Last year's DJ Hero turned out to be a successful spin-off for Activision, as it doggedly pushed the music genre in different directions. Aiming the dance music game squarely at the European consumer, and with sound understanding of DJ culture from developer FreeStyleGames, DJ Hero turned out to be a steady seller, despite entering the market with a hefty price tag.
It's sequel, out this week and tagged with a cheaper price, builds on the original with deeper multiplayer modes and a wider selection of music, and is being praised as reinvigorating the music genre. Here, GamesIndustry.biz rounds up reviews from some of the leading games websites, to share and contrast the critic's opinion.
Writing for Eurogamer, Keza MacDonald starts by pointing to a feeling of fatigue in the rock game genre, noting "I've been playing Guitar Hero for fully five years, and I've reached my ceiling," but being drawn to the simplicity and clean design of the latest from FreeStyleGames. "DJ Hero 2 strips away almost everything except you, the music, the patterns, and the big number above your score meter," she says.
Improvements to the game include passing more control of individual mixes to the player, says MacDonald, increasing the sense of creativity for the user.
"There are whole sections of mixes where the game just hands over control, letting you set off effects, scratch or crossfade exactly how you like. You're graded on your freestyling at the end of a mix, but it doesn't affect your score. You don't have to be naturally good at it to make progress, but it's an outlet for your musical creativity, and a skill that you can feel developing the more you play."
She adds: "Freestyling doesn't just give you the illusion of control over the music – something that DJ Hero was already very good at – it actually gives you control, putting key parts of the mix in your hands and inviting you to either recreate what FreeStyleGames does with the tracks or take them in your own direction. It's much closer to actual DJing than to beatmatching."
Awarding the game a 9 out of ten score, she sums up: "DJ Hero 2 is the freshest thing in rhythm gaming right now, a lifeline for people bored of guitars and drums and genre veterans craving the purer, simpler rhythm-action kick of a pre-Guitar Hero world."
Over at Game Informer, Matt Helgason is also full of praise for the game, but questions dropping an unwelcome feature from the original game and replacing it with another that feels unnecessary.
"Notable in their absence are the guitar/DJ duet songs, and thank God. I never found that mode much fun, and it resulted in precious track slots being devoted to terrible rock/hip-hop mash-ups." he writes. "I'm glad they are gone. However, the new vocal mode (which uses a DJ Hero or Guitar Hero mic) isn't much better. The vocal lines are so cut-up, scratched, and jumbled that it feels like playing karaoke game in the grips of a seizure."
Despite that small blip, he awards the game 9.25 and praises the quality and calibre of the music.
"The mixes themselves are almost uniformly great, so the hit-to-miss ratio this time around is much better. I won't bore you with listing all of them, but the track list expertly balances superstars like 50 Cent, Kanye West, and Lady Gaga with respected producers like DJ Shadow and Chemical Brothers, plus outstanding tracks by lesser-known artists."
The multiplayer in DJ Hero 2 is seen as a massive improvement by Matt Wales at IGN UK, calling it "an absolute blast."
"What's nice about DJ Hero 2's competitive modes is that, by their very design, they're total levellers and anyone, regardless of skill, can get stuck in and have a chance of winning," he says.
It's this focus on multiplayer that lifts the latest DJ Hero title and places it head-to-head with other leading music games on the market, says Wales, scoring the game 9.0.
"With no arbitrary hardware upgrade to justify this time, FreeStyleGames has poured all its efforts into delivering a sequel that improves on the original in every conceivable way, from song roster to multiplayer to freestyle mode," he writes.
"Subtly-improved single-player is as recklessly compulsive as ever but DJ Hero 2's superbly-realised focus on social gaming, an aspect conspicuously absent last time around, takes things to a whole new level. DJ Hero was always worth a spin in the right crowd but, with so many new ways to get everyone involved, it's no longer just a living room curio - it's a genuine, bona fide dance floor-filler."