Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: DJ Hero

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Developer: FreeStyleGames
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2009
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii, PS2
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

0:00 I really wanted to play this game at E3 but the Activision booth techs refused to let me for some reason. The company didn't send me a copy of the $120 game for review, either, so I guess I'd better try it out while I'm up here at the Crispy Gamer offices before I decide whether to plunk down my cash.

0:01 Even before I start the game, I don't know how to hold the controller. Do the buttons go on the left or the right? Does it matter?

0:02 An animated scene of a dystopian city, with a crumbling edifice. A young DJ with big headphones looks through green-tinted binoculars (night vision, perhaps?). His Russian-style hat flaps in the wind as he jumps on a robot/monster that looks like a giant record needle. He steers it with some huge handle as a trucker in a big red big rig drives right at him. They crash, and the trucker jumps out at the last minute, joining the Russian-hatted DJ atop the robot/monster. A green eyed guy in a hoodie plugs a cable into skyscraper-sized speakers, which let out a huge shockwave that knocks over the robot/monster and wrecks large sections of winding highway. Russian hat guy grabs some vinyl as he falls through the air, handing it off to another DJ before he lands. Thousands of people litter the highway, cheering for some reason. The title appears. I ... I have no idea what just happened.

0:04 "Attention: Here's what's happening," says a message window. Apparently what's happening is, the game is loading. That required an "Attention"?

0:05 A remix of "Another One Bites the Dust" and some song I don't recognize plays over the menu. Let's "Learn to DJ." "Hey, it's your boy DJ Grandmaster Flash, the first guy to make the turntable an instrument." Wow, he's a bit of a braggart just because he happened to invent scratching. "I'm gonna teach you everything you need to learn about being a DJ, so listen up very carefully and let's get started." He suggests putting the turntable controller somewhere "like a lap, or a table ... anything that works for you!" I think putting a turntable on your lap might be the least hip-hop thing I've ever heard.

DJ Hero

0:07 First up is "Taps." Just hit the three buttons on the record platter when the colored blobs reach the area at the bottom of the screen, just like Guitar Hero. Of course, the tutorial dresses it up by telling me to activate "DJ actions" when the "music source" reaches the "hit zone."

0:09 When I finally get control, I hit every note in the super-easy 30-second section of the "Another One Bites the Dust" remix. The other song seems kind of familiar ... is it Daft Punk, perhaps? "Hey whoa, that was pretty good. You picked that up pretty fast!" Thanks, Mr. Flash? Or can I call you Grandmaster?

0:10 "So let's get you started on continuous scratches." Yes, let's. Basically I have to hold the button and scratch the platter up and down for the duration of the section. Seems simple enough.

0:12 Well, it wasn't quite as simple as I thought. The speed of the scratching is apparently important ... too fast or too slow and it doesn't quite register. I have trouble getting the game to think I'm starting and stopping at exactly the right times, too. "Yo listen DJ. I'm really feeling ya. I think you're ready for the next one." I do too, Grandmaster. I do too.

0:13 "The crossfader is the slider part on the turntable controllllaaaaaaah. If the left stream moves to the left, you're gonna move the slider to the left position. If the right stream moves to the right, you're gonna move the slider to the right position ... are you still with me? This ain't like learning trigonometry or calculus ... you just gotta stay cool and stay with it." I could listen to Mr. Flash here talk all day ... he has such a unique, lackadaisical style.

0:15 Crispy Gamer's own Andre Srinivasan has been watching the whole time as I plod through this tutorial. "The game doesn't really encourage creativity," he says. "Not yet, at least," I reply as I make it through another simple section of the tutorial. I like the way the slider feels when I slam it to the left or right, but getting it back to the center is unnecessarily tough. There's a little divot for the slider to sit in, but it's way too easy to go past it accidentally. Grumble.

0:17 The last section mixes up all the stuff I've already learned in a relatively simple mix. "Yo DJ, you definitely did your thing, you did your thing, which is good because it sets you up with the basic setlist." I can play that or move on to Advanced Tutorial. Despite the possibility of listening to the Grandmaster talk more, I decide to dive into the actual game.

