DJ Hero Retrospective

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Rhthym gaming took the world by storm in 2005. A relatively unknown company by the name of Harmonix brought Guitar Hero into the public conscious and blasted themselves to stardom. The mixture of an old-school score mentality mixed with classic rock tunes lead to an immensely popular debut that would see the series continue on for a good few years.

I jumped on the bandwagon in 2007 when Guitar Hero II was released for the Xbox 360. While I never fancied myself an actual rock star, I had some previous experience using a guitar and I liked that songs I truly admired were getting more recognition. It also felt super cool to nail insane solos without breaking a sweat.

Most of my time in college was spent playing Guitar Hero in one form or another. Its sequel or the highly polished third entry gained more of my attention in 2007 than any other game or series.

While the success of the series showed the games industry that graphics and genre weren’t that important in making lots of money, the brand eventually began to stagnate. There is only so much you can do with the formula before people realize they’ve had their fill.

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Harmonix seemed to catch on to this after creating the second game. They did not sign with Activision to produce the third and instead went on to make Rock Band, the biggest competitor to the Guitar Hero franchise. The business model was also dramatically better; instead of creating yearly sequels, Harmonix opted to utilize the online connectivity of newer consoles to continually produce extra content for the game.

Activision sort of copied that idea, but still put out a staggering amount of games with the Guitar Hero branding. Handheld consoles got installments; cellphones weren’t free from virtual shredding; there was even a spin-off series focused more on hip-hop and dance music.

That is where my interest truly piqued. I’ve always been a fan of classic rock and I love heavy metal, but to hear modern pop songs and classic hits mashed together in some freestyle kind of insanity was just golden. It encapsulated everything I liked about the internet era of music discovery with a style of gameplay that I had quickly grown to love.

Enter DJ Hero, Activision’s attempt to branch out the Hero name to reach wider audiences. The entire genre was quickly on the decline, but this didn’t stop Activision and Freestyle Games from attempting something different.

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DJ Hero was a more back to basics approach to gameplay progression mixed with some popular artists and DJs that were remixing classic dance tunes alongside some rock and metal hits. It created a strange, dissonant sound that felt comfortable in the space of gaming.

It also had a much more structurally solid controller and gameplay that totally emphasized high scores and never ending combos. Different ideas like rewinding and crossfading also put a greater emphasis on player interaction within each track. Gone were the days of pretending to be a star; you were now given some control over what the music sounded like.

The sequel, DJ Hero 2, improved almost every aspect of the previous game. The visuals were cleaner, the audio was better mixed and the soundtrack was even more solid (despite it’s omission of Daft Punk tunes from the first game). 2 focused more on rocking clubs and EDM, but its gameplay was as frenetic and score happy as before.

It also didn’t hurt that the multiplayer was greatly expanded. While credit needs to be given to the developers for attempting to not nickel and dime their consumers (the original DJ Hero has a mode that allows a player with a Guitar Hero controller to play along), having multiplayer that actually utilizes the new fangled controller just makes more sense.

Each mode feels like an intense duel with a potential usurper. Score and accuracy are dominant alongside tracks mixed specifically to up the ante with each successive checkpoint. It brought a cut-throat attitude to competitive play that had long been missing in the rhythm gaming genre.

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Sadly, 2010 marked the year that this genre of games couldn’t sustain itself. The influx of releases and more costly instrument peripherals turned any newer customers off. While they were happy with buying one “toy” and sticking with it, having to collect a virtual band in your house was too much.

Not to mention that Guitar Hero was releasing games that focused on specific bands and having redux packages of older content, but even competitor series Rock Band had started to come out with “track packs” and games dedicated to the career of specific artists (granted, the Beatles are fairly important).

For what it’s all worth, I still believe that DJ Hero was the best thing to come out of that explosion of popularity. Guitar Hero also felt a little cheesy to me and a bit insulting to actual musicians. People who had no intention of picking up actual instruments or no understanding of what went into making music treated these songs like simple levels.

I remember playing a song by Rush and explaining to my friends how I saw them live and had been a fan for most of high school, but they couldn’t care less. To them, Rush was the song with the hard drum section and female singer. It was infuriating to me.

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With DJ Hero, it didn’t matter if you truly didn’t care about the artists are songs on offer. The game required you to be more active in what was going on. You couldn’t simply sit there with controller in hand and bang through a few songs; you had to pay attention to your crossfader, work on maximizing your note streak for potential rewinds and add your own personal flair (via samples) to up your score.

The shift in focus from a slightly more involved spectator to a remix guru just made everything feel more rewarding. Despite the track list being the same for everyone, the way you heard the song belonged to you.

