With its first two installments, Dance Central has proven itself to be the dance franchise to beat. Utilizing the Kinect to full effect and wrapping everything up with great presentation, this series has been a recent reigning champ in the motion-controlled and party-game genres. But where could Harmonix take it from there? With Dance Central 3, they’ve decided to throw solo dancers a bone with a fully fledged single-player campaign, on top of numerous additions to the already-excellent multiplayer modes. While it doesn’t revolutionize cutting a rug in front of your Kinect, Dance Central 3 makes busting a move on the virtual dance floor as enjoyable as ever.
Realizing that a serious approach to a dance-centric story mode would be a farce, Harmonix saturated the proceedings with some campy charisma and a ludicrous premise. As one of the dancefloor elite, you’re drafted into the top-secret Dance Central Intelligence agency for a mission of inter-dimensional importance: Going back in time to stop the unspeakable dance crimes of the evil Dr. Tan.
Characters and crews you’ve grown to love in the first games return as your timestream contacts, occupying five decades of dance spanning from the 1970s to modern day. From a story perspective, this is all absurdly amazing. Gameplay-wise, it means that this is the most diverse Dance Central soundtrack yet, offering hit singles and popular choreography from each era of dance culture.
You’ll master the groovy moves of The Hustle in the ‘70s, shimmy to the sounds of “Ice Ice Baby” in the’90s, and be taught the art of doing the Dougie in the aughts. Not every track in the 45-song setlist is a hit, but you’re guaranteed to find something to move your body to given the variety of genres and styles. While hopping around to Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” may be poison to your self-esteem, “Moves Like Jagger,” “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” and “Electric Boogie” all seem like they were destined to be danced to in front of a Kinect.
The single-player campaign offers plenty to sink your moves into, with level progression and unlockable characters--there’s even a dance-based boss fight. The multiple time periods make for great variety in the backdrops. One moment, you’re rocking a house party with Kid & Play-inspired moves; the next, you’re on a soundstage reminiscent of MTV’s Total Request Live.
For those who’ve played the previous Dance Central iterations, the gameplay will immediately feel familiar. Mirroring the moves of the on-screen dancer, you’ll use the incoming flashcards as cues for your next piece of choreography. You’ll still get feedback on the limbs that are out of sync with the rest of your rhythmic movements, and there’s really no way to “Fail” a song.
While this tried-and-true system feels as satisfying as ever, it still runs into a tiny logistical problem. Given that the flashcards can only convey so much, it’s all but impossible to ace a song on your first try before you’ve seen the basics of all the moves. This takes away the possibility for “sight reading” a song by nailing it without prior practice, a staple of the rhythm game genre. But hopping into Rehearsal will prep you just fine, and the choreography is well-designed: Easy mode gives the moves accessible simplicity and lenient detection, while playing songs on Hard demands the exactness, timing, and stamina of an adept dancer.
One minor quibble is the method for progressing through each era of dance. To jump forward in time, you need to find and “decode” four fragments of era-appropriate Dance Crazes, like YMCA and the Macarena. These sequences will be hidden within the songs of that decade, and accurately mimicking them unlocks the keys to advancing. But if a particularly tricky move is buried at the end of a song, or you just can’t seem to nail a certain move, you might get stuck in a frustrating loop of replaying the same song until you get it right. It’s not likely to ruin your fun, but it seems like there should’ve been a better way to stagger the single-player progression.
The party-friendly multiplayer reaches new revelry heights in DC3 thanks to the encouraging jump-in/jump-out play and fresh modes. Though the number of simultaneous dancers is capped at two, up to eight players can duke (and dance) it out thanks to the amusing Crew Throwdown mode which enables competitive teamplay. Keep the Beat is a perfect mode for freeform dancing, and only requires that you move in time to the music; Strike a Pose is an exhilarating blitz of movement as you try to mimic as many onscreen poses as possible.
Make Your Move is the best of the new modes, facilitating a HORSE-style “observe and repeat” dance-off that deftly detects your moves (and even assigns them cute little names). You won’t want to play these modes for hours on end, but they’ll no doubt provide great entertainment at your next social gathering. Then again, you probably won’t even be able to play for hours on end: The fun, energetic choreography doubles as an enjoyable workout, and you’re guaranteed to break a sweat after dancing your heart out over a handful of tracks.
As a complete package, Dance Central 3 is the best dance game yet. Whether you want to boogie with a bunch of friends or perfect your routines in single-player, Harmonix has hooked you up with plenty of gratifying options. This may not be the end-all-be-all of motion-controlled movin’ and groovin’, but it once again gives the Kinect a glorious, life-of-the-party purpose.