Dance Central Review for Xbox 360

Dance Central Review for Xbox 360

Get the funk out of my face

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.

Dance Central screenshot

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.

Dance Central screenshot

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.

Dance Central screenshot

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).

Dance Central also uses the Kinect camera for an interesting interface method. It’s the most “Minority Report”-style control of any of the games released so far, and it’s quite intuitive compared to some of Microsoft’s first-party offerings. Rather than using your hand as a mouse like Kinect Adventures, you select by simply raising or lowering your hand. How high or low it is selects the corresponding list item. Easy. Then, once chosen, the player swipes to the left to make the selection.

Dance Central screenshot

My biggest complaint is that the game simply doesn’t have enough progression to it. It really could have used a campaign mode or some kind of single-player adventure mode. There is some progression to the single-player though. As you complete blocks of games, you’ll open up new dancers, warm-up songs, and dance arenas. It’s just not that much incentive. That doesn’t sink the single player though. It’s still fun since there’s almost a sense of exploration that comes from starting a new song.

A game like Guitar Hero gets by on repeating the same mechanic over and over again: you push the button when it comes on screen. It’s exceedingly simple. Dance Central actually one-ups that popular formula by including tons of brand-new dance moves, and each song has its own unique moves. Rather than just pushing a button, you’re swinging your hips in dozens of different moves. So as you progress, you’ll want to play new songs just to find out what the new moves are. The odd motions in a Kylie Minogue song, for instance, are very different from the meringue-inspired moves of “Hey Mami.” This also makes the small track list much more palatable since each song is a unique play experience.

Dance Central also has a “workout mode,” but it doesn’t seem to be as compelling as it could be. Rather than offering a faster experience or a more prolonged dance, workout mode just times how long you’ve been dancing, and how many calories you’ve burned.

The dancing rhythm genre is likely set to explode next year on Kinect. I think Harmonix is going to make a killing off this software, and we’re likely to see a deluge of me-too shovelware come along once publishers get a whiff of that money. But until then, we can revel in the quality of games like Dance Central and hope that other developers come along who can leverage this hardware as well as Harmonix has.

The on-screen avatars aren’t great looking, but much of the rest of the game has a great dance club vibe to it. 4.8 Control
This is exactly what we were hoping for when Kinect released. Flawless controls that are only slightly tarnished by Kinect’s huge space requirements. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The track list is pretty good and contains a lot of timeless dance classics. I just kind of wish there were more songs. 4.4 Play Value
Dancing together in a group is sure to be tons of fun (and plenty embarrassing), and dancing solo is fun as well. It’s even viable as a workout routine through the workout mode calorie counter. There could have been a more robust single player mode though. 4.6 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Ready. Set. Dance. Dance Central will get you warmed up and dancing in no time with Break it Down and Perform It. You’ll be introduced to some of the over 600 moves in the game, polish your performance, and put it all together to master the routine!
  • Pump up the volume. Featuring tracks from hot artists including Lady Gaga, No Doubt, M.I.A., Bell Biv Devoe, and more, you’ll master more than ninety dance routines all created by professional choreographers.
  • Whether you’ve had your dancing shoes on your entire life or this is your first time hitting the floor, Dance Central will have you dancing like a pro in no time. As you cruise through songs and master moves, you will earn Achievements, unlock new character outfits and venues, and progress through the dance ranks.

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