Review: Dance Central

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I moved the coffee table out of the way, made everyone else in the house leave, and drew the curtains for good measure – it was time to play Dance Central! Or, as I’d like to call it – “Try to Dance and End Up Looking Like a Tosser!” (the devs were probably better off going with their title rather than mine). From developer Harmonix, known for the initial Guitar Hero titles and the entire Rock Band series, Dance Central has already been described as Kinect’s killer app. Do you have to be a dancer to pick it up? Is it worth the purchase? Read on to find out.

The hot: Games like Kinect Adventures or Sports sure are fun to play, but they’re a bit of a novelty – they feel like Nintendo Wii games polished up and placed in HD. Dance Central actually feels like a bit of innovation – you can’t gauge how well someone is dancing with a Wiimote, but you certainly can when the dancer’s entire body is being tracked. Sure, if you’re not a stellar dancer, you feel a bit foolish parading about trying to learn the moves, but you don’t feel childish or ridiculous as you might with Adventures, jumping about like a goofball.

If you’re a mediocre dancer (like me, for the record), the Easy game setting is perfect to start off with. I felt like I was a totally AMAZING dancer during the first song, Poker Face by Lady Gaga, but soon after, say about song 3 or 4, I was barely getting by on songs with a three- or four-star ranking. After using the game’s “Break It Down” mode, I was getting 5 stars on those songs again, but only because I practiced. As you play the game, you start to become more comfortable with the moves, and if you’re feeling too unchallenged, there’s Medium and Hard modes to keep you on your toes.

Weird enough as it sounds, the game’s menu structure is worth noting – rather than moving your hands to sit and hold on a command to select it as the Kinect Hub and most other games use, Dance Central features a select-and-swipe UI which speeds things up quite a bit…when it works. I found it to be a bit unpredictable in its usage; even so, I still prefer that UI to the drawn-out waste of time that Microsoft seems to be pushing.

The meh: Each song in Dance Central features a Freestyle section near the middle of the song; experienced dancers may have some flash moves to pull out in this time, but gamers kind of flail around not knowing what to do. This only gets worse when you realise you literally CAN flail your arms to intersect with on-screen bars; the more bars you pass-through, the higher likelihood you’ll have of getting a “Flawless Freestyle” award at the end.

The “Dance Off” mode is a pure versus mode designed to be played with a friend – the problem is, you can’t compete at the same time. Whoever gets to dance second gets the HUGE advantage of seeing the first player do the choreography and pick up the moves before they’re actually scored on their own go. No fair.

The cold: At times, the difficulty curve in the game skyrockets – once and a while, the game throws in a song that’s so different in style from the standard fare (Soulja Boy, I’m looking at you) that you feel foolish and unprepared for. It really takes the fun out of the game when you’ve never seen or attempted Crunkin’ (did I say that right?) and you fail a majority of the song’s moves. On Easy. After using “Break It Down” mode.

In the same vein, I sure hope that with a sequel or DLC, Harmonix can work in some way of better assisting players to learn how to move. If you’re not performing a move correctly, the on-screen avatar (not your own Xbox Live avatar, by the way) will show a red aura around any appendages that aren’t in line. While you know what arm or leg isn’t doing the right thing, at times it’s hard to tell how to actually correct it. I’m was CONVINCED my Kinect was broken because I couldn’t do a simple side-step, reach out arm move; turns out I just needed to turn a bit to the left when I did the move – and that was only discovered after a TON of trial and error.

It’s a game that’s close to an On Fire!, but earns a solid Hot from this reviewer. It’s definitely worth picking up as a purchase, but not so much as a rental; this game isn’t for the light-hearted. You’ll have to put in some time and effort to learn moves. You don’t feel frustrated as you’re learning, luckily, and when you finally get a move down it’s a huge sense of accomplishment. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and dance!