Rhythm games are a genre that's been around a figurative "forever"; Beatmania, Dance Dance Revolution, knockoffs galore, and then Guitar Hero and Rock Band slugging it out. When Activision announced DJ Hero, a game much in the vein of Guitar Hero for the "House DJ" types, it was as if the genre had come full circle - back to the origins of the genre to Beatmania, a Konami-created DJ simulation.
Unfortunately for Activision, the first DJ Hero wasn't the greatest of titles. One fundamental difference in the genre is the functionality; while DJ'ing is more "freeform", Guitar Hero was all about trying to reproduce the song as faithfully as possible. DJ Hero was also burdened with a genre of music that carries a much more limited appeal, and doesn't come with a "cooperative" play feel. The end result was a game that was probably fine for people who really wanted to feel like they were playing a house-DJ game, but not much else.
Of course, they didn't just sit back. Activision's now kicked forth DJ Hero 2, a second try at the game. This time, there's enough space for at least three people to play - one singer on a microphone, two DJ turntables. It's a welcome change from the first game, especially since when the first DJ Hero launched the turntables were hard to acquire - Activision did something right by launching DJ Hero 2 with a "party pack" box set that includes two turntables and a microphone all in one box.
Unfortunately, DJ Hero as a series is self-limiting. The restriction to existing "house music" DJ recordings means that only a very selective musical taste is being served. Where in the collections of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it's fairly easy to reach a "there's something for everyone" consensus (especially in freeplay), DJ Hero 2 stumbles on the same fate its predecessor did; players who aren't into the "DJ Scene" and "DJ Music" have nothing enjoyable to listen to, and are thus going to become rather bored rather quickly.
The microphone is an interesting attempt to add a new dynamic to the music, but there's an underlying flaw; vocalists need to follow an upper track that has less coherence than the normal song at times, switching between two tracks being mixed. Again, a great idea, but fundamentally flawed in that it's hard enough to sight-sing something karaoke style in the usual band game setup, much less try to figure out where the vocal tracks are going to switch in a mix that the player hasn't heard but once or twice if at all. It's also rather disconcerting to watch (or hear) someone try to switch vocal registers to accommodate a mix of two tracks that flop between, say, a high soprano and low tenor voice.
The final flaw, alas, for DJ Hero 2 again falls back to the controllers - those carpal tunnel inducing, oddly shaped items that try to combine a button-pressing game with a slider-manipulating game with "functions" based on spinning the turntable around a full 180 degrees (and only register in a single direction for the "rewind" feature, despite the player's choice of side for the buttons to sit on) Rather than expanding the game into a room activity which a party can enjoy, the DJ Hero controller setup inevitably leaves the game with one person on microphone and two people hunched over the turntables, backs to their friends and with very little body language to work with - as opposed to a drum set, guitars, and all the highly energetic motion patterns available thereby.
This isn't to say that it's all bad. If not expanded to the point where it would have larger appeal beyond the mix crowd, DJ Hero 2's setlist is much improved over its predecessor. There's also at least an attempt to make it more freeform, with sections of scratching and slider-mixing that don't just assign points based on a set rhythm requirement, but instead ask the player to mess with the music as they see fit, assisted by a visual signal showing the "blank spots" in each song's lyrical track. The tutorial is also much better constructed, going through each type of motion and command in a logical fashion to get players up to speed... though, if one were watching a player on a higher difficulty mode and trying to figure out what corresponded to what visually, there'd still be some issues.
In all? Same as the last time around. Better music, but an underlying control principle that just doesn't make for a true "come one, come all, just pick up and play with no training" party game. If you want to get your friends into this one, you're going to have to give them a good 15-20 minutes each just to figure out what they're doing.