Tag Archives: guitar hero

FGC #242 DJ Hero

Rock out!I’m racist against DJs.

Like most racists, I don’t mean every DJ out there, or even a number of people that could be called DJs. Some of my best friends are DJs! The first “adult” that I thought was a cool person (and not just another authority figure) was a DJ (he had a jukebox in his house!), but he was a radio DJ, a very distinct subset of DJ. And, of course, I bear no ill-will toward people that merely “DJ” their own “playlists”, as that is an action as natural as meticulously alphabetizing all of your videogames. Most people are DJs, and that’s okay. And, heck, back in my high school/college days, even I, Goggle Bob, was a DJ, albeit, again, a “radio DJ” and not some other malevolent type. I could spin all the hits with the best of ‘em, and I knew I was doing something right, because every popular kid in the school thought I was playing the worst music available. You’ll listen to this entire Ben Folds Five album and you’ll like it, you damn audience!

No, what I’m talking about is a very specific form of DJ. I’m talking about the performing DJ.

Again, like many racists, I claim I have a reason for this unbridled loathing. See, I have been a musical performer since… yeesh… does kid’s choir count? I’m not really “in the scene” now, but I am kind of an attention hog, so I’ve always found the stage to be inviting. So whether it be singing, trumpeting, or tickling the ivories, I’m big into performing in a musical way. I’m sure we have a picture of me being hardcore somewhere around here… Ah, here we go…

ROCK OUT

See! Totally rocking! Or… something! Look, I might not be that great at not stoppin’ the rockin’, but I’m pretty sure I was involved in a band that may have won an award from MTV2 at some point, so let’s claim that actually means something. But it’s not about the trophies, money, or the fans; it’s about the music, man. That’s what’s really important! Going out there with your original music that you’ve practiced long and hard, and seeing the smiles on the faces of the twelve people that happened to show up at this podunk bar on a Friday night instead of having a real life with friends and people that actually care about them. Wait, may have gotten a little sidetracked there. Again, to be clear, it’s about the music.

DJs? Modern, performing DJs? They just hit the F key and call it a day.

How I despise them.

I’m racist, so I’m going to draw the stereotype. First of all, it’s always a dude. I’m sure there are women DJs out there, but, like dwarves and drummers, I’ve never seen one. Second, they have a tendency toward trench coats and unkempt, dark hair. That’s my style! I saw it first! Goggles? Goggles!?! Mine, loser! But once you get past their disheveled appearance, then you get into the real reason I abhor them so, so much. The DJ’s instrument is a laptop. His music is other people’s music. His “skill” is measured by how effectively he can smack that F key to set off an air horn to the beat. Cross fade is considered more valuable than breathing. The beat is all. The beat is one. And if those Guitar Center speakers aren’t pumping out the bass, then get off the stage.

And audiences love it. Stupid, tasteless people love a good DJ. And I disdain them all the more. Wake up, sheeple!

DJ Hero at least makes being a DJ appear to be hard. Right off the bat, we’ve got this monstrosity:

ROB is not a DJ

The appeal of the Guitar Hero controller was that, hollow piece of plastic or not, it looked like a damn musical instrument (specifically, a guitar or something). Rock Band Drums didn’t exactly bring the bass, but they still appeared to be the typical “drum set of the future” that Casio has been peddling since the 80’s. And the Rock Band Keyboard is pretty much just a truncated keyboard, and any pianist would tell you mo’ keys equal mo’ problems, so hooray for lil’ keyboards.

The DJ Hero Turntable, meanwhile, is obviously a turntable, but… what else is going on here? Let’s check the manual…

What am I even looking at?

Crossfade slider? Blanking plate? Euphoria button!? What the hell is even happening?

Okay, okay, let’s not get crazy. I’m sure even the Wiimote looks scary and button-heavy to a time-displaced Neanderthal. The DJ Hero Turntable might not be as inviting as the Guitar Hero Guitar, but how does the game actually play? Is it just more clicky, plastic buttons, or is it actually a fun and innovative experience?

And the answer is, surprisingly, DJ Hero makes being a DJ appear to be actually… natural.

Rock out!DJ Hero is very much a descendant of Guitar Hero, so, yes, it is a bit heavy on the “just press the red button to the beat”. As someone who plays guitar (just not very well), I’ve always seen Guitar Hero as a really weird approximation of actual guitar playing, and I’m guessing DJ Hero is much the same way for record scratching. But the whole experience is much more… active than I ever expected. There is some actual skill involved in crossfading, and tapping along to the beat feels… right when orchestrating these dope mash-ups.

Yes, I suppose that’s the other thing that surprised me: there is some actual craft in the medleys available to play in DJ Hero. Granted, anytime someone invokes Queen, they’ve automatically got my attention, but I was downright surprised how many excellent tunes from yesterday and today (today being ten years ago) blend together perfectly. I was expecting a dubstep, glow stick rave of nonsense, but this… I could actually listen to the DJ Hero soundtrack, and that only enhances my desire to play more. Come to think of it, yes, wow, I could actually play DJ Hero quite a bit and enjoy being a DJ on my couch. By Grandmaster Flash, the disease is inside me!

