A year ago, Activision proved you could have too much of a good thing with their Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock release which has been the last major band based rhythm game to come out with any sort of real backing to the mass market. For years, guitar and band games dominated sales charts between Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
Those who presumably had taken this the worst had to be Harmonix who had pioneered the plastic instrument market with the original Guitar Hero only to see their own new franchise Rock Band take a beating from the oversaturated market caused by Activision. But from the ashes of so many plastic guitars and drum kits, a new genre came back to life with the dance game with both Dance Central and Just Dance.
Dance Central would captivate the world by measuring the full use of the dancer’s body to see how accurately they could replicate the motions on screen which quickly made it the defining piece of hardware for the newly launched XBox 360 Kinect peripheral. Now, Dance Central 2 returns to show you really can’t have too much of a good thing… as long as you do it right.
Dance Central 2, like its predecessor, revolves around players standing in front of their TV and mirroring the dance moves in front of them. At heart, it is an incredibly simple concept but anyone who has tried dancing at any point in their life can vouch that just because you can see it done in front of you, it doesn’t mean you can do it too without a little practice.
Dance Central 2 works with all levels of dance skill thankfully so people who are experienced dancers can be challenged while rookie rump shakers can still enjoy themselves even though their arms and legs flailing in the air may make them look like they are having a seizure to passersby. Thankfully, individual dances still have the freestyle sections where the Kinect takes pictures of players to remind them just how silly they look in motion.
Dance Central 2 features some noticeable improvements upon the first release. The first of which is voice commands. Players can navigate through the menus and pause the game with simple “XBox” commands. It is about time games came out that actually implement the microphone features of the Kinect.
Also new comes Custom Playlists. A staple for the now deceased band genre, players can select a list of songs for continuous play that allows for a single or group of players to keep dancing without having to work through menus and lose their momentum and rhythm.
The presentation of Dance Central 2 has also changed. Now instead of just going head to head on the dance floor, players can choose which of the dance crews they represent as they battle against each other for high score. This two player dance battle also features the Free-4-All minigame where players need to hit moves from the routine to earn 10,000 point bonuses.
Dance Central 2 also introduces the “story mode” of the Crew Challenge. In it, players must gain cred with each of the crews by scoring high enough star totals between a group of songs. Each song begins with a quick conversation with the on screen crew members who talk about the quality of the performance once it is over.
After earning enough stars, players compete for the respect of the crew which unlocks new dancers, crews and outfits. While the plot is about as deep as You Got Served, no one plays a dance game or music game in general for its story, as Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock woefully taught us. What they want is quality songs and quality choreography to dance to.
Dance Central 2 retained the colorful characters and exotic backgrounds of the first game. When players begin nailing the number presented to them, they get a psychadelic neon light display in the background though this is more of a bonus for anyone watching the game as players are usually so focused on nailing the dance moves properly to notice. The character designs of the crews are fantastic, each with their own unique flair and style.
The most important aspect of any music game, especially a dance game is its music library. The selection of 43 songs present in Dance Central 2 gives a great and diverse list of options both in style of music and of dance. (Just to be clear, of the 43 songs in Dance Central 2, I only played 42 of them, simply refusing to dance ever to Justin Bieber’s “Somebody to Love”.)
Disco classics like Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” find their way into the game alongside modern hiphop such as Far East Movement’s “Like a G6”. There is tons of nostalgia within the game as well including Haddaway’s “What Is Love” which features the Night at the Roxybury head bob and even newer cult classics like O-Zone’s “Mai Ai Hee” (also known on YouTube as the Numa Numa song).
As with other Harmonix games, Dance Central 2 gives players the opportunity to import tracks from the previous game which when combined with DLC allows players a library of over 100 song’s at the game’s launch. With such diversity of talented artists and styles of music, this gives players hundreds of hours of dance possibilities without ever repeating a track.
Last year, I said Dance Central was competing with Rock Band for the title of the Ultimate Party Game. This year, it looks like they have swapped the title to their other franchise with Dance Central 2.
Though the improvements have been subtle, they have been valuable like the inclusion of custom playlists, drop-in drop-out multiplayer and the inclusion of voice commands. Along with the original Dance Central tracks and the DLC still to come, Dance Central 2 should continue to reign with this title as the go to game for both the Kinect technology and party games alike.
Developer: Harmonix Music Systems