When Activision killed off the Guitar Hero franchise, they killed one of the best rhythm game series out there. No, I’m not talking about Guitar Hero. That was a long-dead zombie that needed to be put down. Instead, for whatever reason, they also stopped the largely-unrelated DJ Hero games. Besides the round buttons and the name, DJ Hero really had nothing in common with its Guitar cousin, and it was all the better for it, making a hugely enjoyable game with tons of catchy songs. And DJ Hero 2 does not slouch on that.
The gameplay, requiring a turntable accessory, is fairly complicated at first. While tapping the buttons and doing scratches are fairly simple, crossfading, a switch that goes between left, center, and right, will probably throw people off for a bit. I remember it being the biggest stumbling block for me when I played the first game. However, the game is pretty kind. You literally cannot fail out of songs (besides DJ battles – more on that later). You’re simply trying to get as many stars as you can. This means that, even if a song completely destroys you, you at least get to experience the whole thing. The game also introduces several new features to the gameplay, including held notes and scratches. The biggest addition is a focus on freestyling, with freestyle scratching and crossfading. It really gives you a chance to make the song sound how you want it to sound, and it’s a very cool feature that’s unmatched by any other rhythm game.
While the gameplay is more than solid, it’s the songlist that really brings this up to the next level. Rather than simply throwing you a bunch of standard songs, every song in the game is either a remix or, more commonly, a mash-up. The first game really focused on making the songs just sound good when mashed up, but here, they’ve made the songs sound more like stuff that would be played at clubs, stuff that people could actually dance to. Part of this probably comes from using more dance songs in the mixes. It hasn’t lost any of its playfulness, either. A mash-up of Where’s Your Head At and Heads Will Roll is not only pure genius to read, but it’s fairly good. Sean Paul’s Get Busy meets up with Axel F, and has you at one point tapping out “Shake that” to the beat of the latter. It’s so awesome it actually made me laugh. Each location in the game also starts with a megamix, 3 or 4 mash-ups that blend into each other. It’s really just fantastic.
There’s also the DJ battles, back-and-forth battles on special songs against the various notable guest DJs (the cast of them includes RZA, Deadmau5, and Tiesto. Sadly, no return of Daft Punk) to see who can play the song better. If you remember Guitar Hero 3, you’re probably crying at the very idea of having to repeat that. Fortunately, for one, they’re optional (although they unlock special decks that give you bonuses). For two, the opponent DJs act more human. They will actually miss notes, and the game goes in your favor if it’s a tie, so it’s much more evenly balanced. My favorites were the battles against DJ Qbert, which actually had him saying taunting you.
There are a few flaws in the game, although they feel like nitpicks in the long run. You can’t make a customized DJ (although you can play as your avatar, which is much less goofy than it was in Guitar Hero. I suppose it helps that mine has a Halo helmet on…it just seems to fit in next to Deadmau5), and you can’t even choose your own club name in the game’s main mode, you have to pick from a pre-determined list. There are also a few rather weak songs. A mash-up of Soulja Boi’s Crank Dat and Chamillionaire’s Ridin’ sounds genius when you read it, but it ends up just being annoying. The game also highly enjoys choosing this song to play on the menus, including right after you finish a song. Why do you so suddenly change my listening from awesome to terrible? Why can’t I just have a moment of silence to revel in my 5 stars?
DJ Hero 2 is really not something to be missed if you like rhythm games at all. It combines an awesome soundtrack, fun gameplay, and a general sense of playfulness that’s so rarely seen in the genre. Whatever Freestyle Games decides to do next, I'm there.