Dance Central Review

By Dana Vinson - Posted Nov 03, 2010

While the lack of various modes can make it feel bare bones at times, there's no denying that the core gameplay in Dance Central is amazing. Harmonix has developed a seriously killer game that not only showcases Kinect, but is also f&$king fun as hell to play. Dance Central will get you up off the couch, moving and, dare I say grooving, no matter who you are.

The Pros
  • Incredibly fun dance moves
  • Kinect does a great job of tracking your movements
  • The game's difficulty level ramps up, making you want to play it again and again
The Cons
  • Lacks a career mode
  • No ability to string songs together and perform them back to back
  • Only one player can dance at a time, even during multiplayer battles

Dance Central Review:

Once you pass a certain age, there's nothing more embarrassing than dancing in public. I watch toddlers run around with reckless abandon, dancing their little Pull-Ups off and envy their ability to totally ignore the fact that they look like out of control skydivers. Sure, you could flip on the stereo and do the Elaine in your underwear in private, but it's hard to shake the sense that you constantly look silly, if only to yourself.

Adults, I have good news: Dance Central is here to save you from yourselves.
 


 
I Know You Want Me, But Do I Want You?

From Harmonix (the people who brought you the majesty that is Rock Band), comes Dance Central. In Dance Central, you dance. A lot. Animated dancers perform moves on screen, while players mirror their movements in front of Kinect, the motion-sensing camera that tracks your every movement in 3D space. There are also flashcards that scroll up the right side of the screen that let you know what moves are coming up. The game rates you on how well you perform the moves in time with the music and how accurately you replicate the actions on screen.

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When you fail to perform the right move, or perform the right move at the wrong time, the offending body part will glow red on your on screen counterpart, alerting you to your mistake. If you make too many in a row, the colors on the screen will be come muted and the music will go wonky. Once you get back on track, everything will return to full strength. If you hit a streak of flawless moves, your surroundings will be transformed into a super hip dance club.

I just made it sound more complicated than it is, but it really just boils down to FUN FUN FUN FUN. You dance. The nice little computer tells you how to dance and then you do it. You may think, "But I'm not a dancer!" It really doesn't matter, because as long as you can mirror the movements of the character on screen, you'll have a blast. I am the klutziest Amazon woman (It's well documented; I have fallen down while standing still.) in the world and even I can rock out some flawless moves in Dance Central.

FUNkytown


Dance Central is a double threat: you can either treat it like a party game by inviting your friends over and having a dance party or you can go hardcore and plow through the songs yourself, mastering every (increasingly difficult) dance move.

In terms of a party game, Dance Central is perfect. It's just as entertaining to watch other people flail around as it is to do it yourself. The one downside to using it as a party game is that only player can dance at a time. You can have multiple people in the frame; however, the game will only score the player closest to the Kinect. There is a Dance Battle option, which will pit you against another player, but you will have to take turns dancing one at a time. The game does a good job of prompting you to change out and the Kinect will instantly recognize when a new player is entering the game. The winner of the battle is the player who scores the most points.

When looking at it from a single player perspective, Dance Central offers the chance for a rich experience because of the way the game ramps up the difficulty. There are three modes for every song, Easy, Medium and Hard and the game does not pull any punches when it comes to making you sweat. Even though anyone with the desire to dance can jump in at the Easy level and learn as they play, if you want to progress through the songs on Medium and Hard, you're going to have to put in the time to learn the steps and play them over and over again to get the best score. It's fun to compete against yourself and push yourself to become better over time. I found myself getting seriously into it and treating it like I was trying out for Fame.
 


 
Either way you look at it, the choreography in the game is great and the moves are mixed up quite a bit, so you always feel like you're doing something new. Whether you're just looking to dance the night away or you're looking to own the leaderboards, you'll have an extreme amount of fun.

You'll also sweat, like buckets of sweat. It's nice that Dance Central offers a Workout Mode, but it's hardly needed. You're already working out just by playing it. All Workout Mode does when you turn it on is prompt you to enter your weight (depressing) and then will tick off the calories you burn while playing each song. It keeps a running tally, as long as you don't back out to main menu. If you do that, you have to enter your weight again and the counter will go back to zero. It's annoying that the information isn't linked to your gamertag, but it's not a deal breaker.

Crank That!

If you want to actually score points, you're going to, at some point, need to enter Break It Down mode. Using Break It Down is your chance to learn everything step by step and then put it together using the in-tutorial recaps. Break It Down mode is extremely useful for learning the moves, but more importantly, it helps you work on the transitions between moves. Since this is a dance routine, it's designed to flow from one move to the next and you'll lose precious points if you don't hit those transitions accurately.

While Break It Down is helpful, I found it lacked the features to tell me how I was doing a move incorrectly. You can slow each move down and the voice over will tell you want you are supposed to be doing, but as the moves got more complicated, I found myself failing steps that I seemed to be doing right. The only feedback you get is the glowing limb on the screen and that doesn't help when you're pretty sure that you're doing the move correctly and at the correct pace. What would have been perfect is some sort of specific feedback about what you're doing incorrectly, or if you could play a video of an actual human being doing the move, preferably with their back towards the camera. This would have given players a sense of what it was supposed to look like in real time, with a real person.
 


 
Instead, players will find themselves experimenting with different things until they find one that allows them to pass the move. Also frustrating is the fact that you have to go through the whole song in Break It Down mode. You may only be having trouble mastering one specific move in the game, but in order to practice, you're going to have to slowly go through all the moves just to get to it.

What The Hell is a Galang?

As you play through and beat the songs in the game, you'll unlock extras like new locations, new outfits for you dancers and "No Flashcard" versions of the songs. The song list is laid out in order of difficulty, so you'll start with the easier songs and slowly progress to the harder ones. Every five songs, you'll unlock challenges that take pieces of each song you just played and combines them together. These challenges are enjoyable little landmarks on your journey to becoming a dance machine.

However, there is little to the journey besides dancing. The lack of any real career mode stands out as a glaring omission. There is no story here and even though you rank up by earning points, the ranks don't really mean that much, because there's no frame or context to them. In 2010, it seems like a no-brainer that some sort of story mode would be included with a rhythm game of this caliber, but sadly, it's totally missing.
 


 
There are other things missing in Dance Central, not just a story mode. For example, you can't string songs together for one continuous dance session. Playlists seem like something simple to implement -- especially for Harmonix -- but you won't see that functionality in Dance Central.

Has Anyone Seen Lady Gaga's Keys And Phone?

While the lack of various modes can make it feel bare bones at times, there's no denying that the core gameplay in Dance Central is amazing. Harmonix has developed a seriously killer game that not only showcases Kinect, but is also f&$king fun as hell to play.  Dance Central will get you up off the couch, moving and, dare I say grooving, no matter who you are.