While it might not have achieved the commercial success Activision was hoping for when it was released last year, DJ Hero did manage to breathe new life into a music rhythm genre that was beginning to choke on a growing number of plastic guitars. For that reason, rightfully so, Activision didn’t give up on its talented rookie and now developer FreeStyleGames returns to the stage looking to turn up the party with DJ Hero 2.
DJ Hero 2 successfully improves on the original DJ Hero in a number of ways. First and foremost is gameplay. There are minor additions, like button holds for elongated track effects, but the most significant enhancement is the new freestyle sections that allow virtual DJs to make the music their own. There are freestyle scratch sections, where you can scratch back and forth as you choose; freestyle crossfade sections, where you can isolate and mix the tracks to your liking; and freestyle sample sections. The freestyle sample sections were available in the original DJ Hero, but there were only a handful of samples to choose from (Flavor Flav’s signature expressions being my go-to sample) and eventually I grew tired of hearing “Yeah Boyee!” over and over again. In DJ Hero 2, the samples are track-specific and are implemented more effectively.
Empire is the first ever career mode in a DJ Hero game. In Empire mode, you’ll travel to cities around the world and complete a series of challenges at each stop, challenges that include playing a megamix, completing a short set list, or competing in a DJ battle with some of the best mixers in the business; including David Guetta, Deadmau5 and RZA (sorry fans, no Daft Punk this time around, I guess they were too busy with the title track for TRON: Legacy, but one of their songs is featured on the soundtrack). As you earn points at each destination, you’ll unlock new venues and challenges, as well as playable DJs like those mentioned above. Other game modes include Megamix, where you can play any of the megamixes that you’ve unlocked in Empire mode; Quickplay, where you can queue up your own set list to play through; and DJ Battle.
DJ Battle features six competitive multiplayer modes for two DJs to do battle in. Goals vary from one mode to the next. In Stars Battle, the goal is simply to accumulate the most points. In Streak, the winner is the DJ who banks the highest note streak (you record a note streak by pressing the Euphoria button). There’s an interesting risk/reward dynamic going on in Streak mode, as players choose whether to bank a winnable note streak or risk trying to increase it even further. In Accumulator, the object is to bank the highest total note streak. In Checkpoint, the tracks are broken into checkpoints and it’s your job to win more checkpoints than your opponent. With the variety found within, DJs of all skill levels are sure to find a DJ Battle mode that’s up their alley; all of which can be played locally or online.
If you prefer mixing tracks with your friends as opposed to against them, the Party Play mode first seen in Guitar Hero 5 makes its appearance in DJ Hero 2. In Party Play, a second player can drop-in and out at any time without interrupting the track. Both DJs scratch the same sections of the track. Hopefully in the future, if a DJ Hero 3 is in the cards, we might get a co-operative mode where two DJs actually scratch, crossfade and sample independently of one another.
“Two turntables and a microphone” has been one of the mottos leading up to the release of DJ Hero 2. We’ve already talked about the two turntables part, now let’s touch on the microphone. Yes, you can plug in a microphone and sing the lyrics to any of the mixes on the soundtrack. Is it as easy as other music rhythm games to sing? No. You might know the lyrics to one or both songs featured in the mix, but I guarantee you don’t know how the tracks have been mashed together. It can be a little awkward to have to switch back and forth between the lyrics of each song, especially in mixes where the pitch of the two tracks are quite different. It’s good for an initial laugh, but I’m not sold on it being a necessary addition to the franchise. I will say this much, it’s a far better alternative than the guitar/turntable duets of the original DJ Hero. Those were downright awful.
The most important aspect of any music rhythm game is the soundtrack. While DJ Hero featured a solid soundtrack, DJ Hero 2 offers an even better one. The selection of artists and tracks is more diverse this time around, and the mixes that much better. You’ve got your current club hits like Flo Rida’s “Low,” “Nothing on You” from B.o.B featuring Bruno Mars, Eminem’s “Not Afraid” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance, to classic hip hop and rap tracks like Snoop Dog’s “What’s My Name,” Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” “Nasty” from Janet Jackson, Snow’s “Informer,” “Jump Around” from House of Pain, Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It;” the list goes on and on (80+ mash-ups from 100+ songs from 80+ artists). From a visual standpoint, DJ Hero 2 sports a look that’s both much cleaner and more informative than the original DJ Hero. I do wish there were more customization options when it comes to personalizing your DJ, their look, logo and turntable, but at least Xbox 360 owners of the game can use their Avatar as their DJ if they so desire.
DJ Hero 2 improves upon its predecessor in every way. The Empire mode adds depth to the single player experience; freestyle scratching, sampling and crossfading adds an empowering new layer to gameplay; and the inclusion of Party Play and the DJ Battle multiplayer modes adds that social element that was sorely lacking from the original. Toss in a killer set list and you’ve got one of the best music rhythm games released this year. If you enjoyed DJ Hero or are a fan of this style of music, you really need to give DJ Hero 2 a spin.