Game Review: ‘Dance Central’ for XBox 360

We are not exactly what you’d call a group of talented dancers. For the most part, many of us wouldn’t even be good enough to be considered bad dancers. But that didn’t stop us from picking up the most anticipated Kinect launch title, Dance Central, not surprisingly a game that involves dancing.

At Comic Con, we got our first chance to experience Dance Central and even though it was fairly embarrassing showing our moves to a room full of fellow press, we quickly realized we weren’t the only ones who couldn’t dance (with the once exception being one guy who looked like he was a professionally trained hip hop dancer who was rocking out to “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe).  And most importantly, it was fun.

But the question remained if it would be able to sustain itself as a full game and not just a quick burst of enjoyment for a song or two. We are happy to report that the answer is an astounding yes.

Gameplay:

Dance Central is the most perfect use so far of a world without a controller. Using the Kinect, Dance Central monitors every movement a player makes as they try to mimic the on screen dances of the expert dancer characters. Unlike other Kinect games like Kinect Adventures or Kinect Sports, the on screen character is not a direct representation of the player. Instead, it acts as a model of what the player should be doing.

There is a small box on the right of the screen showing a silhouette of what the player is actually doing. When a player deviates from the correct moves, the on screen character model will glow red over the body part that isn’t doing what it should be doing. There is also a Freestyle section of each song where players see a glowing outline of themselves dancing on screen with no direction. To add to the self-deprecation of the non-dancing crowd, the Kinect makes sure to take pictures of you during this portion.

Thankfully, for us non-dancing geeks, it is impossible to fail a song like one could in Rock Band. Instead, Players will only earn fewer stars and not be able to advance through the dance challenges. Because of the way Dance Central is set up, this does not prevent players from fully enjoying the game since every song of the 32 in the game is unlocked from the very start. Players are not going to be limited in song choice by their own personal ability.

What is limited is the routines available. The logic behind that is if a player cannot get a four or five star rating on Easy, there is no way for them to tackle the more difficult moves and routines of the Medium or Hard settings. After getting a low star rating on a song the game will encourage a player to “Break It Down” which allows players to learn each individual move for a routine before piecing them together for the full dance.

Dance Battle is a great multiplayer experience as players of different skill levels can swap in and out of routines back and forth trying to reach the highest score. The nice part is players are not forced to do the same routine and can pick different difficulty levels. This enables players to enjoy Dance Central without becoming frustrated from say playing against their girlfriend who took dance lessons for the better part of her adolescent life.

Dance Central will make you sweat. Playing through a few routines will get your heart pumping and burn some calories. Luckily, Dance Central includes Workout Mode in all of its songs where players enter their weight and the game calculates the calorie burn during the course of each routine. Forget formal workouts from The Biggest Loser. If you are going to burn calories during a game it should be fun too.

Story and Presentation:

As we stated earlier, all 32 songs are unlocked from the very start so there is no career mode. Dance Central encourages players to just jump in and try it. The only unlockables come in the form of venues to dance in as well as the on screen avatars that players will be mimicking and the challenges mentioned earlier. These characters all have their own cocky personalities resembling the antagonists from the You Got Served film franchise. Of anything in Dance Central, this is the only thing that is actually unlikable. One would wish you could turn on a boxing minigame every time you hear them speak and throw a few haymakers their way before or after the dance starts.

Graphics and Sound:

Dance Central has a fantastic art style behind it. Because there were not sprawling epic levels to explore, tons of effort was placed in to all the character and venue designs. The tripped out Freestyle visuals also feel like a throwback to 1990’s music video effects but their bright and vibrant nature are a perfect fit in with the rest of the game.

Most impressive visual is the flawless animation of each individual dance step as well as the transitions between them. They all blend together in such a smooth nature that one would believe that each routine was individually animated.

Dance Central has a great soundtrack ranging from the 1970s with “Brick House” to some of the most current dance hits like Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and “Just Dance” (the latter two not being big surprises seeing Harmonix’s affinity for Gaga by adding her to the Rock Band DLC). There is a fairly even breakdown between hip hop as well as dancehall songs leaving a something for everyone type of scenario as long as that someone enjoys dance music.

Overall:

In our recent Rock Band 3 review, I stated that Harmonix had maintained the title of the ultimate party game. Now, it looks like they could be competing against themselves as Dance Central brings a similar but at the same time drastically different party experience that is almost as addictive but more easily accessible than what Rock Band 3 brings to the table. There is also that fresh, new feeling as this is the first dance title released that encompasses a players entire body. Unlike Just Dance on the Wii which only monitors the arm motion of a player while “encouraging” them to do the rest of the dance or the completely inane and unrealistic dances of Dance Dance Revolution, Dance Central brings real dancing to the mix.

Even for those of us who would never be caught dead doing any of these dances in a nightclub, much like playing the drums in Rock Band we instantly feel comfortable having these experiences around our closest friends in the privacy of our homes. Kudos to Harmonix for taking what had become a stale genre and not only revitalzing it but making Dance Central the premiere title of the new Kinect technology.

XBox 360

Developers: Harmonix

Publishers: MTV Games

Price: $59.99

Score: 8.5

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