Developer TransGaming Inc. knows that even with all the will in the world, it can't compete with the likes of publishing behemoth Activision and DJ Hero. Instead, Armin Van Buuren: In the Mix walks a different path. Rather than calling it a rhythm game, TransGaming is calling In the Mix a "DJ simulator," allowing gamers to create their own bespoke mixes and play them at some of the world's best superclubs. A unique user interface has been created to accomplish this, combining a traditional note chart with four decks, crossfaders, and a whole host of knobs to twiddle.
Seeing the UI for the first time is initially confusing, but an in-depth tutorial mode guides you through its features. A circular tunnel sits in the centre of the screen, with four lines surrounding it that pulsate to the beat, acting as a metronome. Each corner contains a turntable; the bottom two contain the two tracks you are mixing together, while the top two contain effects and samples that you can drop in on top of the main track. To get your mix started, you point to one of the bottom two decks, bringing up a tracklisting. Once you start playing a track, a stream of colours flows from the turntable to the centre of the tunnel, letting you know it's active. You can then cue up another track on the opposite turntable and mix it in with the crossfader.
Though all the tracks are already at the same beats per minute, you have to play a small minigame that simulates beat matching in order for them to play in time. Two rapidly spinning disks marked with a black line on one side pop up in the centre of the screen. You have to stop them so the two lines match up, giving you a correct beat match. You're then free to fiddle with the crossfader, cutting in beats or mixing the track in fully. Periodically, icons pop up in the stream of music playing, which signify the action you have to perform. These include crossfading, psyching up the crowd by punching the air or clapping in time with the music, and adding effects. You add these by selecting the upper left deck, where you can select from such effects as filters, delays, and choruses. You can also add in samples by selecting the upper right decks, including vocal stabs, drum loops, and instruments, such as pianos and guitars.
The bulk of the gameplay lies in the Career mode, where you try to mix your way up to DJ stardom. You start off with a basic equipment set of two turntables and a mixer, playing house parties and small clubs. As you progress, you earn money for gigs, which you can put toward buying new equipment, such as headphones, four-channel mixers, and effects units. Items, such as headphones, make certain gameplay elements like beat matching easier, while bigger venues may ask you to have better equipment before you're allowed to play at them. Before each gig, you have to compile your setlist, which must consist of a minimum of two songs. An element of strategy is involved in song selection because each venue has a certain demographic of people that frequent it. For example, a venue may contain a higher ratio of women than men. In this case, selecting tracks that are known to resonate better with women, will give you a higher score at the end of your set.
In addition to the Career mode, there's a Party mode, which allows you to mix tracks and add in effects, without any challenges to complete. There is about seven hours of music to play with, consisting of many of Van Buuren's tracks, as well as many from his favourite artists. If you get bored with the song selection, then you can create your own using the studio. You can use any of the game's samples to build up a song in a simple eight-channel multitrack, where you can cut elements in and out at will, layering up sounds to make the next dance-floor anthem. Sadly, the songs you create aren't available to use in the Career mode, but you can drop them into your mixes at will in the Party mode.
In the Mix's visuals are bright and colourful, with the sound streams that emanate from your decks reminiscent of the wacky visualisations you usually find in media players on the PC. The crowds you play to are less impressive, with many identical character models and wooden dance moves being used, which makes the crowd look like a bunch of strange zombie dancers. However, they don't detract from the core gameplay, which looks to be a unique take on the rhythm genre. Budding DJs can start dropping beats when the game is released August 21 on the Wii. Look out for a full review on GameSpot soon.