DJ Hero 2 Review (Xbox360)

Last year, DJ Hero plucked its way into the rhythm genre market just as it seemed to be slowing down. It failed to resuscitate music-based games, even with its great soundtrack and unique controller. While I praised it for being a fresh twist on a powerful and growing type of game, it was unfocused, and perhaps sold to the wrong audience.

Battle modes include many fun powerups and require more strategic thinking, and excellent timing
The sequel completely fixes that, trimming all of the previous game’s fat and joining the skinny holiday lineup in style. DJ Hero 2 is, almost completely, the realization of the franchise. Ditching the heavier rap and rock tunes for more club-oriented sounds, and dropping guitar support, and giving players full control over wide sections of most of the 83 songs available has gone a long way to ensure this title’s success.

I praised the music in the original DJ Hero, because it was more in tune with my type of music. I don’t fancy hearing Deadmau5 or, frankly, any DJ or club remix during the normal daylight hours. My position has always been that club music belongs in the club. To me, the music should fit the situation, and at the office or out exercising, it seems preposterous to flip on Lady Gaga.

That said, developer FreeStyleGames has done a tremendous job of creating, with the help of many a famous DJ and musician, a great tracklist of songs. I may never listen to them outside the game except in a club, but the graphical change, improvements of the club scene and a variety of venues that match the core of the game, makes a significant difference when playing. That, or bring a friend in the loop.

Three main modes of play spread gameplay to a single player campaign, revolving around building an empire (and thus aptly named ‘Empire’), quickplay, and multiplayer. Empire mode has no real story, and rightfully so. Instead of following suit with Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, DJ Hero 2 knows exactly what it is and who the intended audience is, and follows suit. No time is wasted with a useless plot, just different venues with 3-4 tracks to play at once, plus DJ’s to compete against head to head.
Competitive modes are fun to play, and they can be had online or on the same console
Quickplay is just that, a selection of all the tracks and the chance to make playlists and instantly go. Unlike some soon-to-be-reviewed music games, DJ Hero 2 allows for instant difficulty and song swap at any time, even during a playlist, all without leaving that playlist.

Implementation of freestyling, where players are given the opportunity to play as they wish and earn points for sounding good, is a brilliant step forward. DJing has always been about creating unique sounds and mixes, and DJ Hero 2 gives players the chance to do just that. It’s not constant, and in fact often rare in songs, appearing perhaps a handful of times per song, but scratching fast or slow when shown, or playing sounds at your own rhythm, or using the slider to set the sound, brings real imagination to a genre that’s previously consisted only of mimicry. In DJ Hero 2, no two songs sound alike.

Plenty of smaller improvements are also included. All songs are no-fail. If you play poorly, or leave the turntable controller be, by the end of the song all players will succeed, even without points. This may sound silly, but the point of the game is to play and enjoy, as well as to be creative through freestyling. Punishment, therefore, would only hinder that creativity, and thoughtfully it’s been removed. Difficulty levels are of course still relevant, because players won’t hear the music if they set it to expert and play poorly.

The point and star system has also become secondary. While hardcore score earners will be appalled, especially comparing DJ Hero 2 to Warriors of Rock’s dozens of collectable stars, most players don’t need it or even care. Sure, we all want to earn points, but the numbers go so high they lose their intrinsic value. Now, those interested can keep an eye on their scores, and those who don’t care can happily move along.

Ironically, the only true downside to DJ Hero 2 is its inclusion of vocals, which has undoubtedly made its way to the title because in a party, someone might want to sing. I’d like to see DJ Hero used for a real party and someone go up and sing on it. The idea is sound, of course, but with the radical changes to vocals allowed through the turntable, having an actual singer does dampen the music somewhat, even slightly.
The graphical improvement alone is enough to make the game feel more at home with its soundtrack
In every way, DJ Hero 2 is an exceptional successor, and a great rhythm game for this year. If every sequel could improve as much as this one has, in as little time, the game industry as a whole would be producing triple-A games so regularly that it would be commonplace. And we’d love it.
Top Game Moment: Just freestyling. It never stops being fun.

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