, slide the fader, or scratch in sync with what’s on the screen. Nothing has changed in that regard but some gameplay tweaks have taken place which amp the game up another level, and really make the first game obsolete in my mind. Remember how in the first game you could select a sample package prior to each level – then spam the red button to play a selected sample in certain sections? Thankfully, that is now gone from the game – and in its place is a totally revamped freestyle mode which extends beyond the red button. The section where you can spam the red button are back in the game, but with samples that fit each song appropriately for any given section, so gone is the out of place British male voice declaring something as ‘Fresh’. This time though, you don’t get points only for hitting the button as often as possible, rather you get graded based on how well your samples fit into the beat and tune of the song. Freestlying isn’t limited to the samples only however, as now during specific highlighted section of songs you can freestyle your mix as far as the fader. Timing here is also important, as each song has specific section that are best suited to being heard at any given time – so it’s up to you whether you want to hit all these marks or take on the minimalist DJ role and hit the opposite; and yes your skill is graded and scored appropriately. Additionally, freestyle scratching is here as well – and depending on the method in which you scratch the sound appropriately matches it. These additions really make the game that much more enjoyable – and propel DJ Hero 2 to some new levels of entertainment. It’s hard to not smile and move your body while playing the game, even if Rhianna and Lady Gaga are not on your listening list.

Graphical tweaks are much more subtle and slight, and mostly relegated to the menu system which received a great overhaul. The interface lost a lot of its clumsiness and is much more streamlined and easy to navigate. The clubs and background during gameplay were upgraded slightly, and characters have great movements and the light sequencing makes the dancers all look like they are genuinely having a great time.

If you already enjoyed DJ Hero and want some more of the same, only greatly improved – pick up DJ Hero 2 you will not be disappointed. New comers who don’t have the hardware but want to see what the game is about should be encouraged to try the game out – at the very least hit an in store demo somewhere to see what you think before buying it – but fans of the music game genre would be hard pressed to not get their money’s worth when buying this game. For those on the fence, DJ Hero 1 can be found with hardware for quite cheap now – and as mentioned is 100% compatible with DJ Hero 2.

An already great game engine gets some fantastic upgrades in the form of freestyle modes making a good game even better. As long as the series evolves (and not in the form of Battle Pigs), DJ Hero is a very welcome Hero series.

Platform reviewed: Xbox 360

— Jeff Paramchuk

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