Dance Central Review

Dan Webb

I think it was Leo Sayer in 1976 that once sung, “You make me feel like dancing,” and that’s exactly the sentiment that Harmonix’s debut Kinect title evokes. Harmonix, who are undoubtedly the king of the music genre, have not only managed to create a competent debut showing with Dance Central, but they’ve also gone so far as to grab that elusive “killer-app” status from right off the top shelf... and not many games can say that in this day and age, especially with a debut showing on a new piece of tech.

"The club is pumping, the bass kicks in & the people are jumping."

Dance Central is essentially Rock Band without the plastic instruments and you’re dancing instead of singing, etc, although the only plastic peripheral you’ll need here is Microsoft’s rather expensive Kinect device. Truth is though, that due to its no controller gameplay, it’ll never reach the dizzying costly heights of Rock Band and its 1,000 instruments.

Dance Central’s make-up and structure is unfortunately simple and doesn’t quite have the same intricacies and depth that Harmonix’s Rock Band carries. Dance Central has no career as such or anything to lead you through the tracks in a pre-determined order – there is a ranking system that is largely useless – but instead chooses to throw a list of the 32 songs at you. Even if you wanted to jump in at hard, you’d have to unlock that first, as each track only has ‘easy’ open from the off. Of course, all the tracks from the off aren’t unlocked and you’ll have to play through a few to unlock them, but other than that, how you tackle Dance Central is entirely up to you. The game does at least order the tracks in terms of difficulties, so you can work your way up.

The gameplay is relatively straightforward, and you’ll have to follow the on-screen character, timing your moves perfectly with how they’re pulling them off. On the right hand side of the screen you’ll have the assistance of the flashcards, indicating the current move you should be doing (with appropriate arrows, highlighted arrows attached to various limbs and names to help you understand what that move actually is) as well as what’s coming up next. The feedback from the game comes in form of the limbs of the main dancer – which light up red if you’re not doing it right or are out of time – and the spotlight that they’re stood in – which pulses bigger and brighter as you successfully pull off the moves. All of which, works pretty perfectly... except the various “Freestyle” sections that sit in the middle of every song, which are pretty damn pointless. Psychedelic, but utterly pointless. It’s probably here you’ll be reaching for a drink, which is how we spent our “Freestyle” sections.

The scoring system is of traditional Rock Band ilk, with 5 stars, gold stars and multipliers to fill out, to maximise your score. Although Dance Central does have the nifty innovation of morphing the background into a neon haven of a night club when your multiplier is maxed and you’re dancing your socks off. Unlike Rock Band though, Dance Central’s core mechanic is broken down into 3 difficulties: easy, medium and hard. The harder the difficulty, the less repetition in routines you can expect and the more complicated the dance moves.

"Look mom, no flashcards! How proud are you!?"

You can choose one of three various different ways to tackle the music of Dance Central: 'Break It Down', which literally breaks the song down into moves, as it looks to teach you them and then score you on them; 'Perform It', where you... yeah, go out and perform it; and Dance Battle, where you and a friend can dance off with one another in this alternative multiplayer-esque game... which you can totally play alone. By performing you can unlock a wide range of characters, who incidentally are incredibly annoying and overly stereotyped – each with an alternative outfit though – as well as a few new venues.

Outside of the above three modes, players can tackle various challenges if they’ve reached a certain criteria, which looks to mash all the songs of that “set” into one mini-mash up. If that’s not enough, you can always turn on the “Workout Mode” and use it as a workout, as it counts calories as you dance, or for the masterful, you can turn off the flashcards and attempt to master the tracks without any helpful prompts.

