Just like the industry that it relies on for sales, the music videogame market has quickly shattered into a bevy of niche products. First was Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, a game for people who like videogames but only want to play one featuring a band that has soundtracked pivotal scenes in Jerry Bruckheimer productions. Then Guitar Hero: Metallica, which appealed to denim-vest wearers. And LEGO: Rock Band, which appeals to fans of plastic men not named Steven Tyler. And don’t forget Beatles: Rock Band, for fans of songs about submersibles.
The most intriguing niche game to emerge in the last year is DJ Hero, a game that aims to do for fake turntablism what Guitar Hero and Rock Band did for fake guitar/drums/bass players. Despite skepticism (my own included) that the game would be nothing other than pressing buttons on a turntable-shaped controller, I found DJ Hero is the most consistently rewarding music videogame since the first Rock Band.
Gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played any plastic-instrument-based videogame, with the turntable controller featuring three colored buttons that are played when they appear on the spinning record onscreen. The crucial difference here, of course, is that the player is asked to scratch (in different directions at higher difficulties) on a full-spin-capable turntable and switch a crossfader back and forth while also pressing the buttons in time. It’s considerably more difficult than playing a fake guitar, largely due to the motions of guitar playing being embedded in our collective consciousness, which probably puts DJ Hero squarely outside of the casual-player zone. Though there is a concession toward casual players: You can’t fail at any song here, your score will just suffer if you can’t play the song the way you’re supposed to.
Players that put the time into mastering tougher moves — like crossfader spikes, sample placement and multi-directional scratching — will discover the nuances in the vast track list (93 songs), which consists of a massive array of songs with unique blends manufactured by the likes of Daft Punk, DJ AM and DJ Shadow. Words cannot describe the sheer awesomeness of playing Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” in a mix, followed by a blend of “U Can’t Touch This,” followed by a clash of Daft Punk and Queen. DJ Hero’s track list towers like a monolith over any of Activisoin’s past titles, setting a new gold standard for how these games should be done (a mix of classics with new original material).
The main drawback to DJ Hero is the lack of multiplayer options, as no more than two people can play at once. There is a guitar-DJ mode, but since it consists of only a handful of tracks, you’ll need a second turntable to play for more than an hour with a pal. There’s also no creative element here; you’re still just playing pre-determined music. And although the price tag (over $100) isn’t recession friendly, but the tremendous track list, the harder difficulty and the fun interface more than make up for the weaknesses.