Prodigal hero

Love them or hate them, Rock Band and Guitar Hero can be hot messes. Both games are intended to be played with at least four people to deliver a maximum experience and, yeah, a fight always seems to erupt over who’s going to be the drummer. Assuming you’ve got the musical palette, Activision’s DJ Hero 2 might be the dialing down of the rhythm-game experience that you’re looking for.

Using a turntable peripheral and optional microphone (game packages vary wildly), DH2 takes rhythm games back to their roots. In the heyday of the original Guitar Hero, players only had one faux geetar with which to pretend to be Tony Iommi. DH2 is similar in that it requires only its turntable (not even the microphone) for a full experience.

Furthermore, Activision’s turntable does a better job of mimicking its inspiration than the digital guitars of yore, though that probably owes more to the fact that real turntables are less complex than real guitars. The game’s lengthy, very helpful tutorial provides 13 lessons on how to use the peripheral, with each function representing some counterpart of the real deal. You get to cross-fade textures, add in effects, and pull a variety of scratches.

Part of what makes the game work is the turntable’s delicate balance of fine- vs. large-motor skills. Players use one hand to spin the turntable and hit notes while the other manipulates the cross-fader, effects knob, and euphoria button. The demands feel evenly spread between both hands and result in some impressively complicated moves in the higher difficulties. Ever wanted to cross-fade certain pieces of a track for only a few measures while editing out lyrics through well-timed scratches? You can here, and the disbelief is easy to suspend when the 404s are hitting the floor and you’re nailing a 50-note streak. Furthermore, DH2 rewards the player for improvising in certain parts of songs. Chances are that your first scratches will sound more like a needle malfunction and less like creative inspiration, but the synergy of song, controller, and player leads to intuitive scratching before you know it.

Don’t get bigheaded though, the real star here is the music. The original DJ Hero featured several hip-hop/rock mash-ups that were beyond bad ideas (think Third Eye Blind vs. the Jackson 5). In the sequel, Activision foregoes an inclusive, but botched, setlist in exchange for straightforward hip-hop, dance, disco, and electronica. In the training mode, I murdered “American Boy” by Estelle and Kanye West mashed against Chic’s “Good Time.” In Empire mode (single player), I played an improvised set including remixes with Naughty by Nature vs. Jackson 5, Lady Gaga vs. Tiesto, and Deee-Lite vs. Chic. Even in the easy mode, the game cleverly makes the player feel as if the tracks are being remixed on the fly, with the higher difficulties of the game reaching for a real turntable’s complexity, if not its perfect mimicry. This is rhythm gaming the way you’d like to remember it: intuitive, fun, rewarding — no fistfights necessary.•

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