Considering that we’re used to seeing 80+ tracks in a Rock Band game – from the same devs remember – it’s a little disconcerting only to see 32 tracks included with Dance Central. There are some great tracks in there though and it is a wonderfully diverse selection of music overall that covers the 70s (Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie”; and The Commodores’ “Brick House”), the 80s (Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison”; Lipps Inc’s “Funkytown” ; Technotronic’s “Pump up the Jam”; and Salt n’ Pepa’s “Push It”), the 90s (Basement Jaxx’s “Rendez-Vu”), with plenty from the “noughties” (a few Lady Gaga; Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater”; and Jay Sean’s “Down”). There’s even plenty of genres covered, from rap (Snoop’s “Drop It Like Its Hot”), R&B (Soulja Boy’s “Crank That”), pop (Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”), dance (Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction”; and Dirty Vegas’ “Days Go By”) and more obscure songs – but equally excellent – like MIA’s “Galang 05” and Christina Milian’s “Dip It Low” (purely named for its seductive moves). The moves for each song are often largely different, with some official dances included – most notably Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” jig – but more often than not, packed to the brims with suitable dance moves that fit each track perfectly. In all, it’s a small group of tracks, but at the same time, a fantastic bunch.

"The Step Cross Front, or quite simply, the "Wow, I'm a tool""

I realise I’m going to sound like a broken record when I say this, but play space in Dance Central is also an issue – a sentiment that seems to mirror itself in almost every Kinect game. Standing around 2 metres away seemed to be okay for the most part, but when a song requires that I wave or lift my arms in various fashions, it did suffer from a few issues. In terms of the responsiveness of the device, there doesn’t appear to be any alarming issues and for the most part, it tracks 1:1 response rates – that being said, you don’t actually control any on-screen characters, so the amount of processes being used by Dance Central appears to be less than any other Kinect game to date, so that should almost be a given.

The menu navigation is a little different to any Kinect title I’ve experienced to date as well, with Harmonix opting to use a line-up with your arm and swipe technique. It does work significantly better than the other hold methods, but at the same time, it’s more sensitive and can be a tad fiddly when scrolling through a long list of something – whether it’s characters or the songs.

As far as the achievements are concerned, it’s clear from the list that Harmonix knows a thing or two about these pesky things as the balance seems spot on. There’s a good chunk of achievement points allocated to the Break It Down mode, including 100%-ing them all and learning most of the game’s moves; as well as the usual 5 star every song on any difficulty and 5 star them all on hard. In laymen’s terms, there’s something for everyone and while a good 700-800 are perfectly attainable for anyone who’s willing to put in the practice, there are a good 100-200 points for the hardcore Dance Central crowd... oh yeah, and those that may already dance for a living.

If Dance Central had any downfalls, it could possibly be its relatively small library of songs and its structure – if you can even call it that. It’s essentially a track-list, with a few unlockables along the way, and that barely passes as a structure, especially considering Harmonix is at the helm – based solely on their work with Rock Band. It won’t be the structure that pulls you in though, it’ll be the diverse selection of music, the intense workout, the responsive mechanics, the sheer unadulterated fun as you dance along to a number of tracks to your heart’s content. It’s perfect for those who love to dance, while being perfect for those who want to limber up or even learn some co-ordination on the dance floor. It’s as close to a killer-app for Kinect as you can get though... and them be some strong words.

A small, but excellent diverse track selection. We can’t help but feel that 32 tracks doesn’t exactly scream value for money though.

The dancers move with swagger and fluency, the menus and overall presentation is top notch and the settings are spot on – especially when the real-world locations fade away to reveal a lively club interior.

Dance Central tracks your body movements at a 1:1 ratio, but suffers ever so slightly from needing a large play space and an overly sensitive menu selection mechanic.

Dance Central offers hours of pure unadulterated dancing ecstasy, although it would have been nice to have more to do, a better structure and more than 32 tracks. Minor, but valid complaints.

Great balance, and something for everyone, from the newbies to the hardcore Dance Central fans.

Dance Central is as close to a killer-app that Kinect has to date and Harmonix has gone and proven that they’re not a one trick pony. If you’re looking for an excuse to get Kinect, ladies and gents, may I present to you, Dance Central.

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