For the past few years E3 has been a tale of two guitar games. In a lot of ways it still is, with the Guitar Hero and Rock Band clans still battling it out for plastic instrument supremacy, but this year two turntable games are also vying for your attention. DJ Hero has far more brand recognition on the box, but Scratch: the Ultimate DJ has the better hardware, and we got our hands on it.
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Scratch: The Ultimate DJ

First impressions of Scratch are, to be honest, not good. But, considering the game actually doesn't have a developer at the moment, it's in solid shape. How can a game exist without a developer, you ask? The details are long and sordid, but suffice it to say a certainly company hired a certain game developer to create a certain DJ game featuring its hardware. When another certain game company saw that certain DJ game it liked it so much it bought that little game developer and, more or less, pulled the plug on the first company's turntable. That's why Scratch has slipped from its initial Spring 2009 release to one that's, well, rather more indeterminate.


That's also why it looks more or less exactly like those first screenshots, and why it's running at a frame rate so bad that timing beats is near-impossible. All this combines to create that poor initial impression, but within a few finger taps you'll get to feel what's different -- and great -- about this game. The biggest thing is that it actually plays samples when you start drumming on those Akai Pro MPC-style buttons with your fingertips. Even if you're not playing when you're supposed to it'll still play the sample associated with that button, meaning when you're playing here you're actually making music, and the game doesn't punish you for getting creative.

Those buttons definitely take a little time to become familiar -- that is of course unless you're a big-shot music producer. They feel nothing like the nearly zero-resistance inputs found on most faux instruments, instead a having heavy, rubberized rebound. Most peoples' first impression will be to push harder to compensate, but the real way to play is a light tap. Figure that out and you're on your way to blistering combos.


The simple tap and scratch gameplay mechanic works and works well, and a chance for actual creativity gives this game a huge edge over the competition in our eyes. Being able to add your own tracks and samples doesn't hurt, either, but gamers will find plenty of built-in tunes from performers like Kanye West and Gorillaz. Exactly how many tracks, however, remains to be seen.

Despite having a huge head start we'd be lying if we said this game wasn't playing the role of the underdog at this point. It doesn't have the visual flash or a heroic moniker to blaze across packaging. But, there's no question the hardware here sets the standard, and gameplay that allows for some real creativity should be worth the wait. It's just a shame that gamers aren't typically the patient type.

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Scratch: The Ultimate DJ hands-on