Also available on: N/A
Publisher: MTV Games
Genre: Dancing / Rhythm Action
When a new console or piece of hardware is released it's usually the first-party developers who manage to produce the best results with the initial batch of software. It sometimes takes third-party developers a little longer to get used to the programming tools, resulting in a few hit-and-miss efforts within the first few months of a launch. Microsoft-endorsed games such as Kinect Adventures and Kinect Sports have so far proved to be entertaining (the latter in particular), despite containing a few flaws. With that in mind, there is definite scope for something to come along and take the Kinect launch title crown. With full body tracking and no need for a controller, a dance title seems like the ideal fit for Kinect and makes Harmonix the perfect candidate to steal the plaudits from Microsoft when the new motion device is released.
From the moment Dance Central loads up with its swish, speedy and responsive menu screens, you start to believe that Harmonix has come to terms with the hardware pretty darn quickly. Moving your right arm up and down the sleek menus before waving it to the left to confirm a selection is highly intuitive, much more so than blindly hovering and holding your hand in place for a number of seconds like other Kinect games. A small box is also present in the corner of the screen displaying the player and their movements, which is a good indicator of whether enough of your body is visible and how accurately the camera is tracking your limbs - the accuracy is highly impressive for the record.
Fortunately, it's not just the menu screens that make Dance Central one to watch, there's a very good game in there too. Past dance titles have always suffered from a number of limitations. The likes of Dance Dance Revolution and even the hugely popular Just Dance have had to rely on peripherals or controllers which can only track a limited number of body parts. Dance Central has no limitations and genuinely has players wiggling their hips, pumping their fists and shaking their derrieres along to the 32 licensed tracks. It even features the robot!
Disappointingly, there isn't much in the way of game modes, which is a surprise considering how much experience Harmonix has with the rhythm action genre. There's no career mode and a distinct lack of customisable features. Even the multiplayer element is a little bare with two-player score battles that see the action switch from player to player instead of opponents battling side-by-side. All of the songs are available to select from the start and each is split into different groups separated by their difficulty. The soundtrack ranges from old school classics such as Salt-N-Pepa's 'Push It' to contemporary numbers by Lady Gaga and Cascada. Compared to the amount of songs in games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero, 32 doesn't seem like a lot, but more important is the amount of dance moves and routines in the game, of which there are many.
Progression only really comes in the form of additional venues and dancers to unlock, and the medium and hard versions of the dance routines are only available after completing the songs on easy, which fleshes out the title considerably - albeit a little cheaply. Much like other Harmonix games, points and stars are awarded for every performance, and nailing enough consecutive dance moves, which are queued on the right hand side of the screen, earns players a hefty score multiplier.
With so many moves to discover and some proving to be quite tricky to perform, jumping straight into a routine isn't always the best way to begin. One handy option for novices is the Break It Down feature, which splits the songs into parts allowing for players to practice two or three moves at a time. If a certain body part isn't in sync with the onscreen dancer, it will flash red, plus the coach will give some verbal feedback to set players on the road to success. Despite this feature proving to be an invaluable aid, it can be a little irksome when the action is ushered on, regardless of whether or not the move has been mastered. It's also more than a little irritating to have to repeat the whole ordeal again, instead of being able to practice a specific dance move by itself. A better way of presenting the in-game tutorial would have been to list all of the moves and allow players to select whichever one they want to practice at will.
Once the moves have been mastered, the routines are there to be tackled in full. The transitions from move to move are seamless and the action runs along smoothly and to the rhythm, allowing players to really feel the music and get caught up in the moment. This is especially true during the recorded freestyle sections which give players the freedom to do whatever they please, resulting in some replays which are as horrifying as they are hilarious. It's just a shame that the action is constantly interrupted by having to navigate the menus in order to select the next song.
Not being able to queue a number of songs to play back-to-back is especially baffling during the Workout mode, which tracks the amount of calories shed by the player. Selecting a row of songs to play through at once would provide a far greater and more intense workout rather than having to stop every few minutes to choose a new song. It's another design oversight which prevents Dance Central achieving perfection.
Despite some poor design choices and the lack of modes and options, Dance Central is, from a gameplay point of view, the most impressive title so far for Microsoft's Kinect. It's hard to imagine a video game bettering Dance Central's representation of the art of dancing, and it's fair to say that you wouldn't look remotely out of place busting out some of the moves in a real night club. It won't be to everybody's taste, but fans of the genre, as well as Kinect's target audience of families and casual gamers, won't find much better come launch day than Dance Central.
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