Out of all the games previewed for the launch of the Kinect, DanceCentralwas the one with the most hype and promise. The dancing Simon-sez game, developed by Harmonix, was a big hit at both E3 and San Diego Comic-Con as gamers and non-gamers alike tried out their dancing moves.
Dance Central primarily offers two modes of game play: "Perform It," which is the solo mode, and "Dance Battle." In both modes, you'll be required to mirror the dance moves of an onscreen avatar. Each dance move will be displayed on the right side of the screen via flashcard, so you'll know when it's time to execute the next move. When you fail to execute a move properly, the offending body part will glow in red on the guide avatar. Get the move right, and you score big points. Some of the choreographed moves are taken directly from the music videos. Finally, an objective way for friends to determine who can perform the Crank That dance better.
While playing on your own, you'll have the option to practice the moves of the routine in the "Break It Down" mode rather than performing the whole song right out of the gate. While this mode is helpful to train the player as to what moves to expect, it doesn't really teach you the move or tell you what you are doing wrong other than highlighting an area of your body with red. Fail to pick up the move quickly enough, and the game simply moves onto the next one. In this way, Dance Central is very much like the first two installments of the Rock Band series, in that it doesn't teach you how to dance, but may increase your interest in learning how to do so.
Once you're ready to move onto performing an entire song, you'll be able to dance to any of the 32 songs in the game. Each song has three difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, and Hard. You'll have to complete a song on Easy before proceeding to its more challenging routines. Each level of difficulty adds additional moves to pull off. Complete a song on Hard and you'll have the option of playing without the handy flashcards, so that you can experience what it feels like to be a true dancer. You won't be left entirely on your own, since one of the eight available dancing avatars onscreen will still show you what moves to do at the appropriate times.
If you want to use Dance Central as your new exercise trainer, you can turn on the "Workout Mode" option to track your calories burned. The game uses a formula to calculate this total based upon the player's weight and the time and movements of the song. It's not an exact science, but this mode will give you a ballpark figure upon which to rely.
The "Dance Battle" mode allows two players to compete against each other, but with a catch. Each player individually takes a turn in front of the Kinect to strut their stuff. They only play at the same time during the brief "freestyle" portion of the routine where dancers can do whatever dance moves they want. Unfortunately, there is no mode where more than one player can play at the same time throughout. Due to Kinect's steep distance requirements, this isn't too surprising, but it would have been nice to see some sort of co-op mode where players could perform a routine together. After all, dancing is typically a two-person effort.
The art style of the game complements the action onscreen well, and the guide avatars move naturally enough that you should have no problem determining the proper movements, so long as your gifted enough to pull them off.
The background music played during the menu selection may remind you of shopping in an Armani Exchange store. The full selection of songs included with the game are as follows:
- Teach Me How to Jerk - Audio Push
- Rendez-vu - Basement Jaxx
- Body Movin' (Fatboy Slim Remix) - Beastie Boys
- King of the Dancehall - Beenie Man
- Poison - Bell Biv Devoe
- Satisfaction - Benny Benassi
- Evacuate the Dance Floor - Cascada
- Dip It Low - Christina Milian
- Brick House - Commodores
- Flava In Ya Ear (Remix) - Craig Mack
- Days Go By - Dirty Vegas
- Don't Sweat The Technique - Eric B. & Rakim
- Hey Mami - Fannypack
- Down - Jay Sean ft. Lil Wayne
- Jungle Boogie - Kool & The Gang
- Can't Get Your Out of My Head - Kylie Minogue
- Just Dance - Lady Gaga
- Poker Face - Lady Gaga
- Funky Town - Lipps Inc.
- Galang '05 - M.I.A.
- Maneater - Nelly Furtado
- Move Ya Body - Nina Sky
- Hella Good - No Doubt
- I Know You Want Me - Pitbull
- C'mon N' Ride It (The Train) - Quad City DJs
- Pon De Replay - Rihanna
- Push It - Salt-N-Pepa
- Drop It Like It's Hot - Snoop Dogg / Pharrell
- Crank That - Soulja Boy Tell'Em
- Pump Up The Jam - Technotronic
- Rump Shaker - Wreckx'n'effect
- Bust a Move - Young MC
While the song selection offers a wide variety, you may find yourself less interested in certain routines based upon your musical tastes or the particular dance moves. DLC, in the form of new songs and routines, are already available for 240 Microsoft points ($3.00) to keep the party moving, and currently include individual songs from Lady Sovereign (I Got You Dancing), Ne-Yo (Because of You), and Sean Paul (Temperature).
Overall, the motion tracking is pretty good, but the game can't tell if you're a bad dancer. I was able to score quite well on a number of songs and I wouldn't exactly call what I was doing "dancing." Performing these same moves in a public forum would not likely have the desired effect. However, while I am somewhat rhythmically-challenged, I am fairly coordinated, so producing a reasonable facsimile of the moves onscreen allowed me to score numerous five-star performances. There were also a couple of occasions where the scoring of a particular move was a little inconsistent in relation to my movement. This doesn't take away at all from the fun of the game, but it is something of which potential buyers should be aware.
Like most other Kinect games in the initial launch, the gameplay offered in Dance Central is rather shallow. There is no career mode, no story, no unlockable songs, and once you clear the included song list, you may have little reason to continue playing unless you are dance fanatic or wish to use the game's "Workout Mode" as your daily exercise routine. There are some unlockable outfits and routines, but that isn't going to be enough to keep most people interested. From a hardcore gamer's perspective, this could be a bit disappointing, but the reality is that the choreographed routines are the real draw here.
Dance Central requires a lot of players, physically-speaking. You will sweat playing this game. This is not too surprising, since dancing by its very nature is aerobic. Still, the intensity can be quite the shock to the system for those gamers who are not normally very active. Play an hour of Dance Central by yourself and you may be a little stiff the next day - or worse. For those who are in fairly good shape, you should have no problem, but if you're playing on a hard surface, make sure you're wearing a good pair of shoes/sneakers or you may find yourself with some foot pain after an extended session.
Harmonix's newest franchise mostly delivers. If you are going to buy the Kinect, this is a must purchase unless you genuinely hate dancing. This launch title succeeds in demonstrating the potential of the Kinect by offering full-body dancing, which is a huge improvement over the very successful Just Dance on the Nintendo Wii and the Dance Dance Revolution series (was that ever really considered dancing?).
Showcasing 90 routines and over 650 individual dance moves, Dance Central is a tremendously fun title, and will likely be very popular at parties and with those who like to dance for fun. However, if you're one of the less coordinated, but still like to dance, you'll also find lots to like here. As an added bonus, you won't have to suffer any public embarrassment unless you opt to play with friends in attendance. Just be aware that, like other Kinect titles, Dance Central takes photographs of you while you play, and they are typically not flattering. So make sure you keep your pants on or you may end up like this guy.
Check out our Microsoft Kinect Review and Game Guide for further Kinect-related info and reviews.
Dance Central released exclusively for the Xbox 360 on November 4, 2010 and requires Kinect.