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when DJ Hero first found its way into my 360 last year, i felt pretty reluctant. as a true fan, the ongoing commercialisation of hip hop and the universalization of its style is a constant source of sadness.
what is more, from a music perspective, 'mashups' which seemed to be the main musical vehicle, were, already something of a tired phenomenon, and definitely one of those things that can be good when done well, but that will be super-lame if not.
similarly, as a legend in my eyes, i greeted Grandmaster Flash's role in the game with mixed emotions. on one hand it bode well for the music, but then his wacky, prancing avatar seemed a very long way from the iconic footage of a skinny kid playing records and changing the world in his kitchen in Wild Style.
the interface and general styling of the game did little to reassure (every surface covered in spray paint, every opportunity to project a 'street' vibe taken) - but i guess that sort of thing was only to be expected.
i was nicely surprised, however, that once i got playing, the game grew on me fairly quickly. in fact, soon enough i was hooked, and was cramping my hands and straining strange combinations of muscles as i furiously worked the plastic turntable in time to what was (mostly) a well conceived soundtrack.
given all this, when DJ Hero 2 came my way recently I couldn't wait to get it fired up and see if i still had 5-star hands. i decided that this time i'd call in a friend to help me, from the off, to put the game properly through its paces and shine the mini, pop-up deck light of experience all over its promises.
luckily, as well as a decent amount of experience on the 1s and 2s, i have the pleasure of being able to call one of the UK's best funk performers, producers, re-mixers and up-and-coming DJs a mate. as such, i sent a bat-signal in his direction, and very soon after was joined in the penthouse by none other than Adam Gibbons, a.k.a. Lack of Afro.
being a superstar DJ and real life funky gibbon(s), and having encountered but not really explored DJ Hero, LoA was in the perfect spot to give a relative outsider's perspective on things.
being a dexterous young man with mad coordination, he took to it like a charm, and within a few mixes he seemed like a convert to the concept.
we were both in favour of the new, stripped back, more subtle styling -- the menus actually look like menus from a video game and not snapshots from the opening moments of a gaudy, hip hop nightmare (in which a giant, evil-clown/Old Gregg version of KRS-One chases me out of an underground NY club and around Brooklyn Heights screaming "whoop-whoop, it's the sound of yo' never-shoulda-come-back ass gettin' whooped, fool".)
DJ Hero 2 has not just shuffled away from the excessively urban stylings of the first game, but has head in a much more mainstream direction altogether. in general, dance/pop culture has stepped in to fill hip hop's massive shoes -- and that's a step away from the good for my tastes.
the soundtrack is still well produced, but is now populated to a greater extent with offerings from the likes of Gaga, Calvin Harris, David Guetta & The Chemical Brothers. however, it's not all mainstream stuff - alongside Tiesto and deadmau5, mixes have been provided by A-Trak, Qbert and Shadow; and Q (along with deadmau5, Tiesto and RZA) is among several new playable characters.
having rocked the first DJ Hero to death, i initially took a step back and let LoA explore the single player Empire mode, getting him to describe his experience as he went. being a dexterous young man with mad coordination, he took to it like a charm, and within a few mixes he seemed like a convert to the concept.
by the end of his lengthy session, despite profound modesty, i could tell from his face when pressed, that his experience of working his way up to international fame was not that well reflected in the game's fairly weak attempts to model the progression from bedroom to mega-club.
in terms of gameplay, little has changed. it's the same ol' pleasing, plastic turntable based Simon Says that it used to be, although with a couple of new free-style features thrown in. given that the freestyle samples were, for my money, probably the worse element in the last game ("fresh, fresh, ffffresh" -- bored), i wasn't expecting much, and wasn't too challenged in that assumption.
the freestyle crossfade sections provide a glimpse of the kind of expanded control over mixes that i'd really like to see come into the series at some point, but, in the end, the limitations of what you can achieve actually serves to emphasise the current limitations rather than freeing you from them.
after a few goes, that, while a nice idea, the freestyle scratch option didn't work that well
in a similar way, we both felt, after a few goes, that, while a nice idea, the freestyle scratch option didn't work that well. there's no point in getting snooty about how the controls aren't like real DJing, but the limitations of the freestyle scratch sections just draw attention to the role of the crossfader in making proper scratching sound good.
beyond the pretty ropey scratch sound, we also found that things were just too sluggish in terms of the response to get properly on the beat -- it should be stated, however, that we were using last year's DJH turntable controller, and not the new (apparently) improved version.
the head-to-head mode is one of the areas of real improvement over the original. whereas before you both did the same thing -- which just got tedious pretty quickly -- now there is a variety of material which fits much more into a battle-type scenario.
the improvements mean that offline, spilt-screen multiplayer is now just as fun as the one player, even if it does mean you need a friend who also has a controller (who's going to buy two of these big, flimsy, cumbersome, over-priced, single-function plastic slabs?)
what is not fun, however, but totally, ridiculously lame, is the option to plug in a mic and sing along. i've heard a few people point out that this is strange given that these are mashups and mixes, so the lyrics are all over the shop , but they have mostly concluded that once you know how the mixes go, it's fine. are you serious? sing along to a DJ mix?
one feature we both liked is Party Play, in which the computer plays its way through the track list (with accompanying videos), but also allows someone to join-in and drop out again at the press of a button. for once, it's a party mode that actually seems like the kind of thing that might be good at a party.
if you've never played DJ Hero, but think you'd like it, then you should buy this to take advantage of the generally more refined features.
something LoA pointed out, however, is the lack of (afro) an option to select the tracks you want, and to remove those you don't (not mentioning any names, kkhhhmmTiesto), which would seriously decrease the chances of it being on at a reallyquitetired party.
DJ Hero 2 works in as much as it does little to ruin a mechanic that's just really great fun to play. some of the new additions are worthwhile, but to be honest the vast majority of what LoA and I enjoyed most can be done on DJ Hero.
if you're a massive DJ Hero fan, then you'll buy this for the new tracks and to try out the new online options (the The-Weakest-Link-style streak battle mode is especially fun).
if you've never played DJ Hero, but think you'd like it, then you should buy this to take advantage of the generally more refined features, and the (slightly) better value controller bundles.
if, however, you bought DJ Hero and liked (but didn't love) it, it's actually fairly difficult to pinpoint much of a reason for you to shell out. in honesty, the new music and modes only add so much.
LoA would never be so crass as to say this, but i reckon that if you're in that position you should probably save your pennies and put them towards Press On and My Groove Your Move, the two fantastic Lack of Afro albums currently available on Freestyle Records, instead.
[if you'd like to see more of the weird and wonderful world of reallyquitetired then the door is always open at his semi-detached house/blog]
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