Friday, January 22, 2010

Hiphop Video Games: DJ Hero

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, then it's a duck - right?

Well, since this looks like a turntable, feels like a turntable, and sounds like a turntable, then it's a turntable - right?

Well, not exactly.

This is Activision's latest venture after their success with Guitar Hero called DJ Hero. It's basically where players are given the ability to spin, cut, scratch and blend classic hiphop, rock, and funk songs. With classic songs by Jay-Z, Eminem, and Daft Pun and featuring guest players that resemble Grandmaster Flash, DJ AM,and Z-Trip, the game was a sure-fire hit among all music lovers!

DJ Hero had to have the best gameplay simulation any hiphop video game has ever had. I mean, turntables aren't hard to replicate, but the developers of this game did a very good job putting the controller together. And not only does it look nice, it also plays just like a turntable. Like, literally, it plays like a turntable!

Whenever a colored note slides into its corresponding matching circle, you hit the matching button. Whenever the squiggly lines slide into its corresponding circle, that means you have to hit the button AND scratch. There are also parts where you have to push buttons that play sound effects to enhance the mix and, just like Guitar Hero has, there are also moments where you play so good, you reach "euphoria". Imitating a DJ mixing "Atomic" by Blondie with "Feel Good, Inc" by Gorillaz on DJ Hero is nowhere near as easy as imitating the guitar play on "Miss Murder" by A.F.I. on Guitar Hero.

Another great thing about this game is the music selection. Now, I have heard every song that could possibly be mixed on DJ Hero, and I am very impressed. It is very club-heavy and lacks the amount of breakbeats and funk records I expected, but I'm still glad it gives classic records like "Bustin' Loose" by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers and "Rockit" by Herbie Hancock (which was a huge jazz-hiphop collabo in the early 80s) the credit they deserve.

Now, I understand the game needed to have a club vibe so that the gamers would feel better about their mixes. In this game the background, plot and scenery matched the mixes the gamers replicated. Just as in Guitar Hero, in DJ Hero you battle different characters in the game with your turntable as a weapon. The more you win, the more music, characters, places, etc. you unlock. So why wouldn't the game also have battles that took place where DJ battles originated - in the park.

Of course, the battle of the DJs blew up internationally once they hit the clubs, but they started in the parks where DJs would show off their skills with the turntables. It was also a battle of who had the most records as well. And although DJ Hero does show that significance with the unlocking of a records with each victory, the gamers do lose out on the street scenes as a DJ.

But I still feel that DJ Hero is one of the greatest hiphop games ever made.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hiphop Video Games: Flow

If you can't keep up with the rhythm to most hiphop songs, you have no need to worry - there's a game for that.

In 2005, Ubisoft released the game "Flow: Urban Dance Uprising," a b-boy flavored DDR video game full of hiphop tracks and breakbeats. Using your Dance Pad, PS2 controller, or even an EyeToy Camera, you have the ability control the guy or gal breaking for points for more songs, costumes, territory, and ultimately respect.

If only it really felt that way.

Don't get me wrong! The tracks selected for this game were great, including Kurtis Blow, Rakim, and the Sugar Hill Gang. Although they were the typical breaking/break dancing/b-boying/b-girling (whatever you call it; I'll explain that later though) songs that no hiphop head could not dance to, the developers in charge of the music could have dove a lot deeper in the crates for better hiphop records. I expected more breakbeats and got a lot of mixes from different styles of DJing from all over the world. Even though it's a good thing to hear hiphop mixes from other countries, the game should have kept the soundtrack filled with original breakbeats that b-boys and b-girls first fell in love with.

Another problem I had with the game was the simplicity of the dance moves. I know we're not all breakers; most of us can barely dance, let alone break dance! Even beyond all that, I would've thought we would have more control than step left, right, up and down. I really thought I was going to get to use my hand for this game, like breakers usually do with their footwork, but was heavily disappointed when I only got four ways to move. The closest the game got to the footwork in breaking was the top-rock, where breakers use their feet to bust moves as well as their hands to taunt the opponent and add dance moves. I wanted to at least try a handstand or spin, or, in all honesty, hurt myself after several attempts.

The good news is the dance moves for Flow aren't as easy as normal DDR games. Even the "easy" setting is pretty difficult for people who aren't good at moving their feet. This game is for those who are naturally loose when they dance. If you are stiff when you dance, this game will be a challenge for a long time.

The overall problem with this game was the lack of connection between the art and culture of breaking and video gaming. There were plenty of opportunities where the developers could have made gamers feel like they are really breaking but fell short. From the music to the controls, there was only a small taste of a simulation of breaking. More beats, movements and options would've given gamers a better experience of hiphop, especially if they want a more physical experience. Thanks to the lack of development (and what I am assuming is also lack of research), the game was ultimately too simple to flow with hiphop.