DJ Hero 2 (PS3) Review

I hate to be indecisive, but I wish I could give DJ Hero 2 two different scores. When played as intended, the game is engaging and deep enough for your dollar. Sadly, that’s not always possible because the game doesn’t always work.

So let’s start with the good. On the surface, DJ Hero 2 is an above average and otherwise standard entry in the rhythm genre. You’re outfitted with a plastic turntable instead of a plastic guitar and you use the deck to scratch, cross-fade, and rewind your way through notes that are scrolling towards the bottom of the screen. It takes a few songs to get accustomed to the hardware, but the peripheral is surprisingly easy to use and the five difficulty settings and excellent tutorials make DJ Hero as accessible or challenging as you’d like.

With regards to the design, there’s really not much to criticize. The interface is streamlined to give you all of the things you need and none of the things you don’t and the disc has all of the features that you’d expect from a modern music title. Empire Mode is your standard tiered career builder, Quick Play is Quick Play, the online functionality is superb, and the gameplay is generally fine.

DJ Hero 2 stands out because it has a unique style that taps into a musical current that has been largely ignored by the rest of the rhythm genre. This is not Guitar Hero with pop songs. It’s a crash course in club culture with an eclectic soundtrack that teaches you that it’s possible to make completely original music using existing works of art.

The design actively (and successfully) attempts to immerse you in a dance hall environment. Each song contains several freestyle sections during which you’re able to improvise without fear of repercussion and you’ll hardly ever play one song in isolation. Most of the mixes in Empire Mode contain at least three separate tracks and you’re highly encouraged to build your own set-lists during Quick Play and online sessions. If Guitar Hero is a jukebox, then DJ Hero 2 is an all-night party where the music never stops.

That focus impacts the gameplay in several subtle ways. For one thing, DJ Hero 2 has none of the verse/chorus/verse/solo predictability that can make it easier to jump into a game like Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Every single track is either a wholly independent creation or a remix of one or more known songs and you won’t know how they’ve been mashed together.

The randomness can make for some tricky musical segments. You’re basically being asked to navigate an entire soundboard, so if you can imagine trying to play every instrument in Rock Band, you’ll have some understanding of the sheer complexity of the tracks. From sound effects to cross fades to scratches to lyrics, there’s a lot going on in the mixes.

Indeed, there’s so much going on that unless you’re familiar with the workings of electronic music, it’s tough to determine what sounds correspond to what actions. Visual cues consequently become far more important and you have to watch the screen carefully in order keep your streak going.

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Thankfully, the fact that it’s impossible to fail makes everything a little less intimidating. The developers want you to appreciate the music and the craft, so they’ll let you keep trying as long as you’re willing to put up with some extremely low scores. You can, however, be defeated during battle, and that’s the other thing that sets DJ Hero apart.

While other music games have supported competitive gameplay, vs. guitar always felt a bit artificial given the collaborative nature of rock n’ roll. DJ Hero makes the head-to-head mentality feel a bit more natural. Battles are introduced early and often with the implication being that sonic competition is an important part of the DJ lifestyle. Empire Mode pits you against a number of real and fictional mixologists and the showdowns are some of the most satisfying challenges in the game.

Battling is also at the centre of the online experience, and besting other players is an unexpected blast. Finding an opponent is incredibly easy and there are multiple ways to choose a winner. You can build the longest streak, go for the highest score, or hit the highest percentage of notes in a checkpoint battle, and the many quality mixes should appeal to newcomers and electric veterans alike.

Yet despite doing virtually everything right, DJ Hero 2 has two crippling bugs that are impossible to overlook. To elaborate, DJ Hero routinely gets stuck in pause loops in which the start screen repeatedly pops up and then vanishes – sometimes as often as five times per second – regardless of any player input.

The bug was sporadic and the game would run for hours without incident, but whenever something goes wrong the game becomes borderline unplayable. It’s impossible to make any progress in single player and it’s an auto-loss if you’re playing an online battle.

The other glitch doesn’t impact gameplay, but is significantly more worrisome. On three or four occasions, DJ Hero 2 refused to turn off and completely bricked my PS3 to the point that I was forced to unplug the console in order to restore communication with the machine. I haven’t heard about anybody else having these problems – and I did look into both – so maybe I just got unlucky. Still, the developer’s primary responsibility is to deliver a fully functional game, and as much as I wish it were otherwise, DJ Hero 2 simply isn’t.

Without the bugs, DJ Hero 2 is an 80/100. With the bugs, it’s a 60. On balance, that’s turning into a 65. The aesthetic and gameplay design is commendable, and if you hear anything about a patch (or if it turns out that I’m an idiot) it’s something you might want to consider picking up. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend a product that could jeopardize the health of your home console.