Alright, cards on the table, sending me to check out anything with the abbreviation "DJ" in the title is like asking a pregnant woman if she intends to keep it; highly inappropriate.
I can't sing. I dance like a duck that has been plugged into the mains. The last time I touched a turntable, it was about to leave my hand on a rather short trip to the bottom of a refuse pit. My car radio is permanently tuned to talkback and, accordingly, I'm about to petition the government to have the "h" removed from "phat". In short, I'm the enemy of... whatever you call this sort of music.
DJ Hero. What a silly concept, it'll never catch on. Red Octane just got lucky with those plastic guitars, after all, everyone loves rock. There are a million ways to dismiss this latest music game, and only one way to find out if it's any good - roll your sleeves up, find a nice deserted place and try it without anyone standing by to mock you. Activision were nice enough to let us do precisely that, so after scanning the demo room for hidden cameras, we got stuck into the tutorial mode.
The concept here isn't that far removed from Guitar Hero, insofar as you have various buttons to press at various times in order to gain points, and keep the music sounding approximately like it would do if someone with real talent were playing it. DJ Hero takes this a little further however, because instead of a linear, obvious progression through rows of note that form largely familiar songs, you're instead charged with coupling together various tracks at random times, and compensating for speed and timing that may or may not be close to what your memory of the original song is actually like.
The hardware is robust, the turntable spins reassuringly on its own central axis without undue friction. The three buttons location atop the "record" surface are formed to match your finger placement, and are well engineered. Your off-hand controls consist of a three-position slider, a dial used to create original material (much like the "whammy" in Guitar Hero) and a "euphoria" activation button (yep, that'd be "star power"). The entire deck separates too, so you can plug the turntable to the controls depending on you dexterity requirements.
The tutorial modes cover all forms of interaction you'll have with the controller, and start off with the basic concepts of laying down the tracks using the buttons on the deck, followed by scratching and then crossfading between the tracks using the slider. The slider is probably the hardest thing to co-ordinate early on, as from a central position you need to occasionally shift it from left to right extremely quickly between tracks, and it's typically here where you'll have a lot of button pressing to do as well. The slider on the demo unit had a vague centre position, which didn't help, so I'm hoping that will get some attention with the final retail release.
The tutorials will progress to cover concepts such as crossfade spikes (using the slider to "tap" spikes into the track), directional scratching (holding a button and moving the record either north or south, or sometimes a combination of both), rewinds (spinning the record 360 degrees counter-clockwise to roll back a song segment and play it again), euphoria (doubling your points multiplier) and freestyling.
Freestyling will allow you to choose your own previously sampled sections to lay over the tracks at certain times. When a track has the appropriate indicator, you can hit the red button on the deck and toggle between your samples, then activate them, or simply use the pre-set samples that come with the game.
The set list, if it can be called that, is huge. Each track you play is a combination of various artists, so it's not unusual to find yourself trying to keep up with Beastie Boys and Blondie. Or Marvin Gaye mixed with the Gorillaz. Most of the songs are familiar, but when they're thrown in with other tracks for the express purpose of creating a whole new sound, it takes a certain level of talent to keep it all in check. The on-screen artwork and rendering of the track icons are fantastic however, so the chances are if you can't figure out what you're supposed to do with the controller, you probably haven't completed the tutorials.
If you're worried about revealing to your loved ones that you actually have a secret desire to spin records for the amusement of others, you needn't worry about a lack of competition. We've been informed that there's a solid online component, and you can even play some tracks against Guitar Hero controllers too.
Once again it needs to be said that this isn't necessarily a title for aspiring DJ's, although I have no doubt the majority of them will find it hugely entertaining. DJ Hero is a highly sociable game that requires you to perform various mechanical actions against the backdrop of addictive, pulsing music that drives adrenaline and encourages you to come back for more. I haven't had this much fun scratching since I had chicken pox. After playing for a couple of hours, I don't consider myself any more of a DJ than I did before I started, but that's not the point. The point is that I want to have another go. And another..
Damn you Activision, not again.