It truly made me want to consider being a DJ as a career path. While I never went down that road, I started a friendship with a DJ at a club out of my amazement for what he was able to create. Those songs weren’t his, but the way they were played was wholly his invention.

DJ Hero perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of the club scene while making the player feel like the star of the show. It didn’t hurt that Daft Punk leant their likeness to the original game and that Deadmau5 signed on for the sequel, either. DJ Hero was into a burgeoning music scene before it erupted into mainstream acceptance.

Sadly, the potential third game will never happen. Both Activision and Harmonix tried their hands at new Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles last year, but sales figures were underwhelming for both. People seem to have had their fun and want these games to fade into blissful memories.

It may be pointless to ask for another entry into the DJ Hero series, but I’d pay a lot to see a return to such vibrancy and joy within music gaming. If I’m going to pretend I’m any kind of star of a music game, at least it should be the game that actually gave me control over the sounds pumping through my speakers.

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Rock (Band) Isn’t Dead!!!!

One of the biggest complaints you will hear in regards to modern music is that rock is dead. When Gene Simmons claims Rock is dead, it’s probably a pretty decent sign that the genre is on the way out. Statements like that reinforce the cynical nature inside of older people who just want a return to the old days.

The same echoes with the rhythm gaming genre. When Activision and Harmonix killed off Guitar Hero and Rock Band, gamers were left without any kind of successor. Sure, other types of rhythm games popped up, but nothing that utilized the guitar controllers and plastic drum kits we had collected over the years.

It seemed like all of that investment and trust was just thrown to the curb. Harmonix did their best to support Rock Band 3 with DLC well into 2012, but they eventually closed up shop. Since the genre had seen better days, there wasn’t much purpose in producing content for a game that people weren’t buying.

Just like how most people claimed that rock was dead, so was Rock Band. We all had our fun and now just have memories. No one will ever make the same classic game again. Why would you? We have all moved on.

Except that isn’t even true. Not only will Rock Band 4 be releasing tomorrow (with Guitar Hero: Live releasing later this year), but rock is not dead. Far from it. It may not hold the mainstream appeal it once had, but people haven’t forgotten about rock.

Sup?

A little band by the name of Ghost have done everything in their power to resurrect the 60’s style of gothic/satanic inspired pop/rock for a new era. Mastodon, once a progressive metal band, have transitioned into mostly their own genre with lots of throwbacks to classic rock styling.

For that matter, The Darkness released a new album in May of this year. They are a band founded on bringing back 80’s hard rock. To even claim that rock has died is just being ignorant; if anything, rock is more specialized now then it ever used to be.

Certain things fade in and out of fashion all the time. Music is the easiest to track as it has been around for as long as people began speaking. Much like how the Middle Ages was overrun with chamber music and the Renaissance brought about classical music, most of the 20th century was dominated by rock.

You can even go further by dissecting different decades and identifying sub-genres. The 50’s was the dawn of rock’n’roll. The 60’s brought pop/rock and the 70’s started with prog rock. Even now, in 2015, rock has mostly turned to metal with some bands clinging to old-fashioned ideals.

Gaming has had a similar resurgence of the past. 2D Platformers had all but died in the early 2000’s, but we now have more made every month then were released in the entirety of the 6th console generation. It’s almost as if the SNES never left.

If only you could buy one of these brand new.

To say anything is dead is to know where humanity and public interest is going. If you can logically see into the future, then you can make the claim that something has moved on. How can that ever come to fruition when so many people talk about it?

Could rock music ever die? There are indie bands no one has heard of pumping out sweet licks every week. There are people in their bedrooms recording songs made solely by them. Even gigantic, mega famous bands like Metallica are going back-to-basics and producing music in the vein of their origins.

Rock isn’t dead. Far from it. The same can be said for Rock Band. Now that the time is right and the consumers are hungry for a return to basics, Rock Band will get to thrive where it’s needed most; in the hearts of true fans.

The genre may have crashed before, but Harmonix never left the building. They let other acts take over the stage while they calculated how to one-up the competition. Allowing users to retain DLC between console generations is completely unprecedented and will definitely lead to sales from cynical folk.

More importantly, we may finally have that dream version of Rock Band we always wanted. Every single hit song from every decade on one console. The fact that I can load up Jimi Hendrix, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Talking Heads and The Police in one setlist is beyond amazing.

Better still, Harmonix has the power to make new music known. Most people who will buy Rock Band 4 are probably going to be younger then the target demographic (18-34). They will get to experience the best of the past and the brightest of the present all under one roof.

Long Live Rock!!

I don’t think there is a better time for rock then right now. If you still think it’s dead, you’re just delusional.

