I’m not going to lie, the Kinect was pretty much an impulse buy for my family and I. The potential that the new hardware demonstrated made it seem like it would be a wise investment for future titles. Sadly that hasn’t been the case with countless mini game compilations and fitness titles dominating the list of games since launch. However there have been some gems to be found among the muck and I figured rather than get rid of my Kinect I’d give one of the more highly praised games I’d missed a try. Dance Central. But with so many dancing games out does this effort from Harmonix set itself apart?
While games like the Just Dance series are limited in their capabilities by the Wii remote resulting more often than not in random arm flailing, Dance Central offers a much more accurate experience not only keeping an eye on where your arms are, but also your legs, head body and even how smooth you move to the beat. Overall it’s very impressive truly taking the dancing genre to the next level. If you end up messing up a particular section it’s because YOU messed it up and not once have I found myself blaming the Kinect sensor. This game requires a great deal of skill and sense of rhythm and offers perhaps the best challenge I’ve come across in a game in a very long time.
If you’ve played any of the Rock Band games before then the gameplay should seem pretty familiar. Before you were following on screen commands whilst playing fake plastic instruments and here you’re doing exactly the same only with your body. These commands come in the form of small cue cards each with a particular dance move on. These range from simple manoeuvres like side steps or fist pumping to more complex crazier named ones like ‘the robot’ and ‘bring it on back.’ As the music plays these will shift down the side of the screen one by one informing you of what dance move is coming next. At first it can be a little tough to get used to, but after a couple of days of keen practice you’ll get the hang of it.
Dance Central’s difficulty may be both a bad and a good thing here. While it may please those who like things tough, it isn’t exactly something you can pull out at a party and get everyone into right away. Without knowing routines or what each flashcard means you’re going to find it hard jumping in.
While playing songs in their entirety in the ‘Perform It’ mode is where you will want to spend most of your time, another big chunk of it will be found in the ‘Break It Down’ mode. This is the games practice option and allows you to take each song move by move at a slower pace. It definitely helps, but without the option to jump to certain sections of songs at times it can feel a bit of a chore to go through the whole thing to get to the point you’re stuck on.
Thrown into the mix is also a workout feature that measures how many calories you’ve burnt as well as a two-player mode. This however just consists of taking it in turns and competing for a high score and is only at its best when both players are new with a song or both have had practice. And that unfortunately is your lot. No expansive career. No party play for multiplayer or online. Not even an option to create your own dancer. And this is where Dance Central slips up biggest. It’s just too slim in features. Sure after playing a game like Rock Band 3 that is full to the brim with options and customization this will feel lighter, but even so the game feels like it could have offered so much more.
Visually everything is bright and bold. Dancers move in a fluid fashion with the music and environments looking decent too. As for the selection of tracks these offer a good enough variety to get your teeth stuck into spanning the last four or so decades. You’ll find Lady Gaga, Kool and the Gang and Basement Jaxx to name a few. Like the features though the amount of tracks seems slightly on the small side. Thankfully Harmonix has been adding new music every couple of weeks via Xbox Live which definitely adds life to the game.
One worthy addition as well is the inclusion of challenges. These take four songs and blend them together in a short mix making things much more interesting as you alternate dance styles on the fly. But again these are limited to certain groups and there’s no option to pick your own mixes. Shame.
Overall Dance Central offers something truly unique to the Xbox 360 taking the genre up and beyond what I thought possible. The accuracy and implementation is great and it’s just a shame that the content itself isn’t as impressive. It’s still an impressive game, but between this and the sequel, you’re probably better off with the latter.