Harmonix are well known for their Rock Band series of games and now ditch the peripherals and performance in favour of controller free dancing. With Dance Central you strut your funky stuff to prove that you’ve got what it takes to wow and leave onlookers in awe at your killer dance floor moves. However, with a lack of actual controller to memorize and guide you, is the game a little too inaccessible or does it provide a fun game where you’ll learn something along the way?
It’s simple, stand in front of your TV and follow the on-screen prompts much like you would do in Rock Band. However, you’ve got to actually be able to learn the moves if your to stand a chance at getting high ratings and tremendous scores. To get you all warmed up, you select a track from an impressive roster of artists and then head to the tuition mode (Break it Down). It’s here where a character will perform the moves (so pay attention), then you’re required to mimic it as if you were looking in a mirror. You get several chances to get it right, and if you’re having a little trouble nailing it, then there’s an option to slow it down just so you can see how the move works in its basic form. It’s handy and a vital feature when upping the difficulty. Even though each track has a difficulty rating, there’s added challenge when you select one of three additional levels of difficulty. Most prospective dancers will likely start on Easy and work upwards, unless you’re totally cool and well versed with the moves that is. Each move is named, which is an important aspect as when actually performing, knowing the name in advance is useful when switching from one move to another.
So, you’ve practised the moves over and over in the break it down mode (which is totally advisable even though it’s tempting to just jump right in and see how things pan out), now is the time to actually perform it for real and get graded (1 – 5 stars). As with any music based game, you’ve got to perform the moves in time with the music, and to help you accomplish this, there’s a scrolling set of images on the right of the screen which not only serves to remind you what the move is, but also the timing to perform it. Some of the images are a little confusing, but if you’ve taken the time to learn them in advance in the break it down mode, then shouldn’t pose a problem.
Kinect, tracks your arm, body and leg movements to see how well you are performing. The on screen dancers also perform the same moves, but really your eyes should be focused on the scrolling images on the side. The tracking is actually very good, and allows for a little individual flair if you’re able to. You’re not required to move verbatim as long as you’ve got a decent grasp of timing should allow you to score highly. The dancers on screen show you if you’re not performing the moves properly as you perform by having limb highlights in red, but if you’ve properly got your groove on then you’ll be rewarded with a ‘Nice’ or ‘Flawless’ as you score and multiplier build up.
Within the routines, which remain the same each time you play so you can effectively learn them, there are times where you can break the mould and do a bit of freestyle. This is a great way to show off, and can be pretty amusing when you see the playback video. Sadly the video is sped up making you look comical regardless of whether you’re busting out awesome moves. Once you’ve completed a track your points are rated with stars ranging from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) and if you’re even better gold where you’ve really nailed the dance perfectly.
The visuals are as you would expect them to be and use a similar style to the Rock Band games (simple with bold colours cartoon like characters and backgrounds). The dancers move very well and are no doubt motion captured for the most authentic presentation. As already mentioned, Kinect’s ability to track your moves is pretty spot on, although it’s perhaps hard to detect whether it’s being overly generous or not.
There’s some decent tunes on offer with more downloadable from the Marketplace as you would expect. These are all licensed tracks and range from fast paced beats to more chilled offerings. This is a dance game and therefore don’t expect rock tunes to feature, although with the right tempo it’s not impossible some rock track could be added at a later date. The audio is of a high standard, but due to the nature of the game why should you expect anything less? The dancers offer clear and concise instruction with their different tones, and when you’re doing well or badly offer much encouragement which is a nice touch.
This is strictly a solo game when actually playing, although naturally is better suited when there is an audience and possibly more players who can swap over or if you like, join in for the fun of it (space permitting). There is a lot to learn here, and although you can breeze through each of the tracks in an afternoon if you’ve got the energy, to actually score properly and unlock more (the game uses a pseudo levelling up system), you’re going to have to put in the hours of practice. It’s possible to spend hours on just one dance if you’re a perfectionist.
There is a ‘Dance Battle’ option where two dancers can take turns with a routine with the aim of out performing each other, and once you’ve got good scores on a set of tracks you can unlock a medley where you dance to a mix of the tracks in the set. What’s more there’s a workout option which counts calories, although why this isn’t extended to the ‘Break it Down’ mode is an oversight. The online component extends to leaderboards where you can see how well you compare to friends and the rest of the dancing world.Sadly there are no head to head battles over live, but this is something that will probably come with further iterations of the franchise over time.
You like to dance and you like fun, then this is probably one launch game worth picking up. However, out of them all it’s also the least accessible. Other games easily allow non gamers to jump right in and ‘get it’ within minutes whereas this game has a far steeper learning curve. For those less rhythmic you might have a laugh but progression will be slow, as some of the moves can be a little complicated. In this regard the game shoots itself in the foot as it comes across as a little too serious for its own good. Great for those of you who want to feel like pro dancers, but not so accepting for more casual players. To get the most out of this game you really need to put in the practice, which thankfully the game handles very well, offering lots of encouragement to keep you going. However, if patience isn’t your forte then you might get a little frustrated if you’re concerned with making progress.
Dance Central is a great entry into new realms for Harmonix and those who have picked up Kinect. However due to the game’s serious nature makes it less accommodating for the more casual audiences out there. That said, with perseverance and patience, there’s a lot of fun and plenty of reward on offer here which is to be commended. For a first effort, this is a great showcase game for Kinect, and if you’ve got the moves and wish to expand your repertoire, then is well worth picking up. Just be prepared to put in the time and effort to reap the rewards.