Beatles: Rock Band – Review

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After a few days of completely destroying The Beatles Rock Band, I can rest assured that a final verdict is ready. I’ve seen nearly all of the games challenges and conquered them and I’ve managed to play the harmony sections with a friend, so I definitely think everything is covered.

The Beatles Rock Band is Harmonix’s next game in the highly regarded Rock Band series. Instead of trying to focus all their effort into creating a mixed setlist, Harmonix focuses their efforts on one band and does everything to the fullest. You will not be displeased with this title if you are a Hardcore Beatles fan.

What may displease you is the gamer inside. Now, I’m a massive fan of the Beatles. I own all of their albums and even their 2 B-Sides collections and Live Albums. There is not a Beatles track that I don’t have in my possession. But what irks me about Beatles Rock Band is how nothing is dramatically changed over the previous titles in the series.

To start off, the game launches you into a story mode where you and 3 friends will follow The Beatles throughout their career with some animated cutscenes that detail little to nothing about the actual event you will be playing. The arenas and areas you play at are locations like “Shea Stadium,” “Abbey Road Studios” and “Apple Corp. Rooftop,” which all take the form of Chapters (there are 8 in all). While this is definitely an amazing touch in providing fans to see how the Beatles existed, it definitely leaves out the parts where Ringo and Lennon quit or any of their in-discrepancies.

Still, the setlist is what matters the most in this game and it definitely delivers the goods. Every song is a hit, though some may be a bit boring on Bass or Drums. The only real problem I have is that not enough is offered. The Beatles have 14 studio albums and while every one has at least 1 track in the game, some albums only have 1 track in the game. The game offers up 45 hits and this is a marked improvement over both Guitar Hero band based games, but it still amounts to about 3 hours of gameplay, at best.

Why not pull more from the catalog to give fans a more enticing package? Considering Rock Band 2 shipped with 84 songs and another 20 for free as DLC, thinking about why Harmonix chose to leave out such a large chunk of their work (and even singles like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Penny Lane”) is puzzling.

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Never been better.

The graphics in the game are something to behold. There is definitely a slight cartoon edge to the look of the group, but their charm has never been capture in a digital form any better than it is here. Each song showcases its own music video of sorts in the background and the more trippy songs from the catalog have equally trippy backgrounds to accompany them. The only problem you may run into is running this on an SDTV, as the bright colors can often be distracting.

The note charting on the instruments is the weakest part for hardcore fans of Rock Band. Virtually nothing will give you challenge other than trying to 100% a few songs. But, even at my worst, I managed 98’s on songs (even on Drums, which I am quite awful at). The way this game tries to add challenge is by giving you achievements that relate to songs.

The achievements sort of work like the challenge based career mode that Guitar Hero 5 exhibits. Things like, “Play Dig a Pony and hit every hammeron/pulloff without Strumming” is neat, but relegating them to the achievement screen means a lot of players will simply never bother to figure out what is next.

There is a challenge mode in the game, but it simply tasks you with playing each chapter from the story mode with the songs running back to back (almost like an endless setlist). You never have to play the entire game from start to finish, but even replaying the game without any added challenge makes it worthless. Why not give gamers something unique to perform while replaying the game?

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Harmonies can definitely be a pain, but they also provide some fun.

The one new addition to the gameplay is vocal harmonies. While these are not a dramatic change, their implementation is flawless. Harmonix made the game so that you can connect 3 microphones to your 360 and have 3 players singing at different pitches all at once. But instead of just assigning mic 1 to harmony 1, the game never tells you which part you need to specifically sing. This allows your friends to help you out of tough spots or even just have 3 players singing 1 single part.

Even with that innovation, this feature is not something that a lot of music games will adopt. There is limited appeal to singing in the first place, but having a group of people who even want to try singing together is just asking for trouble. What doesn’t help with the harmonies is the way the screen looks during these sections. Words for Mic 2 and 3 are shown on top, but Mic 1 is at the bottom. Since we’ve been trained to stare at the bottom of the screen since Rock Band 1, trying to look at the top is just confusing (there is no real other way to fix this, though).

What does help this game along is the promise of DLC. Harmonix plans to release full Beatles albums in the coming months to further flesh out the games catalog of music. If the entire discography of the group were to be released, this definitely would be the ultimate band based title you could ever buy. What hurts this feature is how the music is not exportable to other Rock Band titles (nor does the DLC even work in other games). You will always need to have this disc, which means that you can never expect a sequel to improve upon any aspect of the game you feel is weak.