So it might be responsible for one of the weirder peripherals I own, and it might be another “silly” Guitar Hero-style game, but DJ Hero is actually a worthwhile experience. It’s fun to play, has a lot of good music, and actually makes performance DJing appear viable. It’s a rarity that I find a videogame that turns around my perspective on an entire vocation, so good job, DJ Hero, you’re the hero this racist-against-DJs Goggle Bob needs.

Though I still want my trench coat back.

FGC #242 DJ Hero

  • System: I got mine for the Wii, but Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Playstation 2 versions are available.
  • Es Bueno!Number of players: If you can get two DJ Hero turntables, you can get two DJ Heroes a-scratchin’. Everybody wants to be a DJ Hero!
  • Favorite Track: I can’t explain why I like the Poison/Word Up combo, but I do, and I will broker no debate on it being the best track available.
  • Sinister: The natural “left handed” configuration for this device… doesn’t work out so hot. I am once again being discriminated against.
  • Unlockable: Apparently there are about twelve billion unlockable DJs, outfits, turntables, samples, and skins available. Ah, the heady days before DLC became the norm for every stupid thing that popped into a developer’s head.
  • Did you know? There was apparently some legal trouble with this game, as the publishers of Scratch: The Ultimate DJ claimed Activision stole their bit (and code). The case seems to have tumbled around between “dismissed” and “overturned” a couple of times, and my new DJ skills have severely hampered my already meager attention span, so let’s go ahead and claim that this was the reason we never saw a DJ Hero 2. Either that or the fact that I bought my copy of DJ Hero for five bucks at Big Lots was a factor.
  • Rock out!Would I play again: I’m surprised to be saying this, but, yes, probably. It’ll take a little effort for me to whip out that turntable again, but I did enjoy the experience, and might return to it in the near future. I… would be okay with being a DJ Hero.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon’s Lair for the NES! Ah, yes, the famous animated game that… wait… for the NES? There was an 8-bit version of Dragon’s Lair? That… can’t be good. Please… look forward to it?

FGC #196 Back to the Future

Shouldn't the school and the dance be the same place?Back to the Future, the movie, has surprising origins. For the start of a timeless franchise, BTTF began as simply an idle thought inspired by an old yearbook: “If I knew my parents in high school, what would I think of them? Would I think them nerds? Bullies? … Sluts?” From that simple premise, an ageless trilogy was born, and everything involved (the time travel, the DeLorean, even Doc) was invented to serve a plot that got a teenage boy back to a place where his mom had a different kind of love for her son. It’s easy to forget after trips to the future and the Old West, but the only reason Marty McFly had an adventure at all was to serve a fairly mundane premise (“I bet dad was a nerd!”).

Videogames are forged in much the same fires. I’ve mentioned it before, but some of the greatest games and franchises came from simple concepts like “how about two guys fight” or “here’s an animal that runs fast”. The canon story of the Mega Man franchise involves thousands of years and having to learn the plural of “apocalypse”, and it’s all in the service of explaining why you have to talk to a monkey every time you want to save. The best videogames perfectly integrate their gimmicks with their gameplay and stories, and, sometimes, you get a portal gun out of the deal.

Unfortunately, there are also licensed games. Licensed games, by definition, must properly serve their corporate masters, so, more often than not, you get a big pile of crappy gameplay recklessly duct taped to a movie or book’s original plot. It’s just as rare to see a movie translate well to a videogame as it is to see a videogame transition properly to the big screen. It’s not impossible, but it’s often pretty damn difficult to translate the pacing of a movie to a game where there must be constant “somethings” happening. It can kind of work for an action movie (assuming the action movie features approximately 12,000,000,000 random mooks), but apply that same kind of a thinking to a sci-fi action comedy, and, well, good luck.

NOT FUNSo I don’t envy LJN for having to make a Back to the Future videogame. You could potentially make individual games out of parts of the Back to the Future story, but attempting to tie it all together? Recall that Marty spent an entire day locked in a garage. That is not a good premise for a level! So, while there are a lot of great moments in BTTF, bringing all those moments together in a manner that would be coherent wouldn’t really work for a videogame.

So LJN said, “Hey, screw it, let’s try to cram everything in here anyway.”

It didn’t work out well.

The biggest problem here is that LJN chose to base most of the game on Marty walks around aimlessly. It’s true that, if you really pay attention to BTTF, Marty spends a lot of time just walking between Doc’s place, the high school, and certain modest billboards. Fortunately, not much of the cinematic run time is given over to actually watching Marty walk down suburban 50’s streets while he avoids bees, hula hoops, and conspicuous bowling pins. However, LJN must have loved the idea of Marty on the tough streets of idyllic Hill Valley, because every “world” features at least three stupid segments of, basically, BTTF: The Endless Runner. I’ll give LJN credit for being ahead of its time on this one, but, in a universe that could involve driving a DeLorean, we’re stuck spending 80% of the game hoofing it. Sometimes there’s a skateboard, but the only way that enhances gameplay is by making the stupid game end faster.

