When the first DJ Hero was announced – I was intrigued. For years, I’ve enjoyed playing timing-based music games from Guitar Hero 2 through Rock Band 2. The latter I’ve put hundreds of hours into, much of which spent playing the downloadable content (D.L.C.).
So I was excited for DJ Hero because it offered the genre something fresh: new types of music to tap to and a new controller to learn.
The game played great and the spikes in difficulty made me want to improve my abilities. However, the fun factor only lasted about a week.
Ultimately, what turned me off was the soundtrack. The amount of cheese attributed to the music and artists was alarming. What could have been a celebration of the DJ culture ended up being nothing more than a pandering excuse to sell a game to the mainstream.
Featuring the likes of 50 Cent, Rhianna and The Killers, the soundtrack was an insult to fans of the DJ culture and hip-hop. Granted there were some gems like Daft Punk but any notion of integrity was few and far between.
Unfortunately, DJ Hero came off as the product of a boardroom meeting between the members of Activision and the music industry to make more money off of the Guitar Hero name rather than something worthwhile.
Their problem was trying to sell a hardcore game to a mainstream audience for the huge price they were asking and it didn’t work. Sales for the original DJ Hero were terrible.
Embarrassingly, retailers throughout the year dropped the price and at one point, I saw it for sale at Toys ‘R Us for a mere $20. That was a difference of $110 a year from its release. The market spoke and Activision lost.
Poor sales didn’t deter them from making a sequel. I was intrigued because I thought perhaps the lack of sales for the original would tell the developers that people don’t want to play terrible music and that there is an amazing DJ culture out there that no one knows about. What better way to introduce people to this often ignored genre than with an awesome game?
Despite hating the first one, I ended up buying the sequel hoping for the best.
I should have stuck with my gut feeling.
*The gameplay has received some polish. In DJ Hero 1, when a confident player completed his career on medium difficulty, he would have a tough time adjusting to hard. This time, the speed of the tracks and types of button inputs evolve with the player as they progress.
*The freestyling has been improved from the first title. DJ Hero 1 simply prompted you to press the red button during specific sections and hear Flava Flav shout, “Yeah boi!” but now you can manipulate the track. Rather than explain it in detail, I’ll let the developers speak about it:
I really liked the crossfade freestyling because it enabled me to cut out the vocals and just focus on the beats, which went a long way in allowing me to endure the soundtrack.
* Setlist songs just flow from one to another rather than jumping to a menu in between. I hope this becomes a feature more utilized in the future with this genre.
*The campaign mode, now called Empire mode is still just a matter of checking songs off a list in order to progress. FreeStyleGames mixes it up with DJ battles but those don’t go far into making the mode something unique.
*The online portion follows the mold of the Call of Duty series by featuring a leveling and perk system. The perks are power decks that enable the user to rack up score points and the leveling system doesn’t really do much. Considering that the original had a pretty decent multi-player mode, FreeStyleGames didn’t add much.
*A rhythm game’s main selling point is going to be its music and this is where DJ Hero 2 fails.
Rather than taking strides and embracing music from the DJ culture, FreeStyleGames infused it with even more mainstream music. As much as I loathed the previous soundtrack, its music was a culmination of pop from the past two decades. DJ Hero 2 however features songs that are as recent as last week.
Here is a list of the artists that are featured in the game that I feel can communicate my frustration: Kayne West, Rihanna, Soulja Boy, LADY GAGA, Bruno Mars, Pitbull, Chamillionaire, Salt ‘N Pepa, Deelite, Pussycat Dolls, 50 Cent and Eminem.
The game does score some points for not including Beyonce and Ke$ha in any of the mash-ups but only barely.
There are some bright spots. The two tracks attributed to the Rza are amazing as is the inclusion of Justice’s D.A.N.C.E. The songs chosen from the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy and Daft Punk serve as curious choices considering the vastness of their catalog containing better options but I’ll take what I can get.
Curious also is the inclusion of deadmau5. For someone who was the face of the announcement at E3, his lack of music in the game is kind of disheartening and yet speaks loads about the thought that really went into the game. He has three tracks, none performed independently. Two with Kaskade, one with the aforementioned Lady Gaga, a mashup of her terrible “Just Dance” and his okay “Ghosts N Stuff.”
Instead, David Guetta and DJ Tiesto, the Justin Biebers of the DJ scene are given more face time which shows the developer’s lack of knowledge towards good electronica.
With hip-hop there existed a great time before the Puff Daddy-era of heavy commercialization when it was just cool to sit back and rhyme about your life. This game doesn’t feature any of that type of poetry. We’re relegated to listen to a bunch of shit-hop that has been over-marked towards tools, soccer moms and teenage white girls. Music that is meant to make you dance rather than ask questions.
To add further insult, D.L.C. announcements show that packs from Linkin Park and Usher are on the horizon.
As of this writing, the game hasn’t sold well. Considering that the game retails for as low as $59.99 for the single game and as high as $149.99 for the party bundle, this isn’t a surprise.
The market has spoken.
Maybe I’m just old or over-analyzing a game meant for children. But looking at the soundtracks for the relatively similar games Frequency and Amplitude both made by Harmonix, you can see that some people do understand art. Those games are cult hits not only because they play well but also because the music fueling them are what their fans would actually enjoy.
I know that corporations do a lot of focus testing to see what to include in their products and I’m pretty sure that probably ended up happening with DJ Hero 2.
Playing this game, I felt like I was at my lowest. After long sessions, I would curl up into a ball on my bed, in the dark listening to my Ipod and crying because I had just allowed myself to be ear-raped.
After about five times of this happening, I took Sharon Angle’s advice, manned up and broke the disc figuring that I was stronger than that.
Hyperboles aside – the music is really that bad and no one should subject themselves to it.
This type of decline in quality is nothing new to Activision’s Hero series. With each subsequent release since Harmonix left them to join EA it becomes more evident that the company is only concerned with profit.
Harmonix, on the contrary, actually shows respect and heart towards their products.
In 2009 alone, Activision released seven different games in the series to Harmonix’s one and none of them sold as much as the latter’s. The law of diminishing returns couldn’t be more true in this case.
Knowing this, I still expected more since this is a new series of games. I figured we wouldn’t be at this level of crap until three years from now when the series has been milked to death and Activision released the ninth iteration.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
Like I mentioned before, Activision’s main problem with this game is that it’s being made for the casual audience who won’t buy it because of its obscurity and price. Unfortunately, the hardcore crowd won’t buy it because it’s too mainstream.
I’d rather wake up in a bed next to a naked Betty White covered in nothing but skin flakes and the remnants of a failed experiment with Metamucil than play this game again.
I’m pretty sure that once Harmonix makes their own DJ-type of game, we’ll have something that both plays and sounds great. Until then, I would avoid this misguided series, unless you want abscesses covering your brain from all the sugar you’ll expose it to.
Such a shame too.