Just Dance 2014 should probably come packaged with a hand towel. As unfit as we are, my girlfriend and I were down to our underwear within five minutes of firing up the game. That might not sound too appealing, but there are worse ways to build up a sweat - there’s a surprisingly great time to be had with the latest in Ubisoft’s series of party styled dance games.
If you’ve never played any of the Just Dance series before, the concept is very straightforward - you dance, mimicking the steps of on screen dancers, and earn points based on your accuracy. Where other rhythm games have you pressing buttons, tapping a touchscreen, or stepping on dance mat in time to the beat, Just Dance goes a step further by using your Wii Remote (or Kinect or PlayStation Move on the other consoles) to track your movements, creating a much more holistic dancing game experience.
Overall, this makes for a wildly fun, if flawed experience. The tracklist is impressively diverse - I can almost guarantee that among the 48 songs there will be some you love, some you hate, and some you’ve just never heard of - but they’re all great to dance to with a Wiimote in hand. You know that feeling when you’re home alone, doing some housework or such, and you pump up the stereo and just let loose? That’s exactly the kind of experience that Just Dance manages to create.
The choreography that you’re taken through is equally varied, with no two songs feeling like you’re just doing the same steps to a different tune. There aren’t too many outrageously difficult moves, and where there are, you can usually substitute something less daunting - walking backwards will serve you just fine when Chris Brown is moonwalking on screen (the Wii U version doesn’t track leg movement anyway). The choreographers have also done a great job of working in trademark dance steps from the videos for the songs in question. You’ll be Y.M.C.A-ing when you pick the Village People and mimicking all of Psy’s bizarrely wonderful moves when you choose Gentleman.
If you bring a friend (or four) along, the fun to be had increases exponentially. At its core, Just Dance is a party game that’s all about just letting go, so the more people you have to join in, the better. You can have up to five people playing at once, space permitting, with four dancers and another person singing along into the Wii U Gamepad.
Just Dance 2014 also introduces a few new multiplayer modes. On Stage mode is a three player mode where a lead dancer dances alongside two backup dancers; it works well enough, but doesn’t really offer anything that the regular multiplayer doesn’t. Party Starter, a Wii U exclusive mode, is identical to Just Dance 4’s Puppet Master mode - up to four players dance, while another player switches up the choreography in real time. Again, this can be interesting, but isn’t as dynamic as it could be. The new multiplayer World Dance Stage mode is billed as an MMO-like experience, but it’s basically just the regular game with leaderboards.
As I said though, this game has it’s share of flaws. Nothing that really ruins the experience, fortunately, but enough to be noticeable and to give the game an overall unpolished feeling. The user interface for selecting songs is frighteningly unintuitive, simply giving you an arbitrarily ordered list of songs without any means to sort them. If you’re looking for a particular song, you have no option but to scroll through the whole list until you find it; if you want to filter songs by difficulty, you’re out of luck.
Choosing between game modes is also more of a chore than it should be. Not all songs are available for all game modes, but instead of having you pick a mode and then a song from a list of compatible ones, you have to go through the whole song list and pick a song to see what modes you can play it on. This is tedious enough if you know what song you want to play, but if know you want to do, say, On Stage mode but don’t know what song you want, it’s a case of selecting every song in the game and seeing which ones work with that mode.
While not as troubling, the overall lack of difficulty in the game might be concerning for some. Unless you’re playing the competitive Battle Mode with another player, you can’t actually fail a song; mistakes just mean a lower score at the end. Songs range from Easy to Hardest in difficulty, with some having two or three different difficulties with unique choreography, but there is no real noticeable difference between difficulties, and even the hardest songs aren’t all that hard. To top it all off, because game just uses the Wii Remote to track your movements, it can be really easy to fool, making the game even easier. This doesn’t really detract from the experience, but if you’re a Dance Dance Revolution veteran looking for a new challenge to master, you might want to look elsewhere.
Nonetheless, Just Dance 2014 is still a whole lot of fun, particularly if you bring a few friends around to join in. Just make sure you keep a towel handy, as all that dancing can be sweaty work.