DJ Hero First Hands-On

We take our first turn on the wheels of steel in Activision's new rhythm game.

by

Even if most people have never played a real guitar before, they usually understand the basics of a Guitar Hero game more or less right away. One hand strums, the other hand frets--it's basic stuff, and most of us have seen enough guitar players to get the basics in the game down after a song or two. The challenge with Activision and Freestyle Games' upcoming DJ Hero is that few people play "air DJ" in their bedrooms while listening to their favorite artists spinning records. As a result, there's a good chunk of people out there for whom playing DJ Hero might double as their first experience ever with the ins and outs of being a DJ.

This means that there's a lot to learn. From mixing tracks and adding effects to wrapping your fingers and wrists around the complicated art of record scratching, there's a lot to explore in DJ Hero, which we got to finally play for the first time last week. And while there is a lot of information to absorb in the early goings, in our experience, it doesn't take much time before you're pumping out the jams with something akin to style in the game's upper difficulty levels.

Certain aspects of the DJ Hero experience will be immediately familiar for GH fans: You've got a note highway onscreen that scrolls along as the tune plays. Colored gems scroll down the highway; each gem corresponds with one of the three buttons on the DJ Hero turntable. The green and blue buttons correspond to the two tracks being mixed together in the DJ Hero track, while the red button plays from a selection of samples you can switch among by turning a knob at any point in a song. As with Guitar Hero, when a gem appears in the note horizon at the bottom of the screen, you press the corresponding button on the turntable. As with GH's two- and three-button chords, you'll often find yourself pressing the left and right button simultaneously while mixing in the sample button liberally as well.

The buttons and onscreen gems follow the basic Guitar Hero flow, but the fader and record-scratching complicate the formula in DJ Hero. The fader switch is part of a snap-on attachment that goes on the turntable and can be attached to either side, which makes it friendly for left-handed DJs. The fader has three positions--left, middle, and right. How you fade between tracks is indicated onscreen by the positioning of the gems along their respective note highways. If the green gem shifts to the left, you move the fader to the left; if the blue gem moves to the right, you move the fader to the right. If either the green or blue gem moves back to center, you move the fader back to its center position--there's a satisfying little click that will indicate when the fade is properly centered.

Scratching is an art all of its own in DJ Hero--one that looks to rival the most difficult Guitar Hero tracks in terms of dexterity requirements. At the basic level, however, scratching is simply a matter of holding down either the green or blue button (as indicated onscreen) on the turntable and moving the turntable back and forth for as long as is required. At the basic difficulty levels, even simple movements will play the complicated scratches that abound in the game. Once you amp up the difficulty level, you'll see specific arrows indicating the direction you need to scratch. You'll also have to be more rhythmically precise by matching the rhythms of the track's scratches with what you do with the turntable.

If you've never spent any time on the wheels of steel--as was the case with us--it takes some time to get used to the basics of scratching. The challenge lies in the fingers you use to move the turntable in relation to the positions of the buttons. The green button is typically pressed by the index finger and the blue button is typically pressed by the ring finger, but there's a difference in control and strength between those two fingers that's very obvious in practice. It's also worth noting the different circumferences and positions of the two buttons on the turntable: The "inside" blue button is closer to the center of the turntable, which makes it slightly more difficult to accurately push the turntable with the blue button held down. The "outside" green button, on the other hand, is positioned further away from center, making it a bit easier to hold down and subsequently push the turntable. That said, there are tricks you can use to offset these problems--like anchoring your thumb to the side of the turntable and using it to power the turntable's movements.

In our time with DJ Hero, we tried songs from a bunch of different difficulty levels, but we started with the beginning tutorial hosted by Grandmaster Flash. Here, you'll be taken through the basics of the note highway, the turntable, and fading, which is all set to a mix of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and Daft Punk's "Da Funk." Once you dive into the proper gameplay, you'll also be able to experiment with the special effects dial, which will let you add envelope effects to the mix at your own discretion during certain sections of songs.

Once we finished the tutorial, we tried songs on every difficulty but expert. At the easy level, you'll be dealing mainly with sampling records via the buttons and the basics of scratching. The medium difficulty adds fading into the gameplay, and getting your hands working together between the buttons and the fader is a challenge, albeit a very fun one. Though we hadn't mastered medium, we wanted to see what the game was like at the hard difficulty level, and as expected, things got much more complicated. It's fair to say that the rapid-fire fading between tracks, complicated button combinations for samples, and directional scratching--sometimes all combined in the same section--left us completely and utterly lost in certain sections. As a result, we didn't even attempt a song at expert level for fear of having our fingers fall off completely.

Even if you might be lost in certain complicated sections of DJ Hero, the party won't end even if you're screwing things up from the DJ booth. The game has a no-fail system throughout, and all you need to do to get back on track after a particularly difficult section is to hit a few correct notes to kick the jam back into high gear more or less immediately. To that end, you'll be able to make setlists of any of the unlocked tunes in the game and even have fun messing around with the samples button in between tunes during your set.

