DJ Hero Hands-On: Bring That Beat Back

I'll admit to having a bit of DJ Hero phobia, at least prior to my hands-on time with Activision and FreeStyleGames' turntable title. Guitar Hero and Rock Band I get, having played the drums and guitar. But doing the wicky-wicky?

It didn't help that the note highway on DJ Hero's interface isn't as easily deciphered as Guitar Hero's, glowing lines shifting left and right, arrows on each track pointing up and down. Even after Crecente's first hands-on experience with the game, I was a bit confused as to how it would all work.

But the game's tutorial is thorough, and after a few minutes of help from Grandmaster Flash, DJ Hero makes perfect sense from a control standpoint. It also helps illustrate how the game's soundtrack—comprised entirely of mash-ups—was created, as the on-screen cues and commands feel more in-synch with what the player does with the game's proprietary controller.

It's actually quite simple in concept. Tap or hold the green button when prompted on record one, the green line. Tap or hold the blue one for any note highway jewels for record two, the blue line. The centre red button cues up sample sounds, which triggers audio from a pre-selected sample pack. We had a Flavor Flav pack loaded in our demo, filled with colourful Flav comments like "Yeah, boyeee" and "Check this out!"

And those lines shifting left and right require similar movements with the controller's crossfader. If the blue note highway angles left, flip the crossfader left, then centre it or shift it right if indicated.

Those arrows pointing up and down on the green and blue note highways require the player to scratch the platter—while also depressing the correct button—twisting it up and down. In easy and normal difficulties, that's simpler, just scratch however you want, as long as you're shifting the platter up and down. On hard and expert, those scratches need to occur in the right direction, just as they were performed in the original mixing of the track.

We watched FreeStyleGames' Jamie Jackson put his turntablism skills to use in a mix of "My Name Is" by Eminem and "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" by Jay-Z. He went expert on a song he said was "easy expert." It was impressive. But still a little confusing.

When we went hands-on, it was with the Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" mixed with Benny Benassi's "Satisfaction," an enjoyable mix. That's largely true for much of DJ Hero's soundtrack. As long as you like one of the songs, whether that's Jay Z's "H.O.V.A.," the Jackson 5's "ABC," or DJ Shadow or Daft Punk you're probably going to enjoy the mash-ups that DJ Hero has to offer.

Still, there was a bit of awkwardness in getting up to speed with the controller. It's not as intuitive as Guitar Hero, requiring button pressing dexterity, platter rotation, crossfading and quick movements of your left hand to play properly. Plus, keeping your fingers situated on the platter itself can be a challenge while also rotating it. But it's fun. And I've only played one and a half songs.

While I may not be investing in a copy of DJ Hero myself—I'm already over stuffed with plastic instruments, thanks—that doesn't mean I might not want to. DJ Hero feels like a great variation on the rhythm game genre, one that's doing enough to make it feel different enough to warrant a new set of hand-eye coordination skills and clearly comes with ample challenge.

We'll see if I buckle when the game ships this fall.


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