Game: Dance Central 2
Console(s): Xbox 360 – Kinect required
Price: $49.99 – Buy it here
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
The Xbox 360 Kinect launched with mild critical acclaim and a ravid customer base. When it was released, there were only a few games worthy of actually playing with the new accessory. And Dance Central was one of those few games. Building on their knowledge of music and gaming, Harmonix truly innovated with the Kinect and made the Kinect peripheral worthwhile. Now, nearly a year later, Kinect games, let alone good ones, are few and far between. Dance Central 2 attempts to rectify this problem. And boy, does it ever succeed.
At its very base, Dance Central 2 is very similar to the first game. You mirror the onscreen character, try to copy their dance moves and max out your score. However, saying the two games are the same would be a mighty insult. Dance Central 2 has a ton more to offer than the original game.
First off, Dance Central 2 offers a “story” mode, or about as close to a story mode as one can get in a dancing game. You must face off versus a variety of dancing teams as you climb the ladder and try to take down the reigning champs of the dancing league. Along the way, you will encounter a variety of dance moves to learn and master. In addition, this mode is where you will unlock new costumes and add-ons for your character. All in all, this is probably where you will want to start off your dancing experience, as it offers the most structure and would most likely give you the best introduction to the basics of the game.
Nevertheless, even if you don’t start here, Dance Central 2 does a very good job of teaching you the ways of dancing like the stars. Notice I said teaching you. Dance Central 2 does not help you in an annoying, insulting fashion, does not make you read walls of boring tutorial texts and does not play the game for you, unlike so many video games that make their tutorials about as worthless as a $3 dollar bill. No, Dance Central 2 will evaluate your performance on a song and then make suggestions on what you need to work on at the end of the song. Then, if you choose, you can opt to learn different moves in the Break it Down mode. Here, everything is slowed down and explained in a very easy to understand manner. You can also switch to Break it Down mode in the middle of any track you are playing. Harmonix made switching between Break it Down mode and the main game so easy and effortless it is astonishing. You are not penalized for taking the extra time to learn a move and it does not require you to exit all the way to new menu. You simply say “Xbox Pause” and then select the Break it Down option. You can even record your moves to see what you are doing wrong. The overhead voice that attempts to teach you the ways of the dance is not overbearing or annoying either. He gives actual helpful tips and advice.
If your worried about the Kinect gesture tracking, don’t be. Yes, just as Rock Band occasionally lagged or screwed up (or at least, YOU thought it did) the Kinect will very rarely say that you missed a move although you would swear you were right on. However, 98% of the time, you will be be not just impressed, but slack jawed at how well the Kinect recognizes your movements. Harmonix has shown that not only know how to make a stellar dance game, but that Kinect motion controls CAN be used to accurately measure gameplay movement. I look forward to how other companies will implement this after they realize it can be done.
Secondly, Dance Central adds synchronous multiplayer support. Coop and competitive modes are available. In any mode you can have up to 2 players playing side by side. However the Dance Battle competitive mode is just as fun. You and a friend can compete for the highest score by performing as best as you can. As is usual for party games, especially dancing games, multiplayer is where the game truly is the most fun. Dancing with others is always best because you can laugh at each other and just have a great time in general.
Dance Central 2 offers a lot of options to play: You could defeat the AI on top and take over as the masters of the dancing world. You can play Break it Down and master everything. You can show up your friends in Dance Battle. And you can go all crazy and just dance any of the songs in free play. But you can also play the fitness mode. This mode has different playlists of various lengths and asks you to complete each playlist. Along the way, it will track your calories burned and how many minutes you have been exercising. Sure, it is not a full on workout, but for people who just want to be a little more active and do a bit of exercise, it is a great little mode. Its like the icing on the cake.
Dance Central 2 is very stylish in the way it handles the user interface. Voice control is used extensively, and you can basically select about 70% of the menu items using voice recognition alone. If you don’t feel like speaking though, then you can also use hand gestures. However, these hand gestures are not the same as the ones used to control the Kinect reguarly (which requires you stand and hold your arm at a 45 degree angle for 15 seconds at a time). Dance Central merely asks that you hold your hand up, select an option and swipe. It reminds me a lot of the way the iPhone controls: you simply tell Kinect to select something and it effortlessly does. Microsoft can learn a plethora from Harmonix in menu design, and I hope to see some of their control elements used in future Xbox Dashboard updates. The only problems I had with the voice and gestures was that occasionally I would try to speak and use voice control only to be forced to use hand gestures instead. There is a little disparity between knowing when you must your hands and when you can use your voice. For the most part though, it is very easy and intuitive.
The rest of Dance Central 2’s package is equally appealing. There is a great set list to play and even people who are fans of pop music can enjoy just dancing to the compelling beats. Plus, there is a wide variety of song selection, from older pop hits to brand new stuff. In addition, Dance Central 2 has an easy way to buy new tracks. Plus, you can import all the original Dance Central tracks. My point is, you will probably never have the problem of not having something new to dance to and/or master. And, if you do, you should probably go back and try to play every song on Hard, as each difficulty level adds new stuff to the mix. Even if you get through every song on the disc, which takes about 5 hours, you can spend hours passing a song on the various difficulty levels. It never really got frustrating though. I wanted to learn and get better. It is a very similar experience to Rock Band in that respect.
There are two minor quibbles I had with the game. First is that there is no online support. Although this could present problems if it was implemented, (especially in the foul language department) it would have been great to be able to dance with your friends across the country and the like. The second issue with the game has to with choreography. Now, I am no dance pro, star or even a slightly good dancer, and I don’t know a lot about dance moves, even the ones I have seen on TV. However, it seems as though a slight majority of the moves that the game would like you to make are more feminine in nature. Male members of the gaming community may be a tad turned off by having to perform lots of hip shaking and more feminine dance movements. Nevertheless, this is still a fantastic party game and watching somebody make a fool out of themselves is always a great time. In summary, just have fun, do your best and don’t worry about it. Your kick butt moves and crazy high score will shut any haters up. Overall, I found that I felt good about the way I performed, and I did not mind doing any of the moves. The game does a fantastic job of making you feel as though you are the best dancer in the room. Only occasionally did some move come up that had me pause for a moment before I decided to just go ahead and dance.
Harmonix has been in the business of creating music based video games for a long time. Starting out with Guitar Hero, then Rock Band and then Dance Central, it should come as no surprise that they KNOW music. And with the release of Dance Central 2, this knowledge is applied in such a way that it is evident that Harmonix is not only very good at what they do, but they are also the best at they do. The first Dance Central game was the prime reason to own a Kinect. Although it had some rough edges, it was still a great game. Dance Central 2 refines, polishes and makes the experience so much better. If there is one dancing game to get, this would be it.