Review: Dance Central Jeff Barker 6 January, 2011 Features, Game Reviews, Retail Games In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so (or possibly you’re a new Xbox/Kinect owner, post-Christmas…in which case we welcome you to the fray!), you may be unaware of the existence of Dance Central, the Dance simulator type-affair from Harmonix (of Rock Band fame). As with other titles in the Kinect range, your body (and in this case, a basic sense of rhythm) is all you need to start pulling off some of the sharp moves the on-screen characters bust out on the regular, or some other similarly street lingo that the kids are using these days. There are 31 songs for you to prance around your living room to, including the likes of “Poker Face” and “Just Dance” by the GaGa, “Brick House” by The Commodores and “Rendez-Vu” by Basement Jaxx. Although the tracklist tends to err on the RnB/Hip Hop side of things there’s just enough variety in there for at least one song to appeal to you and your group of slightly embarassed mates. Grandma may be a bit disappointed to find that she’s unable to break out the Charleston to Glenn Miller at the moment, but perhaps Harmonix may rectify this with some future downloadable content packs. The song list itself is tiered and rated from 0 -5, with 0 being the easiest of tracks and 5 being complete monsters – which causes more than a fair bit of frustration as you may not be the most gifted groover on the planet, but that one song you purchased the game for is in the Level 5 tier. Now, we’d always recommend you try and play it anyway, but we’d be lying if we said that we didn’t quit out in frustration more than once after the inital excitement of representin’ to our favourite butters has worn off. Each track features three difficulty levels – Easy, Medium, Hard – but as the difficulty increases so do the number and variety of moves and the accuracy with which you need to perform them. So Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” on easy may only feature a handful of moves that need to be pulled off during the song, but as you ramp up the difficulty those few basic moves remain but the number of repetitions you need to do for each of them is reduced and replaced with something else, (in some cases) equalling a complete routine that requires a memory of Elephantine proportions in order to complete. Luckily there’s a “Break It Down” mode that takes you through each move in the routine step by step. The on-screen Dancer shows you the move, and you then have to correctly perform it three times in order to progress. If you begin to struggle with a move, the voice-over guy gives you Mr. Motivator style tips on what to do with your body (“Step, together, step, together” for example), whilst parts of the Dancers body will glow red if you’re not copying them correctly, giving you an extra aid. If further assistance is needed, you can chose to “Slow It Down” or Retry the move until you have it aced. If you’re still really not getting it then the game will automatically progress to the next move, which is a double-edged sword as it means you’re not endlessly stuck on trying to do one move over and over, but it also breeds a sense of disappointment and trepidation as you know that at some point you will have to perform that move. Potentially very badly. What doesn’t help is the fact that the Slow It Down and Retry options only appear very briefly at the top left of the screen at random points during the mode, and less-experienced or overly-flustered players may miss these prompts. However, the mode breaks each routine down into bite-sized sections for you, usually consisting of three or four moves per section which have to be strung together in a recap sequence until you’ve stepped through the whole song, which means you can then perform the track as a whole or move onto something else. If you opt to perform the track you can choose your on-screen dancer (of which there are eight, with an extra unlockable character), their outfits (again with unlockable further options) and the venue. Each dancer has their own look and attitude, but the actual routine for each song is the same, with your chosen character reskinning the default one for that track. If nothing else, it shows off some really impressive mo-cap technology that keeps in with the Rock Band dev’s graphical style. Moves are queued up on the right of the screen so you can see what’s coming up or how many reps you need to do, and you get rated on your performance of each move, represented by the “Spotlight” circle that grows around your dancer’s feet. The better you perform a move, the bigger the circle gets and changes from Red through to Blue, giving you “Nice!” and “Flawless!” ratings if you do particularly well. Pull off a bunch of Flawless moves one after the other and the venue fades out into a neon disco-style backdrop that accentuates just how awesome you really are. As per the norm with games in this genre, you earn stars the better you do; five stars are the max you can earn, turning into Gold stars if you smash a particular routine and earning you experience which in turn unlocks extra venues. It’s all extremely enjoyable stuff, and there are a few nice little touches that really give the game appeal. Each track features a freestyle section, which gives you a chance to show off your own moves or mess around a little whilst Kinect takes photos and replays them at the end of the section before throwing you back into the song’s default routine (which can cause genuine laughter or horror), and there’s also an unlockable Workout Mode that shows you how many calories you’re burning in real time during each session. It’s no wonder that Dance Central is the Kinect title currently earning the highest review scores, as it appeals to such a broad range of person – from young to old, the urge to get up and give it a bash is almost irresistable. The workout mode is an added bonus to try and market the title to the get-fit crowd and the Battle Mode (where you and a friend take turns to perform sections of a song) adds a competitive edge and makes the title quite possibly one of the greatest party games currently available. It’s not really something we can see a group of hardcore gaming lads popping into the console, which will more than likely alienate that particular demographic. and the way the tracks are tiered is annoying (we’d have like to have seen easy mean “easy” across all the songs) but as a cracking piece of entertainment and an introduction to what controller-free gaming is all about, we can do no less than recommend you give Dance Central a bash. In a B-Boy Stance.