Friday, January 7, 2011

All I Do is Party Party Party... A LTTP Review of DJ Hero 2

Even though I never owned the original DJ Hero, I loved the game a lot playing it at my cousin's house to the point I am pretty good it on hard difficulty five starring mixes left and right. Among the oversaturated Hero lineup two years ago, DJ Hero was the underappreciated one of the bunch since it was different and people were starting to give up on the genre as a whole as it started to become an one hit wonder. However, those who played it appreciated it for what it is and it was actually a pretty good game laying the groundwork for what has become a legitimate franchise. The developers Freestyle Games have learned from what they missed out on and were able to make a more complete sequel with DJ Hero 2. Basically, DJ Hero 2 is a significant improvement over the original from more modes, gameplay additions, and better collection of mixes that spread among numerous genres of music.

DJ Hero 2's main career mode is called Empire as it is pretty much like the first game with some slight differences. Most of the selections will be a setlist of certain mixes (usually three or four) where you scratch and crossfade away to as many stars to unlock more sets and venues increasing your worldwide rep as an upcoming DJ. On your way towards achieving that worldwide success, you run into other DJs and even famous ones as you battle them in certain mixes, which is the game's biggest addition being more multiplayer focused. The main DJ battle mode is about performing well getting more checkpoints than your opponent by doing well in the various sections of a mix. In the specific checkpoint battles, you can even end the battle quickly by the knocking out your opponent getting a certain number of checkpoints first. These battles can be intense at times as even if you can 100% a certain section, you can still lose the checkpoint because your opponent nailed more perfect notes and did better at the fresstyle sections, another big addition in DJ Hero 2, which I will mention later. Sometimes, it can just depend on luck if your opponent messes up at times, but these battles are fun and challenging providing a completely different gameplay experience than just any normal mix. There are also a few songs that have to be unlocked in the Empire mode, but the majority of the songs are playable out of the gate on Quickplay. Other unlockable goodies from playing Empire are more outfits for the DJs and power decks, which I'll also mention later on.

Other than the main Empire mode, there is the standard Quickplay mode where you can play any mix you want to making setlists as well if you want to play numerous songs after another. There are nice additions to setlist management as you can save setlists so you don't have to create the same one over and over again. Another notable addition is being able to like mixes Facebook style, which goes along with the social aspects of the game. Also in the Empire mode, but available on their own after played there are megamixes. These megamixes are certain sets by the more known DJs like David Guetta, Deadmau5, and Tiesto as these aren't just your normal sets. The mixes in these sets flow continuously as if you're at some nightclub dancing away hearing the transition from one song to another, which makes these megamixes sound great. I hope we see more of this concept in future DJ Hero games because these are the closest into the real club experience. One of the more important social features in DJ Hero 2 is the Hero Feed. Also somewhat borrowing from Facebook, this feed tracks your progress in the game, lets you know when a friend has beaten your score in a mix, and any news of DLC that is released. The nice part of this feed with the friends beating your scores is that you can instantly try to beat their score and claim your top status back, which goes along with the competitive aspect of the game when you see your friends' ranking while playing a mix. I love the social element of the game which gives the game's solo modes more replay value especially if you have friends at your skill level competing for high scores.

The core gameplay concept of DJ Hero 2 is fundamentally the same as it uses the same controller from the first game as you press the three buttons, scratching (in specific directions on Expert difficulty), crossfading, spiking, dialing, euphoria for a bigger multiplier, rewinding, and so on without failing at all. The new gameplay additions though make the game feel like you're doing more than what you did originally. Held notes and scratches are examples are that especially in the Tiesto mixes, rewinding has improved significantly as you can rewind complete sections if timed right, but the big addition is the freestyle sections. There are sections in a mix where you can crossfade like crazy, but there is a certain element in doing them right as you can't mash the fader left and right as it won't be an effective freestyle. Freestyle scratching is a different story as you can scratch in any direction you want to even though you do that on hard and lower difficulties. The red part of the turntable is changed as you can't mash Flava Flav samples anymore as the samples are more related to the mixes now, which is a good thing at the end of the day. Then there's the power decks that allow more scoring opportunities like more points while scratching, hyperspeed (which I prefer to go with), and a bigger multiplier than can go to x10, which kind of ruins the leaderboards a bit, but not much if you aren't into going for the top score. Borrowing from the Guitar Hero games, there is also Party Play, which can drop in and drop out at any time playing mixes. Also improving the party aspect is the addition of vocals, but it seems tacked on as it is similar to the Guitar Hero system and signing certain parts of songs that go back and forth from one song to another seems weird at times. Plus, vocals are not in all of the game's 80 mixes, but at least half of them have it. It is still nice though that it exists in DJ Hero 2 for the sake of parties.

