STAFF REVIEW of Dance Central (Xbox 360)

Monday, November 15, 2010.
by Adam Dileva

Dance Central Box art Harmonix returns once again, but this time its not anything Rock Band related. Instead, they are taking on another take with the music genre. Dance Central is what you can probably guess from the title; its a dancing game but this is no Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) that you may know, this game will actually try to teach you some dance moves for your repertoire.

While you may have played DDR before, that game never really taught you any dance moves or anything you could probably show off in a real club. Dance Central will teach you actual moves with your feet, arms, hips, and general rhythm and movement. Theres no faking it here since this Kinect only game will see exactly how you are moving your body and legs unlike other games that let you get away with flailing around.

While the concept of a dancing game may not be new, with Kinect hardware being mandatory for the title, Dance Central feels completely new and interesting even for their first time out. Its fun, can easily be a party game for when friends come over, and like mentioned before, may actually teach you some moves you could show off in public as well.

A music genre game is only as good as its soundtrack though right? There may not be a huge selection here like Rock Band has spoiled us with, but there are some definite classics here that almost anyone can enjoy. There were actually very few songs that either I or the wife didnt really care for to be honest. Some of the more noteworthy songs that I tend to play over and over: CMon N Ride It (The Train), Crank That, Jungle Boogie, Poker Face, Poison, Pump Up The Jam, and Satisfaction; just to name a few.

Because Dance Central is a Kinect game, you actually navigate the menus from swiping your left or right hand to progress or go back and up and down to make your selections. Its natural and intuitive once you realize how to select and choose options. First time Kinect users shouldnt have a problem with the interface as its that simple and easy to use.

Instead of a step chart to learn routines, youll actually see your character on screen start to dance and do moves and youll need to mirror those moves in unison to gain points and pass. Move the wrong arm or leg and that limb will go red so you know what youre doing wrong, but more on that later.

So you find a song you like (and is grouped by difficulty just like Rock Band) and once chosen youll have a few different options: Break It Down, Perform It, and Dance Battle. Break It Down will essentially do that and show you every single move youll need to learn to pass it in Perform It mode. Choosing from Easy, Medium, and Hard will also teach you progressively harder moves as well. A flash card will appear on the screen (most with goofy names) and will give you a quick diagram of what youre supposed to do (move this arm or that leg). Pass the move three times if you dont on your first and youll move onto the next cue card with your next move lesson. If you really cant nail a certain moveset, you can slow it down even further to try and help you learn said movements. While not perfect, it does help for some of the more challenging moves with subtle nuances that seem to matter to Kinect tracking you at times.

So youve broken-it-down and now know all the awesome moves youll need to master; head on to Perform It to prove yourself! Just like learning, youll always have the flash cards on screen to show you whats coming next for moves and as long as you understand what the cards are telling you what to do next, youll be fine throughout. While some songs on easy will only have a few moves that are repeated over and over, higher difficulties will throw quite a few at you of all varying challenge. Midway through the song youll even have a small 10 second or so window to freestyle and do whatever you want as Kinect takes pictures of you and replays them quickly thats always great for a laugh. Youll also finish each song with a specialize Finishing Move to end it in style (though for some reason these arent taught in Break It Down mode) as well.

Dance Battle is where you and a friend can dance against each other in jump in and jump out play; no direct head to head though. Its quite hilarious to play this mode with people that arent particularly good dancers simply for the fact its much more entertaining to watch friends dance awkwardly. The song is split, you do a section then your friend does the next and so on. While its not perfect (like head to head versus would be), it is fun and at least has everyone in the room watching someone else other than you the whole time. Sadly you cant go online for a dance off either so youre only stuck with simple leaderboards for scoring.

Speaking of scoring, its done very similar to how Rock Band does things, with the 5 star approach for a perfect routine. All songs are unlocked from the beginning so no need to go through a bunch of songs you may not enjoy just to play something you want to. Youll unlock new dancers (preset and not customizable in any way for some reason), outfits and venues as you progress but dont look for any type of career mode unfortunately. The lack of any real progression in a career type of mode was quite a downer as was not being able to make my own dancer.

The other issue I had overall was the fact that you cant fail out of a song. You can perform poorly, but youll never fail. Like I mentioned above, your characters limbs will go red if you arent mimicking them perfectly, in attempts to show you what youre doing wrong. The problem is that it doesnt tell you what or why you are doing it wrong. Is your arm too low or high, angled weird, or your hips not rotating the right way? Youll just have to figure it out until you get it right unfortunately, but at least it narrows it down to the area you need to work on per move. Other may enjoy this and not feel too overwhelmed when not doing well, cause nothing would be more discouraging to shaking what your momma gave you, then failing cause you did it wrong, right?

While Dance Central may not be for everyone, if you have a Kinect and some friend that regularly come over, definitely pick this up and see how many people get into it. Once people get over the initial embarrassment of having to dance in front of people, everyone for the most part seems to have a good time, even the friends on the couch refusing to play but laughing.

As I said before, there are some great tools in this game that will teach you some moves you can even use for dancing in the clubs (thats right, Im going to bust out my merengue swagger next time!) and the simple fact that Ive come home to see my wife playing Dance Central on her own proves that its simple enough for anyone to jump in and play.

I do wish there was some more depth to the game as a whole, but if you need a reason to justify getting a Kinect or was curious about getting one, this is the launch title that you need with it to really show how well it works. Harmonix has done it again on their first go and just like how Rock Band got some of us to pick up a real instrument and learn how to play (or want to); Dance Central could do the same for learning some killer moves on the dance floor.

Online dance battles for part 2 is a must, so is telling me why I'm doing a certain move wrong.

Overall: 8.3 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10



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