Monday, October 12, 2009
DJ Hero? More Like Passable DJ
Last Sunday, I stopped by my local GameStop to check out DJ Hero; the latest entry in the field of Pretend Musician Gaming. With this turntable sim, Activision is hoping to capture the attention of guitar heros and rock bandateers as well as a previously untapped market of music fans who like beats to their sweet guitar solos. They're throwing a lot of weight behind the game; talking up it's pre-sale numbers, hiring Jay-Z and Eminem as spokesmen, and buying up companies with competing DJ games and then firing half the staff. DAMN, guys! This game must be totally amazing!
After spending about fifteen minutes with the game, my gamer-sense detected a potential chink in the armor of this supposed juggernaut.
A semi-informed review after the jump...
After the initial thrill of discovering the new set of reflexes it takes to fade between tracks and scratch the little plastic turntable, I found myself thinking "this would be a lot more fun if this mix was any good." I don't want to pretend to be a DJ who mixes passable mashups of trashy pop hits and oldies; I want to pretend to be a DJ HERO! I played three demo tracks; "Hollaback Girl" vs Rick James' "Give It To Me", "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" vs "Feel Good Inc", and a third track I can't remember because, hey! it wasn't very memorable.
The DJ hero setlist includes tons of awesome artists mixed two at a time into "93 exclusive mixes". So who is actually mixing these mixes? They have a lot of professional DJs contributing tracks (DJ Shadow was the only one I knew or cared about), though I can't quite see pros bringing their A material to a children's video game. Go check out the DJ Hero website, and you'll notice something conspicuously absent; a music player that allows you to preview a few of these 93 exclusive mixes. The closest I could find is this video clip of a guest mix by Daft Punk, and even that is unimpressive.
A big part of what was great about previous Music Sim games is that they have all of music history to pull their setlists from, so the game isn't just about perfecting your twitch reflects, but also about enjoying cool tunes (Breaking the Wheel not withstanding). Knowing and loving a song also makes gameplay more intuitive, and sells the illusion that mashing plastic buttons is actually producing the musical artistry coming through your speakers.
It's definitely fun to pretend to scratch, but just because you can mix two songs doesn't necessarily mean you should. It's fun to listen to a DJ mix songs live because it's cool and technically impressive, even if you wouldn't want to listen to it over and over again. The kind of mixology that I DO like listening to over and over again falls into a more repetitive groove, and wouldn't make great gameplay. DJ hero feels more like a standard rhythm game where you're simply sitting on the couch with a stationary controller, and the gratification is getting your reflexes up to par. It doesn't capture the thrill of feeling like you are producing a work of musical art.
So from my limited demo playing experience, I don't see DJ Hero reinventing the Guitar Hero wheel. The wow factor that you got the first time you played Guitar Hero, or the first time you started pounding away on the Rock Band drums is simply not present. All the type and guest stars Activision can buy ultimately can't account for a music sim without great music. Of course it's possible they just picked three mediocre tracks for the demo, and there's some other really mind blowing stuff deeper in.
Probably not as mind blowing as this, though.