DJ Hero was my favorite music game in a long time, boasting amazing mash-ups unavailable anywhere else and a fun new turntable controller. I've mixed and scratched pretty much everything there is to do in the sequel, DJ Hero 2, and while the novelty has worn off slightly, this is still my music game of choice. If you haven't played DJ Hero, it's set up much like Guitar Hero with colored notes falling down a runway. You're hitting the corresponding buttons on the turntable controller in time with the music, but you have the added tricks of scratching and crossfading here.
DJ Hero 2's tracklist is aiming at a wider audience than the first game with lots of current Top 40 hip-hop and club hits from artists like Pitbull, Lady Gaga, and Tiesto. This one will probably appeal to a more general audience, but I prefer the first game's remixes. There seemed to be more variety in DJ Hero, with genres like old school hip-hop, electro, and rock better represented. Gaga and Pitbull are incredibly popular, but they're not my thing. There are still some real gems here, though, like a Sean Paul vs. Bevery Hills Cop Theme mash-up and a thrilling Damian Marley vs. Dillinja drum and bass mix.
Watch the DJ Hero 2 video review.
DJ Hero took music games back to their roots, eliminating all the world tours and story modes to focus on just the music, much like the original Guitar Hero. The sequel's single-player progression is called Empire Mode, which is supposed to follow your DJ from low-level spinner to international sensation. I never felt like I was furthering my career, though, or even that I had my own DJ. You pick from a few pre-determined characters at the beginning, and at times during Empire Mode, your DJ is replaced by pros like DeadMau5 and the RZA. It's fun working through Empire Mode's increasingly difficult tiers of songs and unlocking them for Quickplay, but anyone looking for a real career mode in DJ Hero will have to keep waiting.
There are a bunch of friendly sort options for the 83 mixes in Quickplay like complexity, duration, and artist/title. You can create setlists of several mixes to play back to back. Happy with your score? You can send a challenge to a friend to beat it right from the post-game menu.
Party Mode can be enabled from the main menu, which plays songs jukebox-style so you can just enjoy the impressive remixes. Unfortunately, Party Mode only plays songs randomly, so you can't pick your favorite tracks.
New Freestyle sections of songs let you crossfade, scratch, and trigger samples how you like. Crossfading is the best of the three, allowing you to isolate records A and B at will. But Freestyle scratching and trigger sampling comes with some lag that makes it difficult to perform in tempo. Plus, you can only produce the most rudimentary scratches, and the pre-recorded professional scratches in the game sound much better than anything you can pull off with the plastic controller.
The first DJ Hero let you hook up a microphone and sing along or freestyle over the mixes, but the vocals weren't part of the gameplay. Now, a vocalist can participate in the performance and be rated on his or her pitch and rhythm just like in Guitar Hero or Rock Band. However, because these are unique mixes with chopped up and scratched lyrics, they're really hard to sing along with. Plus, your favorite song will be mixed with another track you may or may not know. Someone picking up the microphone to sing with DJ Hero 2 at a party will be very confused.
I've said in the past that DJ Hero is a lot of fun despite the fact that it doesn't have much to do with real DJing (much like the disconnect between Guitar Hero and actually playing a guitar). One example: DJs play extended mixes of many songs strung together, but in DJ Hero you play one mash-up at a time. The sequel partially rectifies this by including six Megamixes that string three to four songs together. It's a welcome addition I want to see expanded in future DJ Heroes.
The two-player battles have been much improved. Whereas previously each player simply tried to reach the highest score on the same song, now you have actual call-and-response DJ battles. Player one scratches a few phrases, then it's player two's turn. They try to outdo one another until a winner has won enough checkpoints. These enjoyable battles can be played either locally or online.
You can follow your Rep from the main menu and check on the progress of your Achievements/Trophies, compare your scores on the Leaderboards, see how many stars you've earned, and read your Hero Feed. The Hero Feed provides all sorts of fun statistics from how many mixes you've played to game hours logged to your average score multiplier.
Calibration is a necessary evil in modern music games. Unfortunately, calibration in DJ Hero 2 is a confusing affair that often took me several tries before I could actually play the game. This and long load times keep me from getting into a song as fast as I'd like.
Xbox 360 DJs have the option of using their Avatar instead of one of the in-game mixmeisters. Believe it or not, the feature isn't as lame as it sounds.