DJ Rivals Combines Rhythm & Location-Based Gaming on iOS

Late last month, we got to see a vague preview of social-mobile developer Booyah’s latest endeavor, Nightclub City DJ Rivals for the iPhone. Now available to play, the idea is to blend mechanics from popular location-based games, such as their title MyTown, with that of the rhythm genre (e.g. Tap Tap Revenge).

A role-playing game that combines music-playing and location, DJ Rivals contains a variation of all of the aspects initially described in the preview. That said, aspects such as the location-based gaming, just don’t seem to fit well with the rhythm concepts, and at the same time, the musical part is a bit thin. Given Booyah’s past ability to build hits, we expect this one will improve significantly over time.

Players take on the role of a DJ out to rid the world of Bland Corp. As they play the game, they will progress through various chapters, defeating non-player drones along the way, finishing basic quests, gathering collectible items, and eventually fighting a boss at the end.

When the player logs in, they will be created with a map of “Nightclub City” which will contain buildings marked with the names of nearby brick-and-mortar venues to the player. This is the location-based aspect of the game. However, as to how this plays into game play, in any way, is unclear. There isn’t even a noticeable check-in mechanic. As it stands, it feels more like a novelty and likely unfinished.

As was advertised in the preview of the game, players were supposed to unlock regular Gigs by defeating all other users in a particular area and becoming the “Resident DJ.” The idea was to have this work like being the Mayor in Foursquare, although it’s being implemented differently now. While Gigs still unlock at level four, it appears to just be a source of regular income, with more coming in at higher levels. Other than hitting level four, we didn’t have to do anything to earn it. At least it didn’t seem that way.

As players visit the different venues, they’ll see Bland Corp drones that they can challenge to a DJ battle. This is where the rhythm-based play comes into play. In each battle, the two opponents will take turns, using various purchasable abilities to do damage to the other.

Each ability comes with a rhythm mini-game including tapping a note, tapping and holding a long note, or scratching. Each mechanic is separate from the other at early levels and only consists of a series of about half a dozen notes (sometimes less). Unlike Tap Tap Revenge, players just can’t get into the song at all and there is no real challenge in terms of complex solos, chords, or rifts. It is always, yes always, the same series of notes for each ability. Thankfully, these sequences do get more complex, and the tapping, holding, and scratching do mix with higher level abilities.

Regardless, depending on how well the player does in the rhythm mini-game will determine how much damage they deal to the opponent. Also, hitting all notes perfectly will almost double the damage done in some cases.

Enter the RPG element. As players level up, they earn stat points that can be allocated into statistics such as speed, attack, stamina, and so on. Speed determines who attacks first in a battle, attack augments damage, and stamina increases the energy pool needed to challenge NPCs. Players can also increase their health and “Adrenaline,” which is the stat that allows them to challenge other players their level.

Yet another RPG element taken from the standard Facebook RPG, players can challenge random users, their relative level, to the above noted DJ battles. It is completely asynchronous, with the AI controlling the opponent. Nevertheless, it doesn’t feel any different or more gratifying than fighting against the NPC drones. It’s just another way to get some experience and coin.

In terms of monetization, DJ Rivals is a free-to-play game, basing its income on virtual currency purchases. Dubbed “Ice,” players can purchase it in quantities ranging from 10 to 1200 at the cost of $0.99 or $99.99 respectively. In turn, Ice is used for things such as boosting stats, protecting oneself from being attacked by other players, or refilling energy. Ice can also be used to purchase DJ rigs for a “cheaper” price, which will also boost character aspects like health.

Coming back to the rhythm aspect of the game, the music, surprisingly takes away from the app quite a bit. It’s not that it’s bad, but the looping is clearly audible. To make matters worse, if it loops during a tapping sequence, it can cause the game to freeze up for a second, causing the user to miss notes. Furthermore, the game is far from forgiving on the timing of such notes even when it does run smoothly. Should the user hit the note, even a split-second, too soon or late, it will count as a miss (despite looking like it was timed properly) resulting in lower damage in a DJ battle. This can then often lead to a frustrating loss and consumption of energy. Also, the variety of songs is surprisingly low, but perhaps more unlock at later levels.

As a final side note, players can also connect to their Facebook account via Facebook Connect. However, thus far we have seen none of the bonuses noted in the preview of the game for either game. Likely, this is a bug, but in past Booyah mobile games, connecting to Facebook would grant users free items and rewards in Nightclub City.

Overall, Nightclub City DJ Rivals is a great idea and well polished visually, but the core of the game is just not that much fun yet. The location-based aspect feels rather arbitrary at the moment, and the rhythm elements are far too short and repetitive to allow anyone to really get into them. Perhaps it is the fact that the game is brand new, or perhaps it is because elements of the game are not clearly explained, but there just doesn’t feel like there’s much of any “rival” aspects to DJ Rivals.