While DJ Hero looks to be fun solo, there will also be some multiplayer modes of note. We got a chance to check out DJ versus DJ gameplay on several songs, which had both DJs spinning it out on individual turntables in a competition for the highest score. Both DJs play the exact same sequences--there's no individual parts swapping from one DJ to the next, and strategic use of euphoria (which is activated by a button that sits right next to the special-effects knob) is essential. Not only does euphoria act as a point modifier, but it also temporarily makes fading automatic, letting you focus just on the turntable scratches and buttons. There will also be a handful of tunes in the game that will let you hook up a guitar accessory and play with your DJ pal--we had a chance to check out a mix of Beastie Boys "Sabotage" and Foo Fighters "Monkey Wrench," which was a good time.

Other mixes we played in the game included: • Marvin Gaye "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" versus Gorillaz "Feel Good Inc." • Gwen Stefani "Hollaback Girl" versus Rick James "Give it to Me" • Benni Benassi "Satisfaction" versus Black Eyed Peas "Boom Boom Pow"

Even if you've never stood on a raised DJ platform and led the way for hundreds of club-goers to dance the night away, you'll still be able to have a good time with DJ Hero. The game's learning curve looks to gently introduce you to the basics while giving able-handed DJs a chance to flex their muscles with some creative and demanding gameplay interpretations of some extremely cool tunes. DJ Hero is due for release on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii in late October, so stay tuned for more on the game in the coming weeks.

Discussion

130 comments
leandrovidotti
leandrovidotti

120 bucks?! Really...? I don't think so... Maybe if it's get a 9.5 meta.

MERGATROYDER
MERGATROYDER

Game looks as bad as I thought it would.

CyberJoy
CyberJoy

a dude i know got more than 5 hundreds G of breakbeat, probably the developer may consult him for a reform of the playlist. i vote krafty kuts, his tracks should be in the playlist. and those trance djs should be erased from it. BT is also a good choice

DDRManiac2003
DDRManiac2003

I'm a big hip-hop fan. I also listen to everything. Out of my 3000+ song library about 1/3 is hip-hop/rap, 1/3 alternative and indie rock, and 1/3 dance and electronic music. I still haven't seen the whole list but I wish it was less oldies tracks and more dance music, Better Off Alone, Ecstasy (DJ Kaycee Rave Mix), Exploration of Space are a few songs that would've been good here. And if they didnt wanna get that rave, they shoulda added some MGMT, Hot Chip, etc.

HollowDarkstar
HollowDarkstar

@mistaicyfresh11: They Don't Care About The Music, Just The Money.

mistaicyfresh11
mistaicyfresh11

better den guitar hero they finally care for my hip hop music woohoo

Aero5555
Aero5555

Daft Punk and a bit of Prydz's stuff would help the game's setlist, it's looking good so far, they demonstrated the controller with "Satisfaction" VS "Boom Boom Pow" @ the Tiesto concert I attended in Athens early July (between the opening acts).

Aero5555
Aero5555

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Metronome1982
Metronome1982

Im a real dj,anyone remember DJ DECKS N FX? that was a proper dj sim,where could actually creat ur own mixes like you can on a real pair of techniques,all it needed was some better tunes but if ur really into house then it was sufficient enough,i made many good mix mini discs and got gigs out of it,this seems to be pre set pop mixes,strictly for the masses im afraid.

ddtigers
ddtigers

This is not for all...if you are a fan of house music and mixes then it is great, if you hate it or are a pure hard rocker then you are not the target for this game. I love house/mixes so I can't wait to play it.

guitarandbanjo
guitarandbanjo

I wonder which guy thought this was a good idea.

MASTERCHIEFUSMA
MASTERCHIEFUSMA

Been waiting for a game like this for ages. Sucks the NA version wont have more dance tracks. Mixes are nice, but just not for me.

Baelath
Baelath

Does anyone else think this looks reaaaally stupid? Honestly, DJ Hero? What's next? Cooking Hero? Makeup Hero? Nrhhn. Stupid Activision.

neonhair
neonhair

it looks painfully expensive

SpinoRaptor24
SpinoRaptor24

A cheap, Guitar Hero ripoff made by none other than Activision. lol @ anyone who actully buys this.

rinnr
rinnr

the game looks fun but like i said before...its for 12 year olds. and yes, when your advertising your game as a "dj-ing" game, then you need it to be even a little realistic...first of all...mixing is a small part of real DJing. its probably the most fun, but nowhere near the most important. thats why i'll pick up Scratch. get this if you just wanna have a little fun, but if you want a lot of fun + a better game + to feel alot more like a real DJ, then you should also get Scratch. get both, even.

MackD
MackD

This game looks to be a cool alternative to the other music-based games, but if you are familiar with real DJing and mixing then this game won't do much for you.