Also, you have to think about the appeal of this title. If you truly don’t like The Beatles, there is absolutely nothing in here that will change your mind. I have nothing against all Beatles songs in a game about them, but trying to market this to other players seems impossible.

So for my verdict, I have to say rent this game. If you truly are a hardcore Beatles nut who needs everything with the groups name on it, just buy the thing. If you are getting extremely tired of music/rhythm games, there is nothing here that will sway your opinion. The game is of extremely high quality, but the gameplay aspect is so unchanged to really make waning fans take notice.

First Impressions – Beatles: Rock Band

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The Beatles can easily be called one of the greatest bands in history. There is no questioning their impact on the music industry and their quality as a group. But will you be able to say the same thing about the newest Rock Band title, Beatles: Rock Band? Well, let’s take a first look.

The first screen the game gives you is a calibration screen. While my friends and I were using a CRT monitor (therefore no lag), the calibration seems to be equal to the system used in Rock Band 2. I can’t image that anything is terribly off with the system, but it’s nothing new and will probably still cause headaches.

On to the actual gameplay side of the equation. Unwilling to try any of the vocal harmonies out (and down about 2 mics anyway), we decided to keep it straight instrument play. We booted up the game to a screen that allows you to sign in 4 gamer profiles (one for each instrument) and pick a save file for your story progress. This was nifty as 1 person may be complete, yet the second player may still need something extra.

After selecting your save file, the game goes to a screen which has each instrument press a button to enter the game. This system is a little strange as to drop out an instrument requires you to go back to the main menu, which is 2 screens past the actual menu for selecting “Story Mode” or “Challenge.” Still, it’s not that awkward and you eventually get used to it.

Once at the games “real” menu, you can pick “Story” or “Challenge.” While my friends and I thought challenge would be similar to what Guitar Hero 5 had done (with cool little requirements), all the challenges consist of is playing the setlist back to back in the different venues. Anything consisting of “Play X Song hammering on notes” is relegated to the achievements, meaning most people will probably never figure them out.

So even though challenge mode is rather worthless, Story is a bit different. Trying to paint the timeline of the Beatles would be a hard task, but Harmonix seems to have gotten most of their story out there (excluding all the drugs and naked bed displays in Amsterdam). Before you can even pick a song in each setlist, you are treated to an animated movie that mostly just uses visuals and a song to paint the story. It really makes no sense, but you can easily skip them by pressing start.

When you finally do get to start playing a song, you come to one simple realization; this is just another damn rhythm game. While Guitar Hero 5 is certainly the same thing as previous entries, it tried to give you something new with the career mode or party play. Beatles: Rock Band takes the easy way out and just repackages Rock Band with flashy colors and different songs.

To its credit, the selection of songs is stellar. But, if you dislike the Beatles, this game is 100% worthless to you. While I can’t say that making a band related game focus on just the band is a bad thing, it does alienate people from wanting to pick this up if they have no interest in The Beatles.

Well, that aside, I love the Beatles, so I enjoyed what was offered. While I wished for more (there is no reason why 80 songs could not have been offered), Harmonix promises to have full albums available for download soon. This is a feature that both Guitar Hero Aerosmith and Metallica lack (albeit Metallica does have 1 album). This could keep you playing the game for a long time if you really have a hankering for Rock Band and The Beatles.

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While it may look amazing here, imagine this on a blurry, fuzzy, SDTV.

The visuals are pretty ridiculous, but we played on a standard def television. In SD, the graphics are too bright, vibrant and distracting. When activating star power in SD, you suddenly lose track of where Yellow or Orange are coming from. Not only that, but any sustained notes (ones you hold) are too soft to be seen, so you kind of just let go and lose out on points.

Even with losing those points, you will easily be able to 5 star everything in this game if you are an expert Rock Band player. Even with my love for The Beatles, I could not help but feel a little cheated by the lack of difficulty. I may have failed 1 song on drums (one of the earlier, more hard rock songs), but even so it only took me another try to pass it. Even the songs that say “Full Difficulty” for Guitar/Bass/Drums are really just like a tier 5 song in regular Rock Band.

So without any kind of challenge other than achievements/trophies, Beatles: Rock Band is entirely for collector’s or people who are just hooked on the rhythm game craze. I hate to say this, too, but Guitar Hero 5 wins in my book. At least you can get some cool competitive modes or challenges to spice up the gameplay. With Beatles: Rock Band, you either play the songs or don’t. It’s really kind of sad.

I may have to sample the vocal harmonies before I can really give a final verdict on this (and I should probably try out some of the achievements as a few looked insanely hard), but I really don’t think this is worth a buy to the casual fan of Rock Band or even someone who has a waning interest in the genre. Skip this.