October 22, 2011
If any Kinect launch game could be considered a killer-app for the device, you might argue that it's Dance Central. It was a game that took the new technology and gave us a new way to play dance games, but also gave us a glimpse into the device’s potential future. It wasn’t perfect, no, but then again, how many launch titles for a new piece of tech are? That’s why we have sequels, right? With more development time under their belt and plenty of constructive feedback from reviewers (like us, duh!) and fans the world over, Harmonix is back and looking to turn their franchise into a platinum hit.
One of the main criticisms we levelled at the original Dance Central was its structure: it was essentially a list of songs, which is one of the reasons why Just Dance 3 has fallen on hard times. To combat that in Dance Central 2, Harmonix has introduced what they call the Crew Challenge mode, where you have to prove yourself as an unknown dancer and win over a series of crews from within the game’s fictional world. While it’s not the most well thought out idea, it is a mild distraction and an excuse to work your way through the game’s songs without blindly going from track to track with no incentive to continue, which is all that’s needed in truth. Of course, you can still just pick and choose the songs from the song list as you see fit, as well as creating your own playlists, so it’s a neat little addition for those that want something a little more ‘gamey.’
The ‘Break It Down’ aspect of the title – that allows you to learn the song inside out before jumping in at the deep end – has been given the biggest overhaul and thanks to Kinect’s voice-control technology, it’s as refined as it possibly can be. Allowing players to skip back to previous moves, slow it down and record videos of themselves to compare with the on-screen dancer’s choreographies, all with a quick phrase using the voice control technology, has done the tutorial mode (of sorts) the world of good.
In terms of the tech, aside from a whole slew of new dance moves, not much has really changed on this front, but then again, it wasn’t broken to start with, so there’s not much more Harmonix could really have done. The fact that you can have two-players on-screen at one time now – either co-operatively in its seamless jump in/jump out gameplay or competitively in the two-player Dance Battle – is probably the game’s biggest technical advancement and even with two players on-screen at once, everything works as it should.
The two-player Dance Battles are a particularly neat addition, with the ‘Free-4-All’ mini-game cropping up in the middle allowing for players to nail a series of moves for big points. Still, in a day and age where Xbox Live is king, it’s rather disappointing not to have any competitive online play over Xbox Live, especially when the Dance Battle mode is so goddamn addictive. Is it cynical to suggest that it was probably left out so that they had enough innovations and additions for the almost inevitable Dance Central 3? Probably, but we don’t care, we were born a cynic and we’ll die a cynic.
You can expect your usual array of unlockables within Dance Central 2, as well as in-game leaderboards for tracking your friend’s scores (although the leaderboards themselves aren’t actually working as yet) as well as the usual fitness mode that tracks calories burnt while you boogie the night away. There’s even Fitness Playlists now so you can get yourself into a bit of a routine and lose that excess fat. Ultimately that means that you can use Dance Central 2 as a game to play on your own to blow off some steam, as a fitness tool or a party game for when you have your hyper-competitive friends and family over. Having the ability to import Dance Central 1’s songs for a small fee is a welcome addition too, with them all reworked for the new game modes and game types.
The setlist this time around is much more current and with the times than Dance Central 1’s was, which we’re not sure is a good thing for everyone. It’s good for our generation though, but I honestly can’t imagine my nan dancing to Darude’s Sandstorm this coming Christmas day… although if I can arrange it, I’ll be selling DVDs afterwards, so watch this space. There’s a good mix of R&B (Ciara, Missy Elliot, Montell Jordan, Rihanna and Usher), dance (Darude, Haddaway, Daft Punk and David Guetta) and pop (Justin Bieber *shudders* Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj), but if you’re looking for anything else, there’s not much of that here. The choreography for each song is not only hugely accurate to what you’d expect from the actual choreographies, but the impressive animations are stunning. It’s a setlist that will split the audience, but because I’m a product of the nineties and noughties, it resonates rather nicely with me.
In terms of the achievements, you could say we were fans of Dance Central 1’s list, but somehow, Harmonix has outdone themselves here… and we’re not sure how. It may have something to do with the diversity of the list and its balance, meaning that achievements come thick and fast, but only if you spread yourself out and try all the different game modes out. The good news is that with such a great balance, there’s achievements for newcomers, bit-part players and veterans alike, which is sure to please everyone. Sure, there’s not a great deal of originality in there, but with a game that’s supposedly as on-rails as this, we’ll let Harmonix off. Otherwise, an impressive list.
With Dance Central 2, Harmonix has refined certain key areas of the game with a certain swagger, but they’ve still not done enough to break that 90+ barrier. The soundtrack may be bigger this time around – although far more current than the previous game – and it may boast two-player on-screen competitive and co-operative gameplay, but by leaving out a competitive multiplayer element over Xbox Live, it feels like it’s missing its legs. By the time that last record’s rolled though you realise that Dance Central 2 is a great weapon for parties, can be used to brush up those dance moves or can be used as a keep-fit companion, but it just lacks that little something to carry it over the finish line. It was Hall & Oates that once sung, “so close, so close, yet so far away” and that’s very apt here. Another impressive effort though by the music maestros.
It’s a soundtrack for this generation, sure, but there’s plenty in there for everyone else… I mean, Montell Jordan’s in it! What else can you ask for? Plus, there’s 40+ songs this time, which is over 25% more than last time!
The cel-shaded-esque characters and colourful backdrops are a refreshing sight to behold, but it’s always the hallucinogenic club backdrops and explosion of colours that will win you over. Stunning animations too!
An easy to navigate menu system, well-integrated voice-control and responsive ‘danceplay’ mechanics; there’s not much more you can ask for here.
A much better structure thanks to the inclusion of the Crew Challenges and the competitive and co-operative local 2-player action, but the lack of online multiplayer is rather disappointing. The game is screaming out for it!
Great diversity and a good balance. There’s achievements here for novices, amateurs and veterans, which is surely going to please everyone.
Harmonix has made some great innovations and additions in Dance Central 2, but the lack of competitive gameplay over Xbox Live is an oversight that stops the dance-tastic title from breaking that much sought after 90+ barrier. Still as much a killer-app for Kinect as before, but still missing that one key ingredient.