October 22, 2011
One of the outstanding Wii success stories of recent years has been Ubisoft’s Just Dance franchise. A multi-million selling series that got testosterone-driven frat boys and cheerleaders off their asses and made them forget about having drunken sex orgies for at least five minutes – or at least that’s how I picture it… With Kinect’s release though, a new door opened for Ubisoft Montreal and a new platform was beckoning them, and with the third iteration in the franchise, Dance Central finally has some competition… or does it? Well, that’s what we’re here to decide, you know, we do call this a review after all.
I’ve always found reviewing rhythm games especially hard, basically because it’s a question of where to start. With Just Dance 3 it’s harder than ever. Usually, your first port of call for a game of this nature is the game’s structure, you know, before delving into the mechanics and how many times you got drunk and punched your partner in the face trying to do one of the game’s fancy dance moves. The problem with Just Dance 3 though is that there is no structure. It’s a case of pick a song, dance and then move on, which I’m sure is great for parties, but not great for anything else.
As with any dance game on Kinect, it’s a matter of copying the on-screen choreography in a bid to score points and get the best possible rating you can. In terms of actual gameplay mechanics, Just Dance 3 does a fairly solid job of detecting your dance movements and rewarding you accordingly. However, actually working out what move you have to do is a little tricky due to some ambiguous cue cards.
The choreography moves themselves seem a little crazier than those in Dance Central too, some would say more fun, but more often than not you won’t be able to perform a song 100% effectively unless you’ve played it a few times because of those particularly unhelpful cue cards. There’s no feedback on what you’re actually doing wrong either; meaning improving is going to be down to blind luck and perseverance more than anything else. It’s definitely not as technical or as refined as Dance Central, that’s for sure. I mean there’s only two difficulties and I found it rather hard to tell the difference between the two if I’m being perfectly honest.
Outside of the main game mechanics it’s a game that really lacks direction – for instance, there’s nowhere in the title to break down the moves and learn them – and depth. It also suffers from an ultra-sensitive menu system that’s finicky to say the least, but thankfully you can use the controller to navigate them. Other than that, the player detection can suffer the odd hiccup here and there – whether that’s picking up furniture as other players or switching to new players mid-song… at one point the game even split my score into three, assuming that three players were playing the game instead of just lil’ ol’ me – but there’s nothing we’d class as game breaking.
Outside of the main game there are various things that Ubisoft Montreal has done to spice things up; whether that’s Simon Says that has you doing moves mid-song in a bid to keep you on your toes; Shout Outs, that let you sing along for extra ‘Mojo’ – the game’s credits for unlocking extra content; and the unique Just Create mode, allowing you to create your own background choreographies, either mimicking the game’s original choreographies in the Coach Me mode or creating your own using the Freestyle mode. Then there’s playlists, a Dance Off mode, Mashups to unlock, the ability to upload and download unique choreographies and a Sweat Mode, so you can track how much energy you’ve burned in the form of ‘Sweat Points,’ all meaning you should have enough to keep you busy off the beaten-path.
The chances of you ever wanting to use your own choreography though is slim, because it means you have to trade-in the wonderfully colourful and refreshing stages and background sequences for a flashy silhouette of yourself. Most songs have their own unique characters and choreographies too, meaning you’ll want to try out every song and see what Ubisoft Montreal has conjured with their magic pixie dust.
In terms of the setlist, which can make or break a game of this style, Just Dance 3 literally has something for everyone, ranging from pop classics from Britney Spears and Katy Perry, rock anthems from KISS & Lenny Kravitz, all the way through to disco and dance numbers including 2 Unlimited & LMFAO. There’s even a bit of country and Bollywood to make sure most, if not all, genres are covered; and unbelievably, a classic from How I Met Your Mother has made its way into the line-up, which is nothing short of epic!
Just Dance 3 has many things going in its favour in terms of dance games though – the fact that it’s 4-players means that it’s going to allow more people to get involved when you have friends over. The amount of space needed for 4 though is insane and chances are someone might lose an eye in the process – the game actually recommends that you stagger the four players to combat this. Playing 4-player songs alone though does tend to mean you have to perform mundane background moves for a good portion of the song, which is far from ideal… Now I know how Jason Orange felt!
In terms of the achievements, I’m going to come out and say it: I’m not a fan of Just Dance 3's list. For starters, if you’re looking for a good portion of the points, you’re going to need to get 4-players together and not only that, actually perform like a wonderfully tuned quartet of dancers. Then everything else is by the numbers: play all the songs in one session (there’s over 45 songs!), dance to 200 songs, 5-star every song in the game, create 50 choreographies and earn 20,000 ‘Sweat Points,’ to name but a few. I have to say I’m a fan of the ‘dance at this time’ achievements though, but only because it shows they’ve at least tried to think outside the box.
There’s no denying that Just Dance has always been a great party game and the third iteration proves that the series has still got it, if nothing else. However, it lacks structure, depth and everything for it to be used outside of that sphere though, and with little to no decent competition on the Wii, it’s no wonder the previous incarnations sold like hotcakes. On the Xbox 360 though, it’s a different landscape, and for now, Harmonix’s Dance Central 2 has its flag firmly cemented at the top of Dance Mountain. Wait, wait… I have a better one… In Dancetown, Dance Central 2 is currently the Sheriff and Just Dance 3 is the Deputy. Yeah, that’s better… Just Dance 3 does have 2 Unlimited though… and there’s No Limit to how nostalgic that song is.
A great mix of tracks from every genre, which is excellent if you have a diverse taste in music – like me – but not so much if you like to pigeon hole your musical tastes.
Bright, vivid, colourful and some great animations in the choreographies, but it hardly pushes the Xbox 360 to its fullest. We know it’s not supposed to before you say anything.
Responsive player tracking is let down by vague cue cards and the odd issue with player detection mid-game. The menu system is as sensitive as my nipples after a 5-mile run!
A song list? Just a song list!? We know you’re trying to be a party game here Just Dance 3, but at least give us something else. There’s a good chunk of unlockables, bit-part modes and the Just Create to keep you occupied otherwise, but unless you’ve got friends or family over – like all the time! – then it’s probably going to sit on the shelf for prolonged periods.
Not enough originality, too much reliance on multiple people and very much by-the-numbers. Very disappointing.
While Just Dance 3 might be a fun little party game, outside of that sphere the title doesn’t really do enough to knock Dance Central off the top of the charts. Sure, it may be colourful and playful with a great setlist, but the title lacks the structure and depth that Xbox gamers have been treated to and come to expect after Harmonix’s dancing debut came on the scene.