In a small hotel room in midtown Manhattan this month, I spent just over an hour with Activision's noticeably slimmed down holiday rhythm/music game lineup. Though we'll have to hold our impressions of Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock until later this month, I can tell you all about my time spent with DJ Hero 2.
First and foremost -- and this might sound nuts to open with -- the design and layout of the user interface is beautifully vacant. The DJ selection screen isn't much more than a bright white background with selectable characters. That same design aesthetic carries over into the gameplay interface -- unlike the muddied rock and roll world of Guitar Hero, everything in DJ Hero 2 is sharp, crisp, and clean. The lighting may be low, but blues and reds and yellows can be seen popping all over the place. Not much has changed from the first DJ Hero in the sequel, at least in terms of the actual nuts and bolts: you've got a faux turntable with three buttons, a fader, and the ability to sample, and they're all employed to similar effect. The differences in gameplay come in the form of freestyle scratching (think of it like drum fills in Rock Band, if you will) and the ability to parse vocals out of the track to mix accordingly during certain prescribed parts of each mashup. In essence, the two vocal tracks from each song being mashed get split on the note highway and, for a short period, you can choose which song dominates the mix. (The game also features six new multiplayer modes, but we were only able to check out the free play mode during our time with it.)
While my colleague Andrew claims to have gotten a good handle on the vocal mixing, I never got a solid feel for it. In fact, it felt kind of random, though he assures me that I'm just not doing it well -- it's worth noting that I'm not exactly a card-carrying member of the DJ-erati. Which isn't to say what we played wasn't loads of fun, because, well, it absolutely was. And it was especially so when one of our Activision hosts got on the mic (joining in on the fly, I might add), emceeing alongside our turntabling -- this is another one of those handful of additions that DJ Hero 2 gets right.
In true music game fashion, lyrics pop up on the top of the screen (with points and multipliers included) for a friend brave enough to hop on the mic. If the particular mashup features a female and a male singer, you can add another friend to the mix on the fly as well, with colors indicating whose turn it is. The couple of songs we checked out weren't exactly my personal favorites -- mashups featuring The Pussycat Dolls and Iyaz, among others -- but there are another 106 artists/groups in the game, so I'm not exactly worried.
All in all, DJ Hero 2 seems to be a far more unique and interesting package than the famously overpopulated Guitar slash Band equivalents offered by Activision. The various additions to the game will undoubtedly excite returning DJ heroes and the extra polish should help to convert any stragglers still wary of purchasing a new plastic peripheral for their home. And hey, I should know -- I'm one of those stragglers. But this turntable tryout was nearly enough to scratch DJ Hero 2 off my can't afford list. We'll know more before the game's October debut.