Def Jam Icon's look matches its over-the-top -- dare I say, campy -- premise of hip-hop stars fighting. EA demoed a run-down street with a vibe somewhere between urban and suburban. But instead of pushing complete graphic realism, the Xbox 360 churned out a stylized world around the detailed fighters; fast-moving clouds looked like a time-lapse weather pattern, and destructible background objects fragmented like glass.
The world animations matched the lead player's song fairly well. For example, at the end of every few measures, a car skidded by and a fire hydrant sprayed water; the clouds even moved with the music. The fighters hurt each other most by timing attacks to these background events that were tied to the music; one fighter threw an opponent onto the hydrant, and its spray caused extra damage. The right analog stick was even scripted to control the song -- and background objects -- as if scratching a record; flicking it could rewind the beat so players didn't have to wait around for the next hydrant cycle.
While the game will ship with a selection of music for each fighter, the title seems most interesting when it uses imported music. Songs that play on an Xbox 360 -- like MP3s from an iPod -- will automatically work in the game. (EA promised a comparable method with the PS3 but hadn't yet figured out how it would be implemented.) We began a new fight with When Doves Cry, a song with a lot of beats onto which the game could latch, and a song I wouldn't expect to play in this sort of game.
But the Prince classic didn't feel quite right, and I'm not sure why. I expect that I needed a lot more time with the game -- maybe an hour or two -- to get used to the way the backgrounds followed the beats of the song, assuming the imported track worked as advertised. So it feels way too early for me to make a final judgement about the song import system.
Def Jam Icon's mashup of music and fighting could make it appeal to a wide audience. I look forward importing many different music genres into the final version -- like jazz standards, shoegazer, or goofy power ballads -- and seeing how it fares with each style.