Out of all the Kinect games released at launch yesterday, Dance Central is easily the one that makes the best use of the technology. The motion sensing works well to detect if you've made the right moves, and each of the Easy/Medium/Hard routines in the 32 song list is well-choreographed and fun to perform. It's also easily the most authentic dance game to date – it really is about learning and performing real dance moves. Cheryll and I played it together for review, and we both agree that among purely motion control-based games, Dance Central is the first game where we honestly had fun because of the motion controls rather than in spite of them.
When dancing, there are two main portions of the screen you need to look at to figure out what you should be doing. The flashcards on the right side give you the name of the move and a still frame diagram giving you the basic idea with the leg/arm highlighted that you should start with, and then you can also watch the dancer to see exactly how the move should be performed. Once you get familiar with each move, it gets easier to use the flashcards as a kind of shorthand that you can glance at and know what to do immediately.
To get the hang of each move, you can start by playing Break It Down mode, where you're introduced to individual moves one at a time until you're comfortable with them. Each move has a name to help you remember it (Tell Em Arm, Propeller, Keyboard Cat, Cowgirl, and so forth), and once you've got the individual moves down, you practice putting them together before you perform the actual song. It moves at a pace that seems just right for a range of skill levels; it's not too slow that a moderately experienced dancer would get bored, and not too fast that someone with no dance skills would feel overwhelmed, especially since you can repeat the break down as many times as you want.
Above: Break It Down mode
You can also skip Break It Down mode and just jump right into the actual song – it's up to you. Each song's options unlock individually though, so you have to pass a song on Easy to unlock the Medium routine, and pass Medium to unlock Hard. Each song also has a general difficulty rating too, so as you progress through the track list the routines get harder overall. Again, the difficulty curve seems just right, and if you play through the tracks in order you'll start to perform harder and harder routines and not even notice how much you're improving until you go back and play the earlier tracks on easy again and they seem easier than you remembered. The game gives you immediate feedback on your form too, by highlighting areas of the dancer avatar's body that you're not moving correctly, for example if your arm isn't extended enough the dancer's arm will glow red until you correct it. The specificity of the glowing limb system helps you learn a lot faster than if it simply stopped at giving you an overall bad/good rating for each move.
Above: The presentation is lovely too, with lots of visual indicators of how well you're dancing. When you've got a good multiplier going, the background changes to a flashy club
Let's move on to complaints, of which we have primarily three. First, the only multiplayer mode, two player dance battle, doesn't allow both players to dance at the same time. Instead, you just take turns dancing to a song, switching back and forth when the game prompts you, and whoever has the highest score at the end wins. Part of the fun of learning a dance routine is performing it in synch with your friends, and this simply isn't an option with Dance Central.
Second, the motion-controlled menus are terrible. It's bizarre that the motion detection seems to work so well in the actual dance part, but then moving one arm up and down to scroll and select a song from a list is frustratingly janky. All too often we accidentally selected the wrong song, wrong difficulty level, etc, which wouldn't be horribly obnoxious except that then it's also a bitch trying to back out to the previous menu.
Above: Better to use a controller
Finally, like many music games of its ilk, it feels like the track list is purposely sparse and lackluster, with a lot of obvious dance fan-favorites purposely held back for DLC. Isn't this exactly what we were afraid of when DLC first became a thing? The day the track listing was announced for Dance Central, I was like, "OMG what?! No Sean Paul, really?" and predicted that a Sean Paul track/pack would be among the first DLC offerings. Sure enough, Sean Paul's "Temperature" is a launch day DLC track, at $3 for one song. If it was ready at the time of the game's launch, it's just stingy separate it into DLC, especially when the core game's track list isn't robust.
Dance Central's strength, like many respectable "casual" games, is that it does one thing, and it does it really, really well. It doesn't overextend itself trying to be too videogamey, or trying to be an exercise game, or anything other than purely a dance game (although there is an unobtrusive workout mode, which simply adds a small display to the regular game that shows time you've played and estimated calories burned). If you've already purchased a Kinect or are planning to, unless you're Mr. Grumpy McRainCloud and absolutely loathe dancing, Dance Central is a no-brainer, and the best of the Kinect launch titles.
Nov 5, 2010