Dance Central

I haven’t 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 I’d 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.

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At the risk of making the rest of my review redundant, I’ll spell things out succinctly for you: this is the one (and only?) Kinect launch game you should be tempted to buy. It’s the classiest of the lot, and provides the strongest reasons for coming back time and time again. It’s far from perfect, but boy can it be satisfying.

The interface

The interface of Dance Central is better than Microsoft’s own Kinect-controlling efforts, and it’s the first major thing you’ll notice about the game. Or, perhaps, it won’t be — it’s 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 you’re hovering over a button, then waiting for several seconds while you confirm your selection. It’s 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 whatever’s on screen. To select something, you swipe horizontally to the left. Once you get the hang of this system, it’s fast and intuitive. Sometimes it can still be hard to select an item, but for the most part it’s a great navigation method.

The dancing

The interface is great and all, but what’s 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 don’t 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 it’s you to you to keep up. If part of your body isn’t in the proper place, the corresponding area will glow red on the dancer. It’s very simple to understand: if you don’t dance the moves properly, the game will know, and you won’t get a very good score.

Thankfully, each song has a ‘Break it Down’ mode accompanying it, and it’s 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 ‘Break it Down’ session might last for up to 10 minutes, but it’s worth it when you put all the moves together and perform the song’s dance.

Non-dancers will struggle at first. There isn’t any way around this, but Harmonix has done a very good job of easing players in with super simple dance routines in songs like “Poker Face”, “Hey Mami”, and “Evacuate the Dancefloor”. A variety of friends have come round to play this game, and even the more rhythm-challenged ones were soon looking like complete idiots — 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.

The technology

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: it’s smart and reliable enough to detect if your elbow, or your left leg, or your head, isn’t in the correct general area for any given move. Basically, you can’t cheat. Oh sure, you’ve 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.

The potential

That’s not to say it’s all sunshine and roses. The core of Dance Central is undeniably fun, but there isn’t much to experience beyond that core. Multiplayer is limited to taking turns in a dance-off, which doesn’t really work if the two dancers are of varying skill levels. A party game, this is not.

It reminded me of nothing more than Harmonix’s 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 you’d 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. That’s something I can’t easily say for any of the other Kinect launch titles I’ve played. Even though it’s bare bones, this game is still worth your money if you’ve already invested in the hardware. It’s 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 I’ve seen for this game. Within a year, I’ll bet if I go dancing in town, I’ll see someone bust out moves learned in Dance Central. And I shall turn away awkwardly and pretend I hadn’t just been doing the same thing myself...

"It’s a barebones package, but boy is it fun. And embarrassing. Don’t forget embarrassing."
- Dance Central
Follow Own it? Rating: PG   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 15 Min


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Comments Comments (6)

Posted by Soyerz
On Monday 22 Nov 2010 3:30 PM
I know I would look completely stupid, but this looks like too much fun. Looks like it would also give you a pretty good work out.
Posted by McPhisto
On Tuesday 23 Nov 2010 12:47 PM
22 November 2010, 03:30 PM Reply to Soyerz
I know I would look completely stupid, but this looks like too much fun. Looks like it would also give you a pretty good work out.
Hmm yes. I do a fair amount of running, but after a couple of Dance Central sessions, unfamiliar muscles were really aching in my legs...
Posted by mattyj1974
On Wednesday 24 Nov 2010 1:00 AM
This game is hard work.......If you are frail, meek, unco, Takuafire or Jasmine you need not apply.
Posted by SkinBintin
On Friday 26 Nov 2010 12:00 AM
Was in the Kinect Beta test... so scored the camera for nadda. Splashed out on a couple games on the weekend... Dance Central and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved. (Will prob. get Kinect Sports and Kinectimals this weekend) and think Dance Central really is the break out launch title.. it's great fun! Even for an unco that can't dance like me! :P
Posted by lexcalibur
On Friday 26 Nov 2010 1:44 PM
I don't know if I have had a dormant dancing gene laying there all my life, but played this game for about ten minutes and was able to 5 star songs on hard. Not trying to tell the world how awesome I am, I'm just surprised at either a)My own natural affinity to this game (although I sucked at DDR), or b)How easy this game is. I suck at rock band but this is so much easier.

Great game though, and an awesome workout!!!
Posted by simcharles
On Monday 21 Feb 2011 11:49 PM
This is game is awesome! Definitely recommended!!!