America - Front
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By senseinobaka 22nd Nov 2010 | 3,826 views
One year after the release of the original, DJ Hero 2 has been unleashed into the wild. It now seems that the rhythm game has become yet another perennial franchise. This usually is a cause for concern as the aggressive development cycles tend to result in lackluster polish. Freestyle Games have made a concerted effort to avoid the problems that plague annual games with DJ Hero 2, and they've had mixed success. Some of the changes and improvements are among the best in a music game genre, while some decisions still paint a picture of rushed development. However, it is comforting that the good far outweighs the bad in this game.
DJ Hero 2 does share many mechanics with its predecessor, but they have been fine-tuned. You still have three colored buttons that correspond to musical streams on the highway and will be tapped as needed. The tap has a new friend in held notes which require you to hold a button for multiple beats. The basic and directional scratches, along with the crossfader, are also unchanged from the original. There is a new scratch known as a length scratch. With a length scratch you will turn the platter in the indicated direction for multiple beats. In addition, you can rewind portions of the song for more points and still have the DJ Hero version of star power, dubbed “euphoria.” Both of these are used to multiply points and earn more stars per song. These basic controls still result in a dizzying experience that offers much more challenge than a guitar counterpart. Higher difficulties up the ante with moves and slides (including spikes) that can only be described as impossible. The controls feel more precise than the original, but there will still be times when held scratches will not register and when frantic crossfading will easily cause oversliding issues.
The freestyle mechanics is where Freestyle Games really worked their magic for DJ Hero 2. Possibly the biggest appeal of disc jockeying is the ability to control and create the sound that is output. At a basic definition, it is a new modern day instrument. However, the ‘simon says’ mechanic really doesn’t do it justice. This is something the game makers realized, and as a result they added a slew of freestyle elements that allow you to design your own unique output. The crossfader has a new ability to freestyle between the two tracks in the mash-up. The green and blue tracks have visual cues that show vocal hooks and sonic output which empowers you to decide where to crossfade for the sound you want. The effects dial no longer has assignable effects, but it can be used to change tone effects as you desire during certain stretches of music. There are also icons for freestyle scratching and sampling. What ties all these elements into a compelling packages is the fact that the game can intelligently track how you freestyle and rate you accordingly for scoring, and it does a good job. It can track your use of rhythm and vocal hooks while at the same time never penalizing you for being you.
A new gameplay addition for DJ Hero 2 is vocals, which is really karaoke. This has become a staple for rhythm and music games, so its inclusion is not surprising nor out of place. What is amazing is how bad it is. It’s painfully obvious that this mechanic was rushed and should be forgotten. Like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, the vocals will score you on your ability to hit the right tone. The problem is that there is no visual cue to help you determine the tone. The only way to tell if your tone is right is after the lyric is over and the empty box becomes shaded. By that time it’s too late. Compounding the problem is the fact that the lyrics don’t scroll continuously like in other karaoke games. This makes it impossible to prepare to sing the next verse. It gets worse. In addition to the singing, there is a rapping mechanic that requires you to speak in rhythm. It is just as stilted as the singing and at times is just unresponsive. You would be best served to avoid the vocals in this game all together.
The game has a couple of modes in which to play. This happens to be a mixed bag also. The forgettable modes are empire and megamixes. This is because they are really glorified reiterations of quickplay. Perhaps with a little more time for development they could have become worthwhile modes, but that is not the case. Empire mode wants to be like tour mode from Rock Band or world tour in Guitar Hero, but instead it’s a long collection of setlists (that are already available in quickplay) and occasional DJ battles that allows you to unlock in-game content. Megamixes is a mode that lets you play long premade setlists of songs that are, again, already available in quickplay. There is really no reason to play these modes save some achievements, unlockable items, and the unlocking of the power deck battles.
The modes that are worth your time include quickplay, local and online multiplayer, and party play (yes, I said party play). Quickplay is instantly rewarding since it has all the songs available from the first time you play. You can create your setlists and play as you want. It will become your primary game mode once you use empire to unlock power deck battles. The multiplayer is wonderful. It has several different types of battles with various objectives that range from accumulating note streaks to all out DJ battles. The party play mode is a controversial innovation borrowed from Guitar Hero 5. Once started, party play will randomly pick a song and allow players to jump in and out of play, including karaoke players. This mode is perfect for playing at parties, with family, and casual gamers. Advanced players can play the more challenging difficulties while less experienced players can enjoy the game also.
DJ Hero 2 takes a small graphical step forward from the original title. The animations are more fluid and dancers aren’t rigid mannequins. The special effects have more impact and feature more flashing lights and camera shakes. Even the menus are crisp and pristine. However, the visuals still remain behind other music games like the Rock Band franchise and even Guitar Hero.
On the other hand, the music is even better than the original, and the original rocked. DJ Hero 2 has 83 exclusive mash-ups that feature artists ranging from Lady Gaga to Eminem, Jackson 5 to Prodigy. The mash-ups are exquisite. The sound design is also well managed as miscues and mistakes translate accurately. The freestyling in all instances adds depth to the mash-ups, and considering what’s going on in the background this feat is impressive. The only miss in the sound design is the fact that euphoria doesn’t trigger any special concert echo effects like star power does in Rock Band. It seems minor, but that auditory boost just feels right while acing a song.
DJ Hero 2 also makes strides in providing reasons to come back and play. The multiplayer is extensive and offers both local and online play. The music store allows you download even more tracks to play, just in case 83 is somehow not enough. Even with these value additions, my favorite one is the Hero Feed. The Hero Feed is a better implementation of achievements or trophies. Instead of seeing an arbitrary number or trophy, Hero Feed lets you know exactly what your friends have accomplished in a song and tracks your progress to defeating them. You can even issue challenges to your friends if you attain a high score in a song. It’s not the deepest social integration in an online game, but it will be the future of the genre.
The pricing structure for DJ Hero 2 is a little steep, but it is cheaper than the first game. The software plus one turntable is now $99.99, down from $120.00. The software alone is $59.99. But the best value is the Party Bundle which for $149.99 comes with two turntables and a USB microphone.
DJ Hero 2 does suffer from the symptoms of yearly development cycles. On the one hand it has some great turntable gameplay, but then on the other follows it up with horrendous vocal mechanics. The visuals are decent, while the soundtrack could be considered the best of 2010. FreeStyle Games has worked hard to mitigate as many problems as humanly possible, and the resulting trade off is a fair compromise. DJ Hero 2 may have a few throwaway modes and a poor karaoke element, but in return you have a killer soundtrack and strong gameplay with a new focus on self expression.