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2009 was so saturated with music and rhythm games, it was hard to keep track of them all.  However, at the culmination of the year, a title was released that managed to seem fresh, despite the flooded market.  After all, gamers have long called foul at the large amount of music titles released since Guitar Hero resurrected the genre years ago, while also launching the storm of plastic peripherals.  As such, many consumers longed for a title that was entirely original, while remaining familiar enough as not to seem daunting.  DJ Hero, from publisher Activision and developer FreeStyleGames, was just such a title.

When the game was initially discovered through a leaked copyright filing, skeptics immediately emerged.  ”Another rhythm title?” they cried, outraged.  Coming from Activision, famously dubbed the “New EA” due to its yearly franchise releases, DJ Hero didn’t exactly start off in the best of standings with potential consumers.  However, as details about the game began to spill out, tensions were eased, and excitement built.  An exclusive dual-artist album release from Eminem and Jay-Z for special edition buyers?  93 original mixes?  An extremely cool looking turntable peripheral?  The potential for a smash hit was undoubtably there, but whether or not the game could find its legs with the gaming masses was yet to be determined.  And then, it was released.  Let’s just say, the game really marks a resurgence in what made music games fun in the first place.

First off, let’s discuss the visual style of the game.  Whereas titles of old were all about their song charts first, and visuals second, DJ Hero skimps on neither.  The slick visual presentation is a major highlight of the title.  Starting with the very cool and very interesting opening cinematic, and going right down to the animations in-song and scrolling chart, the game exudes time, effort and inspiration, and is really helped by the lighting and interesting locales featured throughout the title.  Character design is unique as well, keeping in step with most of the “Hero” games, which are renowned for their quirky visuals.  The unlockable characters, including Daft Punk, make it all the more worthwhile.

DJ_Hero

Speaking of unlockables, the pace at which the player unlocks new tracks is very satisfying.  Often, multiple groups of new songs will be unlocked at a time, meaning you are not limited to a simple few new tracks to spin through at a time.  This makes career more that less tenuous of a task, while still giving you something to shoot for.  As you progress, you also unlock new gear, such as new turntable designs.  These, like any other “Hero” are incredibly inventive and cool to look at.  You’ll find yourself changing up your table about 3-4 times over the course of the game, which is more than can be said about most unlockable-centric games.  We all pick our favorite gear, and stick with it.  Well, that’s pretty tough to do with the wealth of choices here.  You can also unlock alternative costumes for each of your characters, all of which show off just as much charm visually as all other aspects of the game.  Definitely a step up from past games under the “Hero” brand.

Moving on, let’s take a look, or rather a listen, to the audio aspects of the game.  This is the games bread and butter, and also where its execution is near flawless.  Let me first say that the soundtrack of “DJ Hero” is by far the best setlist of songs featured in a rhythm game in recent memory.  Why?  Because they’re original.  You aren’t waiting to play iconic guitar solo’s, then get bored with the relative lack of excitement that follows with rhythm sections here.  No, unlike the traditional, band oriented music games of the modern era, “DJ Hero” keeps you entertained and excited throughout the entirety of your music selection.  Featuring a wide variety of mash-ups that span not only rap and hip-hop, but dance, electronica, rock and pop songs, the mixes found herein would be a worthy commercial release by themselves, without any interactivity at all.  Factor in the wonderful and challenging song charts, that even on Medium difficulty can be pretty tough, and you have a game that will last you for months, without getting old.

Stand Out Tracks:

-”Somebody Told Me”/”Disturbia”

-”Around the World”/”Bust a Move”

-”Ice Ice Baby”/”U Can’t Touch This”

-”All Eyez On Me”/”Bittersweet Symphony”

-”I Heard it Through the Grapevine”/”Feel Good Inc.”

Just to name a few, but there are at least a good 65 more that are excellent.

DJ Hero on play

“DJ Hero” represents an exciting start for a budding spin-off series, and with the proper care (*cough* Don’t make it a yearly release *cough*), this could become an extremely deep and enthralling game.  The turntable controller, while boasting somewhat awkward usage requirements (Using a rewind often screws you up, scratching WILL kill your arm, some changes on the chart are literally impossible with the button layout), still offers a cool new way to play, and gamers would do well to find a sizable table or other such device to rest it on, as playing the game standing up is preferable.  This is also something that makes the Renegade Edition that much more worth it, as the stand it comes with is of adjustable height.

I have no problem recommending this game to anyone who’s a fan of party or rhythm games.  ”DJ Hero” really took me by surprise, and it only finds itself below Dragon Age and Infamous for my breakout new IP of 2009.  While Guitar Hero V and Band Hero may have been slightly disappointing, DJ Hero isn’t, and finds itself as the king of music games for 09′, right up there with The Beatles: Rock Band.  Both of these games are fresh, new takes on a now extremely crowded market, and as such, they stand alone in both quality and song list variety.  Both merit your attention, but for the sake of being different, you’d be best served checking out DJ Hero first.  And this is coming from someone obsessed with The Beatles.  GO GO GO!