NOT FUNLuckily, someone noticed this “gameplay” was about as fun as sitting in a deep fryer, so every few stages are punctuated with another iconic scene from the movie.

And LJN continued to get it wrong.

The first minigame is BTTF Tapper. Marty is at Lou’s Café, and he must repel a fundamental army of bullies with… root beer? As you can probably guess from my glib titling of the area, this bit plays a lot like Midway’s old Tapper game, and the gameplay is simply sliding Marty up and down to properly lob projectiles at approaching malcontents. This is about where every single childhood playthrough ended for Wee Goggle Bob, because you must eliminate, I believe, 20,000 bullies before you’re allowed to proceed. If you fail, you’re forced back to the start of the most recent walking stage, and then, hopefully, you’ll have better luck next time.

This is a weird way to memorialize Lou’s Café in videogame form. You may recall that there is a bully confrontation at Lou’s Café, but the real joy of that scene occurs right outside, when Marty creates a makeshift skateboard, and leaves Biff… in a crappy situation. This thrilling action sequence is ignored so Marty can serve drinks. Huh.

NOT FUNThe next minigame makes a little more sense, but only marginally. I suppose the game had to acknowledge time traveling oedipal complexes eventually, so at “The School”, Marty must attempt to repel the romantic advances of his mother through heart catching. While this could have translated to an X-rated game of Janken, what we wind up with is basically the previous Tapper challenge in reverse. Lorraine Baines produces a series of hearts, and Marty must “block” those hearts by… running straight into them. It is completely unintuitive, and you’re likely to lose a life immediately thanks to the total lack of an explanation beforehand (pop quiz: do you dodge or catch projectiles in every videogame ever made?). However, this challenge is about a million times easier to complete than the Tapper segment, particularly after having completed that gauntlet. Tapper is the Turbo Tunnel of BTTF, Heart Catcher is practically a Kirby game.

But no time for love, Dr. Jones, it’s time for the Under the Sea Dance. Lorraine is finally willing to settle for George, and Marty has to get those cute kids back together through Guitar Hero. I have to give LJN credit here, this primitive rhythm game is pretty alright for its era. You must “catch” music notes to keep the song going and your parents’ libido throbbing, and, if you ROCK OUTunderstand music at all, it’s remarkably easy. Regular notes are always “middle”, flats are always low, and sharps are always high. I can’t speak to how closely the arrangement actually resembles Johnny B Goode, but there are rhythm games even today that have worse interfaces than this ’89 NES game. Good job, LJN, you got one thing right.

Then again, this interpretation of the dance ignores all the other fun stuff that Marty could be doing during this scene, like ducking thugs or helping in a game of Punch-Out with Biff. Still! Good effort! Maybe we can revisit this scene in the sequel (whoops, nope).

And then, finally, we have Marty trying to make his way back to the future. It’s the night of the big thunderstorm, and (finally!) we’re behind the wheel of the DeLorean. It’s time to drive home! And… it sucks.

WINNERThe gameplay here is theoretically sound. You’ve got to hit that iconic 88 MPH, but you have to avoid lesser lightning bolts along the way. Luckily, you don’t have to assist Doc Brown in inventing the zip line, but every little bolt drastically hampers your speed. And it doesn’t matter if you maintain 88 MPH for the entire level, if you whiff at the finish line, guess what happens? That’s right, it’s an instant Game Over, and you’re right back to the beginning of the game. Not the previous level, you have to complete everything all over again. Considering this is the first time you ever see DeLorean gameplay, making the event pass/fail is downright punishing. But don’t worry! You’ll get another chance if you play the entire game again!

I.. don’t think many people spring for that option.

Back to the Future: The Movie is an amazing movie based on a simple idea. Back to the Future: The NES game is dreadful, and based only on pointless greed. Guess which one founded an empire.

FGC #196 Back to the Future

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and don’t expect to see it anywhere else.
  • Number of players: For such a great cast of memorable characters, we’ve only got Marty. Doc is presumably narrating to the player, but he isn’t even seen, left alone an available second player.
  • Just play the gig man: Most of the game has one background track, which is actually a sped up version of The Power of Love. It’s practically unrecognizable, though, so screw that noise.
  • UghSo, did you beat it: This was one of my precious few NES games as a child, and, yes, I actually beat it on the original hardware. And it was on my first go of the DeLorean stage to boot. And then… I never beat it again. I tried to showcase my mad skillz for my friends, but I was never able to complete that stage without save states again. Now I’m old and bitter.
  • An end: Oh, and your reward for completing this game is a single written paragraph about Marty successfully returning to his own time. You don’t even get a cathartic image of Marty living his new, high-rolling 80’s lifestyle.
  • Did you know? Bob Gale, one of the writers of Back to the Future, called this abomination the worst videogame ever, and recommended people not buy it. Another fine Bob from history, folks.
  • Would I play again: No. Never. And that stupid song is going to be stuck in my head forever, too.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine! I’ve never been able to determine if that is the best title ever, or the worst. Maybe we’ll figure it out. Please look forward to it!