The online aspect of DJ Hero 2 has also significantly improved because it has become more a competitive game with all the battle modes available to play. Normal DJ battles in the battle-only mixes and checkpoint battles are playable, along with other multiplayer only modes such as star battle, compete for the most stars in a mix, streak battles to compete for the longest streak, and accumulator, which is similar to streak, but your streaks keep adding after storing them by pressing the euphoria button. There is a leveling system for the online modes that goes up to 50 as you level up for winning mixes, battles that can have up to five mixes, beating people that have a higher level than you, and so on. The only rewards you're getting from online is more medals and tags to choose from a la Street Fighter IV and Call of Duty for performing this many perfect notes, scratches, etc. The online experience can be a mixed bag though depending which difficulty you're playing on as you can be playing on Hard while your opponent plays on Easy or Medium as it can be unfair at times especially in streak and accumulator battles where there are more notes on higher difficulties. Online strategies can be weird though depending with your playstyle going the safe route on lower difficulties hoping your opponent screws up on harder difficulties, which dampers the balance a lot. Imagine messing up on Easy on a streak battle and you have no chance of coming back against someone is 100% a mix on Hard or Expert. When you and your opponent are playing on the same difficulty though, the online experience becomes better and even as it depends on skill than luck. Despite some issues especially with people ragequitting knowing that they will lose rather than try to finish the battle out, DJ Hero 2 has one of the better online competitive experiences in the rhythm genre.

Graphically, DJ Hero 2 looks pretty good even though like all rhythm games, you're focusing on the chart of notes popping up rather than the environment you're DJing in. The venues look great and there are a variety of them from the small club to some big stadium. Even the famous DJs look really close to their real-life counterparts and not as cartoony to the point Freestyle games nail their signature poses such as David Guetta fist pumping and Tiesto stretching his arms out while the camera is spinning around 360 degrees. You still don't see the DJs not actually DJing at some points like the first game if you want to get nitpicky, but it is pretty minor. The presentation has also improved over the original as it is easier to navigate in the game's menus finding what you want to do.

While the first game's soundtrack was pretty good, DJ Hero 2 turned it up to 11 with more mixes and more genres of music to mess around from. Personally, I liked the fact Freestyle Games added more house music since there was a lack of it in the original. With the house music they added, they were able to get the hits from Deadmau5, Kaskade, that "Show Me Love" song, and more. There is still a lot of hip-hop and pop in the game especially the mainstream representation as you still get classics like "California Love," you can get an awesome mix of that and recent hit "Nothing on You" by B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars. A lot of mixes in the game that I thought would suck definitely impressed me and feel underrated compared to most of the more played mixes like ones revolving recent songs like Enimem's "Not Afraid" with Lil Wayne's "Lollipop." A variety of artists from over the decades and various genres are in this game from Janet Jackson, Salt N' Pepa, Pitbull, Lady Gaga, Missy Elliot, Sean Paul, Metallica, Kanye West, and I can go on. There are definitely songs that you will definitely be interested in playing, but of course there will be some misses depending with your music tastes.

DJ Hero 2 is definitely a great sequel to the original that was able to lay the groundwork and core concepts as Freestyle Games were able to make a more complete game full of features. From the Empire mode, online, and the social aspects, there are plenty of things of DJ Hero 2 especially with friends either offline to party with or online competing for high scores and testing each other's skills in the various battle modes. Even though the online experience can be a mixed bag depending on which difficulty you play and the amount of ragequitters still months after the game's release, it is still cool to have a good online competitive element to a rhythm game. The soundtrack is also amazing with more than 80 mixes plus downloadable content (depends how long the DLC schedule will be) even though there will be hits and misses depending with your preference of music. While it still feels like an underappreicated franchise because of the sales (bundle prices are affordable these days which is why I bought it recently) and the publisher, DJ Hero 2 one of the better rhythm games to come out in recent times. Hopefully, DJ Hero 3 is coming and I'm interested to see what Freestyle Games is able to do to attempt to top this one.

Score = 9/10

  • Gameplay improvements add more to the core DJing experience
  • Numerous modes to play both offfline with Empire and online with the competitive battles
  • The new DJ battles are a great addition making the game feel more competitive
  • The social elements are also spot on from the Hero Feed being able to see how you stack up against your friends at an instant
  • The soundtrack is amazing spreading across numerous genres (more house "clubby" stuff personally is great news)
  • Vocals feel tacked on, but hey, its still nice that its available
  • Online experience can be a mixed bag pending on which difficulty you play - it doesn't feel balanced at times

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