My local HMV is affectionately known as the Plastic Graveyard at the moment thanks to its full-to-bursting window display of heavily discounted, unsold, mostly Activision-published peripherals. There are ad-hoc sculptures made out of Band Hero boxes and Beatles: Rock Band guitar packs next to disarrayed stacks of justifiably neglected Tony Hawk: Ride skateboards, presumably mirroring the precarious piles of dust-gathering, obsolete guitars and drumkits in the corners of living rooms and lofts across the country.
If you wanted to pick up DJ Hero for less than half the original Ł90 asking price, now would be a good time. It's well worth it for the original game alone, but even if you already own it, once DJ Hero 2 comes along you may find yourself itching for an extra set of decks. Multiplayer was under-developed in the first game, limited to surprisingly tedious note-for-note face-offs, but here it's very much a headline billing.
The main event is definitely DJ Battle, a two-player mode where you trade hooks with your opponent, sometimes playing phrases alternately in a call-and-response pattern and sometimes playing slightly different versions of the track at the same time. Whoever wins a phrase gets a point, and whoever gets the most points wins the face-off and the approval of the virtual dance floor, as we discovered when we sat down to play it ahead of gamescom.
There are a few rules for successful multiplayer in rhythm-action games. Rule One: you need dedicated multiplayer modes that make your players interact with each other, not just play the same song side by side. DJ Battle amply takes care of that. All the tracks are purpose-remixed by Freestyle Games so that there's just the right amount of give and take between opposing DJs. It feels exciting and deceptively creative - the illusion of control over the music is as strong as it was in the first DJ Hero, and it's still a refreshing change from the familiar songs and chord patterns of band-based rhythm-action games.
The brilliant track selection contributes to that, obviously. Rather than Guitar Hero and Rock Band's huge long lists of Tracks You Vaguely Recognise, DJ Hero is full of ear-catching original mixes that put a brilliant new spin on music you know well. Nelly thrown together with Warren G and Nate Dogg's Regulate turns up an amusingly laid-back version of Hot In Herre, Lady Gaga's Just Dance is given some bite by Deadmau5, and there's an excellent mashup of the Chemical Brothers' Galvanize and Leave Home (which, actually, would work perfectly well as one song title). Sadly, Rihanna's Rude Boy and Iyaz's Replay don't sound any less offensive to my ears when smooshed together.