Last yearís DJ Hero spun music games in a different direction Ė a direction that made me feel incredibly hip and rhythmically gifted. In short, the game was nothing shy of a miracle. Now the sequel is on the scene sporting two turntables and a microphone (add bottles and cans and clap your hands at your own discretion). I know my alter-ego, DJ Spreadsheet, was certainly anxious to get back to the lab and mix up some contraptions, but is DJ Hero 2 still where itís at?
A key component of keeping any music game fresh is expanding on the basic gameplay format. For most rhythm games that means introducing new hardware. Bucking that trend, DJ Hero 2 faithfully sticks with the same turntables as its predecessor, choosing instead to maximize their capabilities. While keeping the general scratching and tapping mechanics, DJ Hero 2 steps up its game in several ways Ė most noticeably by mixing in freestyle sections for scratching and crossfading. The scratching freestyle is a logical evolution, but it rarely left me feeling any cooler than the standard wiggling of the turntable. The crossfading sections, however, are particularly satisfying and easily allowed me to put my own flair into the mixes Ė for better and for worse. When I cut between tracks wisely (there are aids that show key portions of each song), I made some incredibly ear-pleasing mash-ups if I do say so myself. Not Dr. Dre-level stuff, mind you, but probably on the same level as the beats he was throwing down during his residency years. Other times, Iíd mutate the freestyles into embarrassingly arrhythmic dins the likes of which only Navin R. Johnson could groove to.
Freestyle samples also make a return appearance and are now actual snippets from the song rather than the generic air horns and sirens tooted about in the first game. I honestly miss the ability to randomly hammer away on ill-advised sound effects, but canít deny that the custom samples make the mixes much more slick and professional sounding. Speaking of the mixes, the original soundtrack in DJ Hero 2 is every bit as fantastic as the first gameís Ė albeit with a slightly different focus. The 83 mix set list features less old school hip hop and classic funk and instead spins more current pop and dance hits. For me, the new direction takes away some of the nostalgic playfulness, but thereís still a healthy amount of 90ís rap tunes regulating the mix including a damn good mash up of Warren G with Nellyís ďHot in HerreĒ. Additionally, unlike the first game thereís a lot more variety as the same songs donít pop up in multiple mixes as much, so the entire experience doesnít feel repetitive to the point of driving you bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Thatís not to say that you wonít get tunes stuck in your head, though, as Lady Gaga bores her way in there and I donít think Iíve gone a day without humming Estelleís ďAmerican BoyĒ. While the new tracks are great, itís unfortunate that thereís no way to import the first gameís soundtrack into DJ Hero 2. Iíll chalk that up to the nightmare it must be to license all these original songs along with all the new game mechanics.
As far as the single player structure goes, itís far less ambitious than the music. The campaignís Empire Mode is standard issue Ė play set lists at different venues, earn stars, unlock clothes and accessories for your DJ, and battle against real-world DJs like RZA and Deadmau5. It works, but isnít incredibly fresh and the call and return battles can sometimes seem infuriatingly random. What keeps things interesting, however, is that there is always a meter on screen showing your friendsí high scores on each song. Itís a small thing, but itís amazing how that added competitiveness of trying to best CheapyD and others encourages me to play better. In addition to friend tracking, DJ Hero 2 also offers an extended remix of multiplayer options. There are six different variations of Battle Modes (similar to the options found in Guitar Hero 5) that can be quickly jumped into either locally or online. The multiplayer is much more fleshed out this time around and even features a leveling system where you can open up new titles and icons for your online persona.
Also new to DJ Hero this time around is the addition of karaoke style singing on the majority of the tracks. If you can imagine how difficult it is to sing/rap two songs mixed together while another person is scratching, freestyling, and rewinding the music and vocals, well, it works as well as youíd imagine. I suppose if you have three people and one is scared to use the turntables, then singing along is an option to join in on the fun. Itís just not a great option. Just like playing guitar in the first DJ Hero wasnít fantastic. That feature didnít make it into the new game for good reason.
Ignoring the karaoke (which everyone undoubtedly will), DJ Hero 2 nails what I was hoping for in a sequel. Empire Mode may be uninspired, but the incredible soundtrack, creative new game mechanics, and improved multiplayer make this an even more transformative experience than the original DJ Hero. There hasnít been another game this year that has made me feel this cool while playing it. Iím interested in seeing where this series goes from here as this effort is going to be tough to top. And, yes, Estelle, I will be your American BoyÖ now just get out of my head.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $50.00
Current MSRP: $59.99
DJ Hero 2 was provided for review by Activision. I was sent the Party Bundle consisting of the game, two turntables and a microphone. I completed the career mode and obtained all the stars on Medium difficulty over the course of about seven hours. I accumulated 21 out of 50 Achievements for 322 GamerScore. I also played a few games online and tried out the Quickplay mode along with replaying some of the songs on Hard. DJ Hero 2 is also available for the PlayStation 3 and Wii.