In the midst of the Guitar Hero onslaught of 2009, which saw the release of five separate Guitar Hero titles, Activision released DJ Hero, a surprisingly original rhythm game. DJ Hero was developed by FreeStyleGames and brought the art of turntablism to video game consoles in a fun and unique way.
Now, Activision and FreeStyleGames are back at it with DJ Hero 2. Does DJ Hero 2 improve upon the original outing and once again breathe new life into the crowded rhythm genre? Check out the full review below.
DJ Hero 2 does not stray far from the original game's winning formula. It capitalizes on what made the original great without changing things drastically. This isn’t to say it is just a rehash or expansion. DJ Hero 2 is a smoother and more fulfilling experience that makes needed changes, but never feels different for the sake of being different.
The opening video looks like an Apple commercial and sets the tone and style of the game, which is modern, fresh, and well organized. In fact, one of the biggest improvements in DJ Hero 2 is the organization of the menus, mixes, and modes. Gone are the days of scrolling through one giant wheel of setlists and game modes. The main menu of DJ Hero is clean and gets straight to the point.
The game does a great job of welcoming newcomers by asking a series of questions up front to make sure it gets things right. This allows gamers to bypass the options menu and jump right into scratching records. It also provides a series of tutorials for those that need a little bit of practice or want to take their mixes to the next level. The tutorials begin with the fundamentals of DJ Hero 2 and gradually build up to lessons that only experts will be able to complete.
DJ Hero 2 is slick, but the big question is whether the gameplay remains enjoyable or not. The answer is an emphatic YES! The refreshing and addicting rhythm gameplay elements are back from the first, along with an extra dose of style. As the game progresses, it becomes continually more evident how rich the experience is. Hold Notes, which were strangely absent in the original DJ Hero, make their debut and add variety to the mixes.
However, the biggest single area of improvement in DJ Hero 2 is the amount and quality of Freestyling sections. In DJ Hero, the Freestyle sections were boring and generally resulted in the player mindlessly spamming the red button until the section was over. Now, the Freestyle sections have variety and encourage players to truly express themselves and mold the mix to their liking. The original Freestyle Sampling still exists, but instead of preselected generic samples, the game automatically provides samples that sound good and fit the context of the song.
Another completely new feature is Freestyle Crossfading, which momentarily takes away all worries of missing notes or losing multipliers and allows DJs to find a groove and manipulate the track to their liking. These sections give players full control over crossfading and allows them to inject their style into the mix.
The last and perhaps coolest freestyle element is Scratching. During Freestyle Scratch segments, the game leaves the speed and sound of the scratch up to the player. It is really fun trying to recreate all the different scratch sounds and rhythms and the game does a great job of making it feel realistic. These small improvements, taken together, make a huge difference in the game, and advances the franchise. Players feel more in control and more like a real DJ.
When the setlist was first announced for DJ Hero 2, some gamers were turned off by the fact that it was mostly comprised of modern rap hits, along with a spattering of electronic and classic hip-hop tracks. However, each mix in the game incorporates at least two songs, often more, in clever ways that feel more authentic than the limited mixes from the first game. The mixes are definitely greater than the sum of their parts.
The career based Empire Mode is the feature Activision pushed most in DJ Hero 2. It was advertised as story and character driven, but the final result is not much more than a glorified menu update. Yes, there are almost 20 DJs, each with several outfits to choose from, DJ symbols, group names, and several different venues to play at, but none of this improves the game or immerses the player. None of the venues are notable or creative and they all feel the same.
Empire Mode is supposed to give gamers the feeling of starting out, having to make a name for themselves, and eventually taking over the DJ world. Instead, as the game progresses from venue to venue, there are no noticeable differences, and not even cut-scenes to flesh out the story. The lack of inspiration in Empire Mode is the biggest problem with the game, but it does not tarnish the experience.
In contrast to Empire Mode, the other modes in DJ Hero 2 really nail what they were going for. Quickplay is flawless and makes navigating the large number of mixes a breeze. They can be sorted by complexity, BPM, and numerous other criteria, and each mix has the option of being “liked” a la Facebook, which makes finding favorite tracks easier. In addition, the game gives the option of creating and saving setlists that can contain as many as 20 mixes.
The Megamix mode is fairly short, but gives DJ aficionados something solid to sink their teeth into. Megamixes are special themed setlists that contain three or four mixes that all revolve around a celebrity DJ. Each of the six setlists is a blast and feature the likes of RZA, Deadmau5, and Tiesto. These make for a great bonus after completing Empire Mode.
This time around, the online features are robust and fun. There are a host of game types besides the typical “score as many points as possible” games, and they definitely increase DJ Hero 2's replay value. In Checkpoint Battles the object is to hit as high a percentage of notes as possible before the next checkpoint comes, while Streak pits DJs against each other to see who can score the longest streak. An extra layer of achievements have been added in the form of medals and tags that are unlocked by playing online and completing certain objectives. The tags and medals are a cool way to customize your character and show off how obsessive you are.
For those who would rather play locally with friends, the multiplayer Battle Mode contains all the online mode's game types. In Battle Mode, vocals have been added, though they are not particularly interesting. The vocals consist of lyrics from all of the different songs in the mix and are often confusing and frustrating to perform.
One of the newest and simplest features is Party Play. This type of mode has been done before in other rhythm games, but its implementation in DJ Hero 2 is perfect. During Party Play, the game randomly plays mixes along with videos and allows players to jump in and out with interrupting the music. Difficulty levels and other options can be changed on the fly without ever stopping the music.
DJ Hero 2’s gameplay is fresh and remarkable for what it accomplishes within a simple framework. The difficulty curve is great and will keep players challenged, without overly frustrating them. Graphically, though I never had any major problems with the original DJ Hero’s presentation, DJ Hero 2 shows how much better it could have been.
This sequel takes everything enjoyable from the first entry and tweaks it in all the right ways. The new design and streamlined menu system cleans up the game and gives it an extra level of polish. The freestyle elements add needed personality to the technical gameplay, and Party Play is perfect for entertaining friends. Though Empire Mode falls short with , it does not ruin an otherwise great game. I highly recommend DJ Hero 2. Even players who have grown tired of music games will find that it offers a new and fresh approach to the genre.
DJ Hero 2 is available now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii.
Game Rant reviewed the Xbox 360 version of the game.