My brother (Sylvrfonic) had this on my doorstep on Winter Solstice, and I'll tell you -- I had a pretty rough day that day, so getting an entire game of music that I love -- Hip-Hop -- and a controller that really feels completely different from anything else, made for one heck of a "cheer up" gift. Within a few minutes I had the dongle in and paired it up easily. I will say now: no dongle should have been required. Really? A dongle? They couldn't just have it pair with the bloody system on its own? Really, a minor gripe.
I've read multiple reviews at this point, as readers of my posts know already, I read them as points of curiosity and to see what general themes the paid-reviewers come up with. They have brought some valid points; the controller does feel wonky; primarily because of what everyone else noted: scratching on the far inside blue button never gets easier. I do play with the controller flipped, and that makes it a bit easier, but the blue button remains dicey.
On the upside, I don't have much difficulty with the cross fader itself, althoug mistakes certainly get made, they don't seem egregious, and like any rhythm game, I have my "Really? Is that what happened?" moments. Reaching the Euphoria button and the effects dial remain tricky -- I can't do it blind, which means looking down, and in turn often means making a mistake.
The mash-ups range from mediocre to phenomenal; I'm no aficionado of hip-hop, putting a lot of the mixes into the "I know what I like" category. I do have to give them credit for the broad appeal, though. If you like hip-hop, and you like I'll wager that at least half of the songs will appeal to you, for the novelty of hearing how different DJs handled the mixes if nothing else.
The setup misses a lot of opportunities. Without a persistent 'career' mode it returns to the roots of music/rhythm games, where you play for the stars, which handle all of your unlocks. Not a bad mechanic, but part of me believes that the designers had "no good reason" to not adopt all of the lessons learned from prior games and incorporate them here. Also, seeing that the game hails from the venerable Hero line, why don't all of the songs have at least a guitar part attached to them? Or, better, guitar/guitar 2, bass and drums. Those few songs that do include the full guitar track definitely carry a different and intense sound from the straight mixes, and I think that an opportunity got missed there.
"And that," people may think, "adds up to a lot of downside; so why did Thia give it four stars?" Because of three things. First, I can't stand rhythm games -- not until I played Rock Band and got to bang the drums. I felt connected directly to the music in a way that a plastic guitar did not give me. In the same way, DJ Hero conveys a sense of direct involvement which I absolutely love. Actually "scratching" feels great, and being able to drop your own [preset] samples, also great.
Second, the music can't be found elsewhere. Other Hero-Band games either license or recreate known tracks, and as my brother put it, "give you another way to interact with the music." A valid point, but clicking a plastic guitar along with a favorite song usually just makes me want to put in the song and play it. I lack a feeling of accomplishment. With DJ Hero, I get music I love (Queen, Daft Punk, Eminem, Beck, Tears for Fears) blended by some incredible DJs (Grand Master Flash, DJ Shadow) that I cannot get elsewhere. Using the controller remains fun even with its flaws, and those two things alone carry the game.
Third, and most importantly, I can't help but smile and rock along when playing the game. Maybe its my love of hip-hop, or maybe just that I get a sense of achievement when I nail a nasty cross fade sequence or earn and execute a Rewind (when you get a long enough streak, you earn the ability to spin-back the platter for a brief multiplier).
I consider DJ Hero a proof of concept, and while they could have just smashed this out of the park and started releasing scads of DLC (which, really, this should have begun life with all of the bells & whistles of GH5) approached from the position of "Hey, let's see if this works," it really does, and if you go in eyes open, I think you can get a great deal out of it.