In the primitive yesteryear of 2009, humble developer FreeStyleGames went beyond downloadable content for Guitar Hero and set to work on their brainchild: DJ Hero was born. It was a ton of fun to play between the soundtrack, innovative peripheral, and the same effective imagining of a DJ star that Guitar Hero does with wannabe rock legends. The big drawbacks were the lack of multiplayer appeal that made Guitar Hero shine as well as a hefty price tag.
These problems unfortunately lent themselves to weaken sales figures, but that didn’t deter Activision. Now DJ Hero 2 has hit shelves exactly a year later and refines, tweaks, and hones the formula for another memorable, thoroughly entertaining, and notably more social experience.
The single player of DJ Hero 2 has essentially been given an aesthetic facelift, although given the nature of gameplay in music simulator games there isn’t much else to do. The first DJ Hero was basically just a series of set lists interchangeable with quickplay in another music game, but DJ Hero 2 makes an effort to distinguish its new “Empire” single player. Empire sees the player on a road to DJ glory as you travel through different cities, play specific set lists, unlock stars to proceed to new venues, and fight boss battles against rival DJs. One of the more clever ideas is the ability to unlock specialized power deck turntables that modify the gameplay, such as increasing the base scoring.
Gameplay itself keeps everything that worked about the first DJ Hero intact. The peripheral is still small, portable and can easily be adjusted for left or right-handedness. You still have the three stream buttons and the turntable is still used to “scratch” the track. There are a couple of new scratching motions but the game maintains most of the essential features including the score-boosting Euophoria and rewind tracks. Movements, scratching, and stream buttons continue to be responsive and seamless no matter what difficulty you might be playing on.
The only persisting problem is that the Crossfader on the DJ peripheral is still hypersensitive. When playing you need to be extremely careful about the middle point on the Crossfader because it’s easy to miss it by an inch, mess up a long note streak, and spend a few crucial seconds fumbling to get your Crossfader to where it needs to be. As with the first DJ Hero it takes some time to get used to how sensitive it is and once you learn to not apply too much force it won’t be an issue, but it can still miss the middle from time to time.
DJ Hero 2 doesn’t leave newcomers to the series behind as the tutorial from the first game also returns. What makes both DJ Hero games so effective is that, despite the daunting-looking new peripheral, it’s very easy to pick up. I played this with a friend who had no experience in DJ Hero and after just a few tutorial sessions he was comfortably playing on medium difficulty. As a result, DJ Hero 2 is not only an excellent sequel for returning veterans but also a great opportunity for newcomers to the DJ rhythm simulator to jump in.
The soundtrack features predominantly hip-hop but offers a fair amount of pop and electronic music across the 82 mash-ups. In addition to hip hop icons Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West there are songs from pop superstar Lady Gaga as well as the likes of Rihanna, the Jackson 5, and Nelly. Music taste is subjective and I’m hardly a pop fan but most of the songs are well-applied to the game in the mixes, and DJ Hero 2 makes a good effort to diversify its offerings without spreading the song lists and genres too thin.
Multiplayer has undergone the biggest changes in DJ Hero 2. The completely unnecessary ability for a second player to use a guitar in multiplayer has been nixed altogether and DJ Hero 2 now offers singing. If you’re thinking that this replaces one useless gimmick with another and that if we wanted to sing we’d be playing Rock Band 3, you’re more or less on the mark. Since DJ Hero 2 has tracks that don’t have any vocals at all your singer may feel just a little neglected. As for DJs themselves, turntable peripherals are now sold separately and there are bundles of two peripherals and a microphone available, so you no longer have to buy two copies of DJ Hero 2 in order to get two turntables.
On a much more positive note, Party Play from Guitar Hero 5 makes a fantastic debut where the game continually runs songs, allowing players to alter the difficulty and jump in and out at any time. There are also competitive multiplayer modes, although they’re much more entertaining than the grossly unbalanced Battle Modes from Guitar Hero. The competitive modes actually reward your playing skills rather than getting a power-up that instantly cripples the other player. My favorite example of this is separating the song into different segments, with each player trying to get the highest score on each segment. Online play is thoughtful enough to include a level-up system where you gain experience, which adds more depth to online matches.
DJ Hero 2 isn’t as groundbreaking as its predecessor but FreeStyleGames maintains a working formula and polishes rough spots. It’s still a pricey investment but the vastly superior social aspect of the game makes DJ Hero 2 a much more capable competitor to other music simulator games, and the overall experience is as fun and enjoyable as ever. Whether your friends are familiar with the series or just joining the party, DJ Hero 2 is a blast.
Everything about the presentation is colorful and energetic, and single player has been given a much more unique look rather than being several set lists
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The fundamentals of DJ Hero 2 are largley unaltered for the better, keeping the successful formula that made DJ Hero work so well last year
The mixes all sound excellent and fitting for a DJ atmosphere, even if you prefer some artists and tracks over others
There's a reasonable amount of fun in single player, but the social experience is has been upped significantly in DJ Hero 2
DJ Hero 2 takes the logical next step for a music simulator by improving and developing the formula for another successful and enjoyable game