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DJ Hero by Horrible Gelatinous Blob 12/15/2009, 2:44pm PST
I've been wanting to do a multi-part article on some of the indefensible television that I watch, but I'm having problems figuring out exactly how to approach it. In the meantime, I thought that I'd try to crystallize some of my thoughts on DJ Hero.

Has there ever been a more loathsome profession than DJing? NT by FABIO 01/28/2009, 3:36pm PST

Taken in the abstract, DJ Hero is one of the most fascinating games I've experienced in quite a while. It reminds me a lot of No More Heroes in that the execution of its objective is flawless, but the goal itself is questionable.

The game mechanics are simple and certainly fun enough. The tutorial explains the three tracks that correspond to the three buttons on the "turntable," along with the crossfader and the effects dial. Star Power/Overdrive becomes "Euphoria" -- so subtle, Activision! -- with the same multiplier effects. You scratch in the direction of the arrows, and crossfade left or right as the left- or rightmost tracks indicate. There's no failure in the game; doing well earns stars which unlock more sets, more songs, and more avatars. Although I haven't tried it, there's even an option for a second player to use a guitar controller for certain songs.

The production levels actually surpass those of the Guitar Hero games. There's a neon/club kid/MDMA fueled aesthetic that comes off as far more polished and consistent than Guitar Hero's up-rezzed PS2 environments. Likewise, the avatars fairly drip with the particular strain of hedonistic trust-fund irony that permeates DJ "culture." Daft Punk themselves are unlockable as playable avatars, and while you can't have them play Willie Nelson or Alanis Morrissette, there is some humor to be found in having them spin "U Can't Touch This" vs. "Ice Ice Baby."

The cornerstone of every music game -- the soundtrack -- is excellent. Activision must have shelled out big to get the rights to all of the music in the game. From Daft Punk to Mobb Deep, from the Zombies to N*E*R*D, from Bell Biv DeVoe to the Killers, the soundtrack does an excellent job of reflecting an eclecticism and scattershot sensibility if you can excuse the blatant pop leanings and lack of obscure soul loops. If you're a fan of mash-ups, you'll dig the songs enough to play all the way through the game at least once.

And here we come to the fundamental flaw in the game: it's not really DJ Hero, it's Mash-Up Hero. Putting aside the absurdity of a DJ game that only gives you one turntable, there's basically no room for personal expression in the game. That's fine in the Rock Band/Guitar Hero games, which draw on the common fantasy of playing your favorite songs in front of a roaring crowd. Really, the guitar games are a natural extension of sitting on the bed in your dorm room and figuring out the chord progression in "The Modern Age" on your cheapo guitar while waiting for your weed dealer to show up. DJing culture, however, revolves entirely around individuality and personal expression. There are no DJ covers; there's little to no pleasure attained in meticulously recreating someone else's mix down to the last rewind.

There's no free-scratching, there's no beat juggling, you crossfade when and where they tell you to. It's a forceful reminder that really, all rhythm action games boil down to fancy games of SIMON. That's fine and good, up to a point -- a point DJ Hero roars past without even noticing. As many have astutely noted, no one pops in Since I Left You and pretends that they're the Avalanches. Without that fantasy/illusion fulfillment, it becomes very clear very quickly that you, the player, are the least essential part of the DJ Hero experience.

And it's clear that FreeStyleGames and by extension, Activision, made exactly the game they set out to make. Everything is precisely thought out and each component of the game fits in its assigned place beautifully. It's hard to believe that this is a first generation effort; at least one developer is capable of using Harmonix's innovations and standards as a jumping off point, as opposed to digging a hole by stubbornly insisting on differences for the sake of differences. If nothing else, the level of craftsmanship and polish leaves no doubt that the problems with DJ Hero lie deeper than its admirable implementation.

If you're at all involved or interested in DJing and its attendant culture, stay far away. This game will only make you irrationally angry; even more so because no one really cares about it (just like no one really cares about real DJs). There's no digging in crates, no managing the crowd's mood via song selection, no hipper-than-thou showing off via forging a hot breakbeat out of a long-forgotten Martha Reeves and the Vandellas LP. If you're irrationally into music games to the point where you're considering this, let me save you some cash: download the DJ Hero soundtrack, then turn on your music player's visualizer. Tap your hands along with the beat and throw in the occasional scratch move. There; 85% of DJ Hero's fun at 0% of the price.
DJ Hero by Horrible Gelatinous Blob 12/15/2009, 2:44pm PST NEW
    Re: DJ Hero by FABIO 12/16/2009, 9:33am PST NEW
    This should be linked somewhere on the front page. NT by Arbit 12/23/2009, 11:19am PST NEW
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