|System: X360 (KINECT)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Harmonix||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: MTV Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 4, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Andrew Groen
With the music game genre in the midst of a cataclysmic decline, developer Harmonix has found itself in a precarious situation. After continuously declining sales over the last few years for the marquis music game brands (Guitar Hero and Rock Band), the message is loud and clear: adapt or die. While Activision may still be struggling to reinvent the Guitar Hero franchise, Harmonix has branched off to explore new territory with their new dance-themed game, Dance Central. It's a pivotal move that could spell disaster or great success for Harmonix, which specializes in music games. If they can't find a new niche, it's likely the developer will die off fairly quickly. But if it pays off, then they could find themselves with a stranglehold on a brand new subgenre.
Thankfully, I don't think Harmonix has to worry about the failure of Dance Central. I think this booty-shaking rhythm game has the chops to become the next lord of the dance. This is a high-quality rhythm title that capitalizes on all the right areas. It combines great technology and great design, with just the right amount of humor and embarrassment. It's hands down the single best reason to own Kinect, and it will serve as a fantastic emissary for the system. The Nintendo Wii's Just Dance proved last year that consumers are begging for a quality dance title. Even that abysmal title managed to be one of the bestselling games of the year.
The Kinect camera does a good job mapping your motions, and Dance Central's brilliant interface effortlessly communicates your mistakes. You don't just get a grade that tells you how good you did during the dance. As you go, the on-screen character's limbs will turn shades of red if you're doing the move incorrectly. The limb that glows red tells you which part of your body is messing up. Not only is this useful for making corrections, but it communicates a general sense of how you're doing without having to look at complex scoring systems. It's simple: see a lot of red? You're doing bad; shape up.
Speaking of shaping up, exercise is a great reason to pick up Dance Central. The lower difficulty settings are pretty relaxed and won't have your heart pounding, but anything above Easy will certainly work up a sweat after a short while. This is good news to people who are interested in getting Kinect for its exercise potential. Dance Central is a fun game, but it's also a really great excuse to get up off the couch and shed some pounds.
Any game that tells you to stand up and flail wildly could help you lose weight (read: Just Dance), but Dance Central is much better than that. Every inch of this game is put together well, not just the important bits like the camera support. The graphics are pretty good, and there are some really neat special effects. When you get on a roll, for instance, the whole level changes into a Tron-esque rave light show. It's an effortless way to communicate to you that you're doing great. Plus it will make you feel like a dance superstar up on stage at a concert. Clearly, Harmonix is adapting some of the things they learned while working on Rock Band to this new experience.
There's also an animated introduction sequence that is worth watching for some seriously neat animation. That's hardly crucial to the experience, but small details like that can add up over time. Games that overlook things like that will look worse by comparison.
A music game is only as good as its track list. This is another area in which Dance Central delivers. It's not extremely expansive, but the music list is good and offers an eclectic mix of dance hits from many generations. People of all different ages and tastes will be playing this game, and I'm sure everyone will find some favorite songs, while even being introduced to some new favorites as well. Younger players will enjoy Lady Gaga megahits, while older gamers might be amused to find Kool and the Gang as well as the Beastie Boys and Lipps Inc (Funky Town).