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DJ Hero on 360 and PS3 takes an idea that has been beaten to death, and surprisingly squeezes out some more fun. Living rooms are groaning at the thought of more fake plastic instruments, but give DJ Hero half a chance and it starts the rhythm action magic all over again.
A few years ago Activision tested the gaming public. They released a 69.99 GBP video game and sat back to see if anyone would buy it. That game was Guitar Hero and it became a huge success, but a success that sent a clear message to the game makers from the game playing masses - we'll buy more expensive games if they are a lot of fun.
Since then we've had an influx of peripheral based games. Guitar Hero 1, 2, 3 and 4, Rockband 1 and 2, SingStar, Popstar, Sing It all road on the coattales of that original release. Then more recently, Guitar Hero On Tour, Guitar Hero Aerosmith, Rockband Beatles, Band Hero and of course today's game DJ Hero.
They all come with a fake plastic insturment and all open a door to creating music for everyone and anyone. Play them for a while and you soon stumble across moments of genius where your button presses are engineered to feel just like you are playing a real instrument. Not a replacement the real thing, not an easy way to learn music, but a real taste of what it feels like to play.
Mxing is, by its nature, something of a game already.
DJ Hero on Playstation and Xbox 360 does all this. But rather than fret buttons and strum-bar you have a deck to spin and fader-bar to slide, and rather than whammy-bar you have a modulation-dial. Like Konami's Beatmania before, it creates a mixing experience with a replica recrod deck and mixing equipment.
At first I was suspicious that this was just another way to cash in on the craze - not to mention another plastic device to squeeze under the sofa. But as you get to grips with the different DJ moves - tapping a Desk-button to restart a track, pressing a button and moving the turntable to scratch, switching track with the Fader - you start to realise how well this style of music making fits with a 360 and PS3 video game.
Mxing is, by its nature, something of a game already. So all DJ Hero had to do was to uncover these techniques to the everyday person on the street. This it does reall well. Sitting down to play with my professional DJ friend I saw the game through his eyes and could connect the different game techniques with his highly skilled performance on a Friday night.
As with all these games his real world musical skills didn't translate directly to the game - in fact sometimes he had to unlearn some of them. But as an approximation of how it feels to mix a track, DJ Hero made it possible for me to join him in his persuit. We spent a happy evening taking turns to work through the different tracks and difficulties.
What could have been a simple money spinner is in fact a competant addition to these music playing simulation games.
Add to all this the ability to bring in a guitar part on some tracks and the intruige of which music they have chosen to mix and you have a very compelling experience. Gorillaz vs Marvin Gaye, Beastie Boys vs Blondie and Eminem vs Beck are all combinations familiar to club goers, but to me they were like tiny explosions of new ideas as I was led through a mix of sounds and flavours from each.
All this is wrapped up and endorsed by the industry as well - Eminem and Jay-Z consulted, DJ Shadow narrates and Paul Oakenfold endorses. Although this is not everything, for a game so enmeshed with the real world of mixing, this sort of involvement adds substance and credibility.
DJ Hero is impressive. Just when you thought you'd seen it all along comes another rhythm action game to strectch the genre some more. What could have been a simple money spinner is in fact a competant addition to these music playing simulation games. Expect Rockband DJ before too very long.
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