So Hot It’ll Make You Sweat
With the days getting cooler and autumn among us, it’s time to pack up the running shoes and bid farewell to outdoor exercise. However, Ubisoft has found the perfect remedy to keep us off the couch during our indoor hibernation. It’s their annual rhythm game, of course, Just Dance 4.
Since the fad of the genre is starting to recede, Ubisoft is taking the opportunity to not only keep their brand rolling, but learn from criticisms of previous titles to improve the formula. Just Dance 4 doesn’t revolutionize the series, but the new features are evidence that the developers aren’t simply regurgitating the same experience with a new playlist.
I must say that I am very impressed with the song selection in Just Dance 4. Unlike Just Dance 3, in which the variety seemed a little inconsistent, the fifty songs in the freshest installment cover a wide variety of music genres, albeit with songs that have a rhythmic dance beat. I won’t spout the names of the dozens of notable artists here, but let’s just showcase the range by saying it has everything from Elvis Presley to Justin Bieber. The ’80s tunes are the only era lacking a little in quality and quantity (which is a personal disappointment since retro music is my favorite) but overall it is a great range for fans of all music styles.
However, I am shocked that Katy Perry, the unofficial Just Dance poster girl in my opinion, did not make the core list. Now, you fact checkers may try to trip me up by saying that Just Dance 2 didn’t have her in the lineup either, but she was a free download at launch to promote the then new in-game store. Her song “Part of Me” is the lone song available in the Just Dance 4 store right now, but you’ll have to fork 300 Points ($3.00) to add it to your playlist.
The menu screens are simple to navigate and easy to understand, and you’ll have little trouble getting right into the action. Just Dance and Just Sweat modes are plastered front and center on the main menu, giving you the option of playing for fun with friends or exercising alone. There’s still no rhyme or reason to the layout of the song selection in Just Dance mode, but you can quickly scroll through the cover art to find your track of choice.
You’re then greeted with the familiar neon color sprayed on the dancers and the backgrounds. The presentation is one area where I actually found subtle improvements over the last game. First, the characters have a nice crisp outline this time, whereas before the lining was too broad and made the dancers bulky and hard to follow. All the different colors are clearly separated, which also helps the player keep tabs on the different limbs flailing around. The animations are precise, but not much has changed in the motion capture from previous titles, which is a compliment to the prosperity of that department. The pictograms in the bottom right, designed to give you advanced warning as to the next move, make a return, but they’re still more confusing then helpful. After all, your eyes can only focus on the dancers or the pictograms, but not both at the same time.
I am frustrated with the controls, not so much due to inaccurate motion registration (although I do have a beef with that too), but more so because they haven’t improved. At least not on the Wii. By now every new Wii title should be developed exclusively using Wii MotionPlus, especially ones like Just Dance 4 with complex movements and a grading system dependant on how accurate the player is with the controls. I tested my criticism by redoing Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” until the routine was ingrained in my head, and even when I was certain my gestures were spot on, I’d still receive an “OK” rating. It’s a good thing the Wii Remote was attached to my wrist. Fortunately the overall score tally is forgiving, and you’re not required to get a “Perfect” on every move to land a five-star rating.
As in past titles, each song is rated with a difficulty between one and three. Interestingly, many of the harder songs I tried weren’t necessarily more complex in the choreography department, but rather the game required more accurate timing and sticking the moves to get a high score. You’re star rating earns you mojo, which fills a meter to level up. When you gain a level, a roulette wheel offers you a random unlock, which could be an Alternative Routine for a song (some even labeled Extreme Versions with a level-four difficulty), a Battle Mode, or custom options for your Dancer Card.
The Battle Mode is a new entry, and a fun one at that. It’s a five-round, one-on-one dance-off, with thirty-five second music clips and a skirmish-type routine. Nailing your moves better than your opponent will reduce their hit points. Whoever wins the most rounds out of five becomes the lord of the dance, with all the bragging rights included. It’s a way for some light competition, though my wife still only tolerated my victories for a brief period. After she walked out, I decided to do another motion control test with nobody controlling the opposing player in Battle Mode. Shockingly, even with nobody holding the other Wii Remote, I still somehow lost a couple rounds. Care to explain that Ubisoft?
Now, back to the mojo, because for an RPG buff like me, gaining experience is key. Just Dance 4 gives you some good incentives to capitalize your mojo intake. First, another new and welcome feature comes in the form of Dance Quests. It’s basically a list of objectives for each song, such as obtaining a certain star level, completing alternate routines, or nailing the Gold Moves in the song. Each time you check one off, more mojo is added to the pile. Also, to encourage you to try different songs, after each dance a random trio of songs will be labeled with a 2x mojo multiplier.
Just Sweat is an easy and fun excuse to label the game as an aerobics trainer. There are five different workout sessions, tailored toward a different exercise and/or music style, like Cheerleaders Boot Camp and Sweat Around The World. Each takes you through a timed session, roughly ten, twenty-five, or forty-five minutes. It blends original tunes for stretching and aerobics with songs from the game’s playlist. You still gain mojo for your efforts, and you’ll even have objectives to complete. But, more importantly, it shows how many calories you burned, as well as tracking the cool or intense segments of the workout. You can then customize the song loadout if you want to keep things easy or break out a hard sweat. It’s not as elaborate as some of the dedicated exercise games out there, but it’s more than satisfactory as an extra feature for Just Dance, and probably more fun than the other workout beatings you’ve probably suffered through.
It’s amazing that I managed to make it to the end of this review without mentioning how fun it is as a party game where you get to watch other people look silly as they try to mimic the choreography on the screen. Just Dance 4 has a load of fresh songs for fans who’ve finally tired of the previous game’s selection. The controls (at least for the Wii) still need some tightening, but Ubisoft is doing a great job with each installment, adding some new modes, adjusting things that may not have succeeded in the past, and delivering a consistently fun rhythm game in a genre that seems ready to be put out to pasture.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The characters look sharper and the backgrounds don’t drown out the action. And, of course, it’s plastered with neon./div> 3.2 Control
I’m not happy that the controls haven’t improved. They’re not game-breakers, but it’s the one area Ubisoft should really have upgraded. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A great track selection with crystal clear audio. 4.0 Play Value
Some fun new dance features and retooled modes for past entries. I’m curious to see what will be added in next year’s title. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best