TXMostWanted
TXMostWanted

I've never really understood the craze behind Guitar Hero...but DJ Hero, completely different story. I WANT THIS!

Laksamanama
Laksamanama

what people dont get is that you dont have to like the music genre to have a fun time i absolutely loathe rock, metal, and all the "white" music (i dance to hip-hop) but i found myself having a good time playing GH and RB, as long as the music selection brings out some of the best in the genre like GH and RB did it'll be a great game

OF-5
OF-5

I really don't like Hip-hop that much (I'm a metalhead) but i don't see why people are bashing this game it seems like a good alternative for those who don't like the stuff that's in Guitar Hero/ Rockband

tuff_gong92
tuff_gong92

Having never played a Guitar Hero game for good reason (I didn't listent to the music) I am impressed at the quality of the songs I'm hearing. I have yet to hear a song that sucked. Hell it took two songs I would never listen to (Holla Back Girl and Give it to Me) and made it dope. And I'm one to be critical of my favorite music, hip-hop. This game impresses me every time I see it and that's hard when it's too easy to dismiss. PS. I LOVE the sheer amount of idiocy being thrown at this game. What because it's not a real turntable/you don't like the music, it doesn't deserve any love? My only gripe is the price, but the product itself seems great.

okassar
okassar

I thought this was going to be a joke,but it's shaping up to be tight.Better be 100 bucks or less cuz otherwise I would have to wait until a pricecut.

Dragonblade01
Dragonblade01

@rinnr Because realistic automatically = better, amirite?

rinnr
rinnr

this game is just for activision to cash in on another franchise. i mean come on....i own a turntable and there are no buttons on it lol. Scratch is without a doubt more realistic...and an overall better game. this might be fun for party's but if you know even a little bit about DJing you would laugh at the peripheral. i'm gettin scratch. this game is for 12 year olds. and if you give me a thumbs down, you just co-signed everything i just said.

Harerazer
Harerazer

Ksutton is correct,the definition of DJ is Disc Jockey so in all actuality the music could be all country, opera, and waltz and you'd still be a DJ playing it. That said, I am glad to see real old school hip hop because that's where all of this was built from. NYC street DJ's built this so they should be recognized. Of course then you also need the current DJ's and music to make this game relevant and they have that too. The history and culture sections look complete, now if they can keep the programming tight, it's a wrap. Of course being a "Hero" game I can already see expansion discs coming out (DJ Hero: Euro, DJ Hero: Da Bronx, DJ Hero: Elevator Muzak, etc) every few months so I'm hoping that they instead go the Rockband route and simply make all of the various music types as downloads.

ksuttonjr76
ksuttonjr76

I didn't know that the type of music used is what defines a DJ....

Nonnative
Nonnative

Dj without electronic music is not a dj , more like wannabe

better-than-U
better-than-U

Well big suprise people hating on it such as angerboy23 because hes not int this music? im personally not into it either but this game looks fun,ill try it out im sure a friend will purchase it and i can play it:D

angryboy23
angryboy23

AND THERES ONLY 3 BUTTONS!!!!!!!!!!! HOW LAME IS THIS CRAP!!!!!!!!!!! LOOOOOOZZZZZZEEEEERRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

angryboy23
angryboy23

this is just a way that all those pathetic "gangsta" type people can say stuff that we do about rockband i think its super lame and id rather play DDR

Z9K
Z9K

What mjk_1 said. I can't wait to hear a bunch of nerds claim they can use a turntable after this comes out.

Sovereign_13
Sovereign_13

The more I see DJ Hero, the more promising it looks.

bobblehead875
bobblehead875

not sure what to make of this yet. looks like it could go either way. i want to get it in my hands before i make a judgement.

Mc_Trickz
Mc_Trickz

It looks pretty good!!I thought that the game couldn't be cool but now that i watched this videos,wow,it impressed me,this will rock :D

mjk_1
mjk_1

rather buy a real turntable

Pa70
Pa70

this acctually looks fun to play! i want it. like the day they revealed guitar hero. but thats the PAST. so i say politely, BE OPEN MINDED PEOPLE. change is good =]

bosox22293
bosox22293

it looks kinda hard, but so did guitar hero when that first came out! cant wait for this game

Dawg9000
Dawg9000

Sounds harder than playing an actual DJ. lol

jadefury27
jadefury27

agree w\Dragonblade01 Wow. so because it's hip hop and not another overbloated rock title it's a fail? you know where you can shove your dragonforce...

Dragonblade01
Dragonblade01

I swear, no one is willing to give things a chance anymore. It's kinda sad.

Sir_Demii
Sir_Demii

Meh... Playing a plastic guitar still has some credibility to it. This is just sheer stupidity.

polo321314
polo321314

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

italmike2k2
italmike2k2

Does anyone else not give a crap about this stupid thing?

raivis09
raivis09

What the hell??? Is this the end of Guitar Hero?