I had the chance to see a pre-alpha build of Scratch: The Ultimate DJ, a new rhythm game from 7 Studios and Genius Products, and was extremely impressed. I’m not going to lie… I didn’t expect much from this game when I first heard about the title back in October. The timing of the announcement made the game feel like a cash-in based upon the success of Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and the rumors of Activision’s DJ Hero. Throw in my fanboy-esque love of Konami’s Beatmania IIDX and I was ready to dismiss this game.
I was wrong. Scratch, which has been running as a working prototype since 2006 (the same year that Guitar Hero II was released), aims to be much more than current music games. The guiding philosophy behind Scratch is to let the player remix and experience the music in his or her own way. You’re not just hitting green when the game tells you to hit green. The turntable lets you realistically scratch and chop up a sample. You could play a song fifteen times and hear a different version each time. You aren’t just recreating the studio version of a track.
As for tracks, only a few of the 60 planned tracks have been announced, but they are:
- "Flashing Lights" - Kanye West
- "Intergalactic" - Beastie Boys
- "Slacker" - Tech N9ne
- "Don't Sweat the Technique" - Eric B. & Rakim
- "Let's Get It Started" - Black Eyed Peas
In addition to these songs, gamers can expect contributions from Deltron 3030, Gorrilaz, Run DMC, Snoop Dogg, Mixmaster Mike, and Nelly. Music will span all of hip-hop and the developers have been working closely with Quincy Jones III, an established hip-hop producer, in the same way that Little Steven Van Zandt works with Harmonix for Rock Band. Mixmaster Mike has also been involved in making sure that the controller will emulate a real turntable as realistically as possible. The controller will be made by Numark and should feature a high-quality analog turntable.
Although I only saw a prototype of the game’s controller (and couldn’t take pictures), I was given an idea of the layout. The controller will also be symmetrical so it can be played both right and left handed. My description will be based on a right-handed player. The left of the controller holds the Numark turntable (pictured right, but not final).
To the right of the turntable, sit five buttons in-a-row. The colors match the established Guitar Hero/Rock Band set, but the buttons are not final. I’m told that the retail controller will feel more like an MPC drum machine. Beyond the buttons on the far right of the controller is a cross fader switch.
At first glance, the gameplay is very similar to what you know from Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Notes will fall down the screen and you’ll be tasked with hitting the corresponding button. Doing so will recreate the studio version of the song. After that, it’s up to you. The game does not penalize you for hitting extra buttons, scratching, and cross-fading. In fact, it encourages doing all of these and the developers have taught the game tons of DJ tricks, which have established rules and can be recognized and rewarded. Don’t worry; Scratch will include tutorials and training for these tricks.
Scratch has a lot going on under the hood to replicate the experience of being a DJ while allowing you to sound good. While scratching, the game will automatically make sure you’re scratching the best part of a sample, but this assist can be turned off for experienced DJs, offering true scratching. The falling notes will also correspond to the most exciting part of the song at any given time.
You won’t be playing every note in the song like Beatmania, but you’ll switch between drums, bass, synths, and more as the song goes on. Scratch utilizes master tracks and helps you add to the song in your own way. For example, say you’re currently playing the drums on Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights." Those five buttons will be directly mapped to the different drum samples in the song. Green might be the hi-hat and red could be the snare. If you’re required to hit the following pattern: snare, snare, hi-hat, snare… with applicable pauses to make it… you know, music)… You could hit: snare, snare, snare, hi-hat, snare, hi-hat, snare.
I have no idea what that would actually sound like, but the game would recognize it and reward you. As long as you hit the notes that were displayed, you won’t lose your streak. Scratching actually scratches. It doesn’t just add a wikka-wikka sound effect. It’s hard to describe, but as soon as you see and hear it in action, you’ll understand why this game is different.
You’ll also be able to save a “replay” of the song along with all of your on-the-fly edits, which can be replayed at any time. Unfortunately, due to licensing issues, these cannot be shared over the Internet. You’ll have to bring people to your house to hear your genius… or just film it and upload it the Web. Additionally, the game includes a freestyle mode that lets you scratch over a looping beat. This is useful for practicing or experimenting with the game’s capabilities. You can also hook up a USB microphone, which will let someone rap along to your beat. Your dreams of being a freestyle rapper are about to come true, provided you actually have any talent at freestyle rapping.
In addition to those modes, there will also be two multiplayer modes. The first mode is a straight competition to see who can earn the most points on a song. The second is a DJ game of “horse” where one player establishes set of “tricks’ that must be copied. I can’t wait to battle DJ Ray Padilla.
7 Studios expects to release this game toward the end of this summer on “multiple next generation platforms," but the game I saw was very much a pre-alpha build. Although the graphics aren’t finished, the engine that drives the scratching and remixing is functioning extremely well. Just like Rock Band let’s me pretend to be a rock star, Scratch will soon let me pretend to be a DJ. I can’t wait.