I havenât felt this embarrassed or self conscious playing a video game since I first picked up a SingStar microphone many, many years ago. I thought I had purged myself of all inhibitions: park me in front of a console, place a drink in my hand, and Iâd gleefully do whatever I was told to.
Dance Central already had me feeling awkward as I wriggled my hips to Poker Face, and that was before I saw the neighbours laughing at me through a window. I actually blushed. But I kept playing regardless. Why? Because I was having a ton of fun.
At the risk of making the rest of my review redundant, Iâll spell things out succinctly for you: this is the one (and only?) Kinect launch game you should be tempted to buy. Itâs the classiest of the lot, and provides the strongest reasons for coming back time and time again. Itâs far from perfect, but boy can it be satisfying.
The interface of Dance Central is better than Microsoftâs own Kinect-controlling efforts, and itâs the first major thing youâll notice about the game. Or, perhaps, it wonât be â itâs meant to be invisible and effortless, and largely succeeds in getting you to a dance as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Most other Kinect titles have you holding your hand out until youâre hovering over a button, then waiting for several seconds while you confirm your selection. Itâs necessary in some cases, perhaps, but it does make navigation much slower than using a normal controller.
Dance Central does things differently. Menu options line up on the right-hand side. Holding your right arm out and shifting it up and down allows you to scroll through whateverâs on screen. To select something, you swipe horizontally to the left. Once you get the hang of this system, itâs fast and intuitive. Sometimes it can still be hard to select an item, but for the most part itâs a great navigation method.
The interface is great and all, but whatâs Dance Central all about?
Well, dancing, of course. 31 tracks are presented here, each with a choreographed dance routine available in three levels of difficulty. Your goal is simply to dance well, mirroring each move with your body as it comes up in the song.
You donât see yourself projected into the game, but you do get to choose from one of several dancers to represent you. Your chosen dancer will go through the move list perfectly, and itâs you to you to keep up. If part of your body isnât in the proper place, the corresponding area will glow red on the dancer. Itâs very simple to understand: if you donât dance the moves properly, the game will know, and you wonât get a very good score.
Thankfully, each song has a âBreak it Downâ mode accompanying it, and itâs this that makes the game accessible and satisfying. An instructor will take you through each compartmentalised move required for a particular song, asking you to try new moves out three times before continuing on. A âBreak it Downâ session might last for up to 10 minutes, but itâs worth it when you put all the moves together and perform the songâs dance.
Non-dancers will struggle at first. There isnât any way around this, but Harmonix has done a very good job of easing players in with super simple dance routines in songs like âPoker Faceâ, âHey Mamiâ, and âEvacuate the Dancefloorâ. A variety of friends have come round to play this game, and even the more rhythm-challenged ones were soon looking like complete idiots â but they were complete idiots who were dancing correctly.
From those humble beginnings, you can be sure each new set of songs along the difficulty scale will continue to leave you both humiliated and desperate to overcome this latest challenge. Attempting the harder songs certainly did that for me.
None of this would matter if you could simply flick your wrist and fool the game into thinking you had pulled off a twirl. This is where the Kinect technology comes to the fore: itâs smart and reliable enough to detect if your elbow, or your left leg, or your head, isnât in the correct general area for any given move. Basically, you canât cheat. Oh sure, youâve got some leeway on Easy, but crank up the difficulty and see how little you can get away with...
This sets Dance Central apart from DDR or anything on the Wii. Finally, a motion-based game is actually rewarding and punishing you correctly.
Thatâs not to say itâs all sunshine and roses. The core of Dance Central is undeniably fun, but there isnât much to experience beyond that core. Multiplayer is limited to taking turns in a dance-off, which doesnât really work if the two dancers are of varying skill levels. A party game, this is not.
It reminded me of nothing more than Harmonixâs own original Guitar Hero. Here was a game that had a solid foundation, but was hampered by cover songs, no multiplayer, and less polish than youâd like. Dance Central is good for what it does offer, but you just know that its sequel is going to be so, so much better.
Still, Dance Central is a blueprint of how Kinect games should be made. It combines a solid and reliable implementation of the tech with enough gameplay meat to keep you coming back after the novelty wears off. Thatâs something I canât easily say for any of the other Kinect launch titles Iâve played. Even though itâs bare bones, this game is still worth your money if youâve already invested in the hardware. Itâs my favourite Kinect game thus far, and one of the few I can happily recommend.
I think Microsoft feels the same way, considering the number of ads Iâve seen for this game. Within a year, Iâll bet if I go dancing in town, Iâll see someone bust out moves learned in Dance Central. And I shall turn away awkwardly and pretend I hadnât just been doing the same thing myself...