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Review: DJ Hero is a standout in overcrowded field of music video games

November 27, 2009 |  7:00 am

Like the Guitar Hero games it's based on, "DJ Hero" requires gamers to tap a colored button at just the right time. Credit: Activision

Grandmaster Flash. DJ Shadow. Z-Trip.

Most hip-hop heads revere these names as turntable legends. But it’s likely most video gamers have no clue who these guys are.

Activision, the publisher of the highly successful Guitar Hero franchise, is hoping to change that with its new title, DJ Hero.

The music and mixes of these notable turntablists are featured in the game along with more than 100 licensed songs, which make up more than 90 unique mixes.

Having a familiarity with actual DJing is not necessary to enjoy DJ Hero.

In fact, DJ Hero replicates the work of a real DJ about as much as Guitar Hero replicates what a real guitarist does -- which is to say not much at all.

But that’s not the point.

Simple, straightforward is what DJ Hero is about, and it succeeds in...

...offering some very fulfilling game play.

A clever plastic turntable and mixer, bundled with the game, make up your controller.

The format of DJ Hero is basically the same as its Guitar Hero forebears.

As music plays, you’ll see a record with a colored music stream coming toward you on-screen.

Red, blue and green prompts run down the record, telling you which button to press on the turntable in time with the music.

For scratches, you move the turntable's record back and fourth while holding one of its three colored buttons.

A cross fader on the attached mixer is used to switch between the tracks that make up mixes from the previously mentioned DJs as well as other notable musicians like DJ Jazzy Jeff, Cut Chemist and the late DJ AM.

When the mixer's cross fader is in its center position, the audio from both songs play.

Pushing the fader either left or right shuts out the sound from one of the mix’s songs.

The more accurate you are able to move the fader, scratch the record and press buttons in time with the on-screen prompts, the more points you are awarded.

You’re also given stars that rate the quality of your performance, which can be used to buy clothing and new equipment for your DJ avatar on-screen. And, of course, all this helps you unlock new venues to play in and new tracks to mix.

The game's "easy" and "medium" settings are welcoming and should allow anyone to be able to jump in and play with ease, making DJ Hero ideal for house parties just as Guitar Hero and its competitor Viacom’s Rock Band have been -- just ask any college student.

The "expert" difficulty is much tougher and probably will appeal more to die-hard Guitar Hero fans.

The music in DJ Hero is also broad enough in appeal that almost everyone should find something here he or she likes.

For example, rock and hip-hop group N.E.R.D. is mashed with jazz great Herbie Hancock in one level of the game. On other tracks, the Foo Fighters are mashed with the Beastie Boys, and 50 Cent plays off of David Bowie.

Activision is promising downloadable content for DJ Hero in the coming months, so more diverse mixes should be on their way.

It all adds up to DJ Hero being a standout in the overly crowded of genre that is music video games.

At about $119.99, DJ Hero doesn’t come cheap. But for music lovers and those looking for a game to center a house part on, DJ Hero should be money well spent.

A Renegade Edition of the game is available for about $199.99, which includes a carrying case for the game and its turntable-mixer controller and a double CD featuring a “best of” selection of songs and a couple of previously unreleased tracks from Jay-Z and Eminem.

The carrying case doubles as a small table to put your turntable on, which is nice, but none of this seems to me to justify the $80 premium in price.

DJ Hero is available on Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and the aging PlayStation 2.

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles