Getting gamers to shell out for a $60 controller on top of a $60 game is no easy task, especially in this economy. The proof is visible in the sheer number of Guitar Hero and Rock Band band kits that are available at discounted prices from retailers as well as secondhand. Music fans have already spent tons of money on plastic band hardware, so getting them to repeat the task is going to require a great game as well as quality hardware. The developers behind DJ Hero appear to have the former point covered (for more details, be sure to read our hands-on preview), so when Activision sent over a pre-release version of the DJ Hero turntable controller, we decided to see if the latter point held up.
Designed to look like a professional turntable, the DJ Hero controller draws obvious inspiration from the gold standard among professional DJs, the Technics SL-1200 turntable. Despite being simplified and lacking a tonearm, the visual lines are unmistakable. Obviously, looks are no guarantee of quality, but it's a nice start. Off to the side of the turntable are the mixer and pitch controls, as well as the Euphoria button. A standard d-pad and controller buttons are hidden under a flip-up panel.
The turntable surface is a ridged plastic that resembles vinyl in feel. The same plastic is used for the green, red and blue buttons. While it maintains a consistent look, it means that the buttons are prone to slipping. This is mitigated somewhat by the concave nature of the buttons, but it is not totally alleviated. In the middle of a heavy play session, it is possible to lose your grip if you rely solely on the three face buttons.
Lining the edge of the platter are silver dots. On a real SL-1200, these dots are used to display the current pitch of the record on the table. Here they are used for looks as well as to provide a secondary grip. Since it's easy for your fingers to slip off the face button, holding on to the side of the platter with your thumb grants an additional level of control.
Overall, the DJ Hero turntable controller feels solid and reliable, though we would have liked more tactile feedback on the fader control. In-game, the fader is a key aspect of play, and returning to center is something that you will have to do time and time again. At least on our pre-release hardware, there was little to no physical indication that we had returned to center with the fader. It normally wasn't a problem, but every so often, we would realize that what we thought was center was really far to the left or right. Here's hoping that the final version of the hardware has a more pronounced center point.
In its default configuration, the DJ Hero turntable controller is designed for a right-handed person, but flipping it to lefty mode is an easy affair. The mixing board detaches from the turntable component and can be flipped over and reattached on the other side. This makes reconfiguring controllers a simple matter. It's a little more complex than just selecting a "lefty flip" option in Guitar Hero, but not by much.There are still a few unknowns about the DJ Hero turntable controller, such as battery life (our pre-release unit was wired), not to mention the difference between the plastic standard edition and the metal renegade edition controllers, but after playing around for a bit, our first impression is a positive one.
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