0:20 The "Scratching the Surface" set is up first. It has three mixes comprising six total songs. I don't recognize any of them by name, except the one I just did ... it was Daft Punk ... "Da Funk"! I knew it!

0:21 My default character is Jugglernort, a Mexican wrestler with a beer belly. I can customize his outfit, headphones, desks, deck skin and samples. Wow, I really don't care. Where shall I scratch: The Krunk House or Block Party? I don't know what a Krunk House is, so Block Party it is. Beginner, Easy and Medium are my difficulty choices. The other two require five earned stars to unlock. Oh well ... Medium I guess.

0:22 "Rewinds are key to big high scores," says the loading screen. What's a rewind? Maybe I should have done that Advanced Tutorial...

0:32 I got 11 out of 15 possible stars and hit 94 percent of my notes. Not bad for a first-timer, eh? After a "Perfect Start" I find most sections of the songs are characterized by a complete lack of stuff to do. This gives me plenty of time to learn as I go. When the game says "Euphoria Ready" I notice a glowing red button on the controller -- that activates a score doubler. Crispy CEO Chris Heldman and Editor Ryan Kuo walk in during the epic-length set. Kuo tells me how to use Rewind to repeat a section by spinning the turntable back violently, and how to bend sections with an orange bridge over them for a multiplier. All in all, I like it, but it could stand to be a bit harder.

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0:34 The "Party Rockin" mix matches Gorillaz with Blondie. Nice! There are other songs in the mix, but I edit them out. I then move on down to the newly unlocked Hard difficulty.

0:37 Holy crap, Hard is a LOT harder than Medium. The game's throwing all sorts of quick scratches combined with multiple button presses and slider moves simultaneously. I'm still having major problems centering the slider easily, made all the worse now that I have to do it quickly and frequently. Just making sense of the mess of stuff on-screen is tough, too. I only got two stars out of five, but somehow I didn't fail out (is that even possible?). I really enjoyed the musical mix, even though my playing made it sound horrible for the most part.

0:38 The "Digging Deeper" set has the Jackson 5 and Third Eye Blind combined. How can I say no to that? After a bit of consideration, I decide I'd rather be challenged by Hard difficulty than bored by Medium difficulty.

0:43 This mix was quite a bit easier ... there were long sections where I hit a lot of notes. I even mixed a Euphoria in there, which mercifully handled my crossfading for a while. I end up with three stars, 88-percent hits. The toughest part is still the crossfader, partly because of the centering, but partly because reading the shifting lines aren't natural for me yet. My natural inclination is to hit the buttons rather than the crossfader. I feel like I'm learning how to use the bass pedal in Rock Band for the first time all over again. That said, when it's working I really feel like I'm in control of the song. The scratches and button presses and fades match extremely well with what I hear in the mix.

DJ Hero

0:44 The holy grail of hip-hop mixes is there, under "Hip Hop Rules": "Ice Ice Baby" and "U Can't Touch This" ... aka the Kyle's Best of Fifth Grade mix. Let's do it!

0:49 An awful two-star performance on 83-percent hits. Almost all my problems are being caused by the touchy crossfader. I'm also still losing my combos at the beginning and end of scratches, when the game isn't sensitive enough to tell I've started my scratch in time. Grumble.

0:55 After playing a mix of "Hollaback Girl" and "Give It to Me Baby," I realize that having knowledge of the songs you're playing doesn't really help at all, since the mix makes them unrecognizable. It's not like Rock Band, where knowing the beat and the generalities of each part can help you stumble through. You need to know the specifics of the mix here.

0:58 Just finished my favorite mix so far: Eminem's "My Name Is" with Beck's "Loser." The hardest part seems to be doing nothing when I feel like there should be a crossfade. I'm getting good with the freestyle sampling sections. Rapidly tapping the red button lets out a "Y-y-y-y-y-yeah booooyeeeeeeee!" which gets a laugh out of Heldman.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? The touchy crossfader and scratching controls are just enough to stop me from shelling out $120, but I'm definitely interested in playing more while it's free and available here.

This column is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.