“DJ Hero” reviewed… by actual DJs!

Left to right: Michael Toast, R.O.B., Tina T and Ikon (Photo by Scott Den Herder)

“Let’s. Get. Ready. To. Juggleeeee!” And with that rousing cry, DJ R.O.B. took control of the turntables. Well, a table. And it was made of plastic. And was part of a video game.

In honor of the DJ Hero video game release, four faces familiar to the Vegas club scene headed to the Weekly offices to lay their talented turntabilist hands on a game that’s got some in the DJing world a bit nervous. Could DJ Hero spawn a new group of wannabes able to swipe their jobs after having only commanded a virtual dance floor? DJs R.O.B., Tina T, Michael Toast and Ikon were ready to find out.

In the ultimate battle royale, turntable veteran of 26 years, R.O.B., squared off against pint-sized Tina T, who consistently proves chick DJs don’t need to spin in their undies to draw a crowd (and is also featured in a commercial for the game). Selecting Jazzy Jeff and the late DJ AM as their virtual personas, avatars spinning in what looked like an ice cream truck. (Full disclosure: we used a cheat code to unlock all levels and characters of the game).

“This is like watching someone try to write a book, that doesn’t know how to read,” taunted Ikon as R.O.B. and Tina struggled to follow the corresponding combo of red, green and blue buttons on their mini turntable (much like the buttons in the game’s predecessor Guitar Hero) while simultaneously trying to remember to scratch and use the crossfader at signaled times. “Can we get a 7-year-old kid in here to help?” joked Toast.

R.O.B. caught on quickly and gained a significant lead with such fierce concentration he barely blinked and his tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth (much like when Michael Jordan plays basketball). Was it all his years in the biz that gave him the upper hand? “I did go on YouTube and I sat there on my desk and emulated what they were doing,” said R.O.B. “It helped me out.”

Added Tina, “He’s been excited about it and known about this game before anyone I’ve talked to.” R.O.B. was doing so well, in fact, that he reached the point to activate the “Euphoria” button (similar to “Star Power” in Guitar Hero). “Rob’s on E!” laughed the hecklers.

Next up were Ikon and Toast, who, even though they were trying to coach Tina earlier, were equally unskilled at the game. “It sounds like someone put these songs in a blender,” cringed Ikon when he couldn’t keep up with the hit zone on the screen. Both he and Toast made blunders galore while Ikon controlled DJ Shadow against Toast’s Daft Punk duo at a massive festival setting with go-gos twirling glow sticks.

R.O.B.’s YouTube research and visits to Best Buy to check out the demo ultimately paid off and he garnered the most points of the group, though no one really cared about the score. The day was more about how these professional DJs think the game stacks up to the intricacies of commanding real ones and twos.

“It’s a fun video game and that’s what it is: it’s a video game,” Ikon said.

“Obviously you’re using two turntables when you spin, so that’s the first disadvantage,” said Toast about the game’s single table. Said R.O.B., “The one basic fundamental missing from [DJ Hero] is beat-matching.” Tina agreed that the technical aspects are quite different, yet, “The game and actual DJing are similar in the sense that you’re rocking beats and you’re getting into the energy.”

All concurred: There’s no reason to worry that a kid can walk into a club and score a gig after getting a high DJ Hero score. However, the impact on a new generation can’t be dismissed. “Just as what Guitar Hero did for classic rock, this is doing for mashups in a sense of giving kids more exposure to music,” Toast said. Tina mentioned the game highlights some of the most amazing DJs in the world. Said Ikon, “I do think [DJ Hero is] extremely great to get kids and people interested in DJing.” RO.B. added, “If they’re interested, they’ll go to the music store and they’ll buy the real turntables … it’s definitely a stepping stone.”

So what else did the DJs think about the game? A few highlights:

What do you think about the controller itself and how it compares to a real turntable?

Ikon: It’s cool that they tried to incorporate the feeling of a real record on it. And you have the crossfader which is, it’s basically the exact same as a crossfader you would find on a mixer. The operation of it’s different, but it feels exactly the same, so that’s cool.

R.O.B.: I think they definitely intended to give it that feel and that touch of a DJ, but they knew it was a game and they can’t sit there and design a 1200, design a mixer and incorporate it in the game, so they came close where they needed to.

Toast: As a DJ, when you’re playing and you touch the record, you have that feeling. I was noticing that when I was playing on [the DJ Hero controller], I kept wanting to spin it back, like I had a song in my head. But that’s not what you do, I mean you’re only scratching on that part and then if you throw the record, all of a sudden those three buttons end up [on the other side] and you’re like, “Whoa!” And then you start getting all lost.

DJ Theeo had said on his Twitter, “The real DJ Hero game would have a level where you’re trying to hunt down a promoter in a crowded party trying to get paid.” So hypothetically, are there any other levels you’d like to add to the game to make it more “realistic”?

Tina: You could have a bonus girl, maybe a drunk girl at the club come up to you and hand you a request and if you decide to take the request and you pull it off right, then you get a thousand bonus points. You know what I mean? So you can have little people coming and bothering you to make a request and if you’re able to when you’re playing the game and you want to take that request, you get bonus points.

R.O.B.: Or the go-go girls will come up behind the booth and give you shots, and you start messing up and then you lose all the points.

Ikon: It gets all slow motion, you get belligerent and your vision gets blurry or something like that.

R.O.B.: And then all the crowd would leave the floor and the game would shut down.

Tina: I definitely would never want to see them focus on like too much of the drinking, partying aspects in the game because it is [for] kids and I think there’s a lot of stereotyped around DJing and drinking nonstop and everything, so it’s great that right now it’s super positive and there’s people dancing and it’s great energy.

Ikon: I though it would have been cool that if you weren’t doing well, the whole time we were watching when AM [in the game] was spinning, he’s going crazy and he’s smiling the whole time, but it’d be great if, say, you were really, really bad, if he looked at the screen and was like, “Dude, c’mon,” or something like that.

R.O.B.: I don’t know if there’s a mode in here of if they haven’t included it or not, but we were talking about that, if you’re really doing bad and messing up, that the crowd would leave the floor and the turntables would stop and everybody would boo and you have to start over.

Toast: They start throwing glow sticks at you … It would be really funny if you’d stink, if you mess up really bad, you lose your hotel room and you have to sleep on the promoter’s couch.

If you had to pick one favorite feature of the game, what would it be?

R.O.B.: The go-go girls! They’re hot!

Tina: They took people like DJ AM, Jazzy Jeff, Grandmaster Flash, they’ve got Daft Punk in there, and seeing those DJs from a DJ perspective, seeing them in the game was really, really awesome.

Toast: I’d like to see one in every household. Nah, I mean, honestly, it blows my mind, I mean I’ve been doing this for a really long time, every since I was a little kid I never though I would see DJ culture come to what it is… [DJ Hero] is affordable enough for kids to come in, take a good look at it and maybe be inspired to hopefully move on to the next step which would be become a DJ and get yourself some turntables from Guitar Center or something.

Ikon: I liked the production side of it. Every mashup that you hear in there where if you’re nailing it and it’s going on, they’re done really, really, really well. The four of us were sitting here and a couple times one came on and we were like, “Man, I want that remix.” It was cool.

(Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly and at LasVegasWeekly.com.)

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