Activision is taking the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the nascent DJ Hero franchise. The debut game rode a generally positive wave of reviews, so for the first sequel, the publisher elected to make only minor changes. The DJ deck packaged in hardware bundles isn’t even branded with an updated logo. Minor as the changes are, the new suite of mash-up mixes sounds more appealing, and software tweaks add some of the multiplayer and freestyling options that were previously lacking.
DJ Hero 2 breaks song-mixes down into two audio streams with a third track of samples. Buttons on the turntable-shaped controller “activate” each track, and spinning the controller’s platter is a rudimentary replication of scratching. The final control, and the most difficult element to master, is the crossfader, which joins or isolates the two audio tracks as you slide it left and right.
Freestyling is the big change in this iteration. Players could previously only dress up tracks with limited “Yeah, boy!” and handclap samples. Now freestyle sections on the sample track offer appropriate samples drawn from each song, while open scratching and crossfading sections allow e-turntablists to have more control over the mix. Yet there still isn’t even a nod to core DJ skills like song selection or beat-matching. That remains a disappointment, especially given how far Guitar Hero went toward allowing players to craft their own tunes.
But it’s a game, folks. The gameplay is too technical and regimented to really replicate the flow of a DJ set, just as Rock Band is too structured to actually feel like playing onstage. Yet mastering the art of whipping the game’s crossfader back and forth, especially in the transition between programmed and freestyle segments, is no less satisfying for that limitation.
While Rock Band 3 arrived with a significantly improved interface, DJ Hero’s rudimentary front end and near-total lack of customization options is difficult to understand. (You can’t even give your DJ a unique name.) But just as beat-matching isn’t in the game’s DNA, neither is customization. At least the option to play along with a guitar controller has been replaced by the option of plugging in a mic and singing along with the mixes. And there are rudimentary DJ-battle options, which is better than none at all.