Skillz: The DJ Game is a music title with great gameplay and even better music

Skillz is the first iPad game I’ve played that requires you to set it down flat somewhere and to look down at it. It might require a little trial and error in finding something you’re comfortable with, since you really do need a sort of top-down view at the screen to see everything going on and have your hands in a comfortable spot. But once you get in the zone, Skillz: The DJ Game is a great music game.

You’ll need that good angle, since you’ll be required to operate the turntables on both side of the screen as well as the cross fader and sample buttons across the bottom. Needing to get to that requires both hands, and there’ll be some switching back and forth between them. Suffice to say there’s no way to hold the device while you’re playing the game.

Skillz: The DJ Game plays out like most other rhythm games that have come out regardless of platform for the past five or six years. Notes and instructions float down the highway towards you, and as they cross over the line you trigger them by pushing the correct button. The main difference would be that here there’s a lot more going on, with far more ways to interact with the game that in other titles.

For example, in Guitar Hero you have five notes and a strum bar. Likewise, for drumming in Rock Band you have four drum pads and a kick pedal. Here you have two turntables that you can scratch, tap or spin in specific directions, a cross fader, and 4 sample buttons. It’s a lot.

I’ve found that the more you need to do to interact with the songs in rhythm games, the more it feels like you’re really playing the songs. Sliding the cross fader back and forth while scratching records and tapping sample buttons keeps your hands busy, and lines up well with the songs. So in that respect Skillz: The DJ Game really does give you that feeling. But having all those options also has a downside.

Even on the regular difficulty level, the game is really really hard in the beginning. There’s a typical learning curve to these types of games as you learn to quickly interpret the different icons and what they mean as they come sailing down the highway, and that’s certainly true here. But even outside of that there’s just a lot thrown at you on the normal difficulty level. Even if you’re a veteran of the rhythm game scene, you’ll still likely want to play on easy for awhile before jumping up.

Playability-wise, there’s really only one thing to worry about when it comes to rhythm games, and that’s a question of timing. Do the notes you need to hit line up with the music? If the game is out of sync at all on this point then the game is essentially unplayable. Skillz: The DJ Game is perfect, so feeling the beat and tapping along is almost as important as watching that note highway.

 The DJ Game

 The DJ Game

With 20 songs from established hip hop and DJ acts, Skillz: The DJ Game‘s songlist rings a lot truer than other attempts at “urban” rhythm games. I was super impressed to see hip hop acts like Diplo and People Under The Stairs, and DJ mixes from Ninja Tune and Stones Throw. In this realm of music, those are impressive pulls and show the developers know their stuff.

I was skeptical about the “placing the iPad on the table” gameplay of having to manipulate the game with both hands. While it took some getting used to (thanks to a high difficulty curve) the game does pay off once you learn your way around it. The music is perfectly tied to the DJ vibe, and the timing is spot on. I’ve really no complaints at all. Skillz: The DJ Game is one of the better rhythm games I’ve had the good fortune of playing.