Over the past year, as motion controlled gaming has gained a greater hold in living rooms and basements everywhere, developers have worked hard to find games that take advantage of using movement to control games. One of the most sensible applications has been the dance game. While next-gen consoles have all approached motion control in a different way, each has a long list of dance games associated with it, allowing players to pixel polonaise and a variety of other styles, from country to Broadway, or even soft-shoe like Smurfs, proving we’ve come a long way since arcade DDR machines.
But could dance games be enjoyable to someone with only marginally more rhythm than a myocardial infarction? There was only one way to find out – I gathered my kids and jumped in with both left feet to try. The games that we looked at were Everybody Dance on the PlayStation3, Just Dance 3 on the XBox 360, and Just Dance Kids 2 on the Wii.
Overall, the games are quite similar in a number of ways. To start, each game has about 40 songs; the interface is generally the same – there’s a model that the player attempts to mirror and a follow-the-bouncing-ball preview of upcoming moves that’s presented with stick figures; there’s some sort of feedback to tell the player how well he’s matching the dance moves. Lastly, all the games offer a way to ratchet up the difficulty. Now, on to the specifics …
Just Dance 3 – tested on XBox 360 with Kinect, also available on Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3 with PlayStation Move $39.99
I’ve always felt like the Kinect was best suited for children’s games that require little more than pointing. But in Just Dance 3, I was pretty impressed at the Kinect interaction; the controller really seems to shine with this type of game. In addition to the user interface, described above, the Kinect adds a thumbnail of what the Kinect camera is seeing you do. This gives real-time feedback that you can compare to the dance model you are supposed to be mimicking.
We found Just Dance 3 to be pretty forgiving, awarding a lot of “perfect” scores, even though we felt we were anything but. In fact, we felt the game was so lenient, we stepped up the difficulty a bit and discovered that Just Dance could be very critical. Still, the game was a lot of fun and our small group picked it as our favorite.
Because the Kinect was evaluating both arms and legs, we moved a lot more than with the other consoles (which only used a single controller) and, as a result, we really worked up a sweat. We also enjoyed that Just Dance. We liked the alternate game modes too, including a freestyle mode, where you can create your own dance for others to try to follow, short versions of songs, and a gallery mode where you can save your best dances.
Everybody Dance – tested on PlayStation 3 with PlayStation Move $39.99
Everybody Dance wins the award for best interface. When selecting a song, the player chooses from a long list of album art, which is visually pleasing and the character model that players mimic is a desaturated video of an actual person holding a Move controller. We liked this choice over the silhouette of dancers found in some other dance games. We also liked the songs in Everybody Dance a little more than the other titles, but that’s likely personal choice more than anything else. Another feature we appreciated was the choice of a long or short version when selecting a song. When you’re old and slow, sometimes an entire song feels like a lifetime. The short version is an excellent option.
In actual gameplay, there were a couple of negatives to consider. Everybody Dance only supports one to two players onscreen at one time, unlike the Wii and Xbox games, which support a more party friendly max of four.
Additionally, like the Wii, the Move only reads the movement of the hand holding the controller. In theory, this means you only have to move one arm to play the game while the rest of your body can remain as motionless as Venus de Milo. But, in practice, it’s actually a little difficult to dance while only moving one arm. Still, dancing with a controller wasn’t nearly the same sensation as the freedom of dancing with the Kinect.
What’s more, the stick figure previews were nebulous enough, we had trouble interpreting them into actual movement when it was time to bust a move. However, this isn’t a huge complaint – learning and practice are a big component of improving in rhythm games. We both giggled and were horrified at the snapshots that the Eye camera would periodically take of us when in the most unflattering of poses. Still, it was great fun.
The game does boast some fun game modes. In addition to a traditional dance mode, there is also a dance creator mode that allows you to record a dance (via the Eye camera) and save it to challenge friends later. You can also create a workout for a fitness program, play in a party mode that can track up to 20 profiles to track scores, and practice shaking your groove thing in Dance Class, which allows you to slow down and break out tough sections. Though we didn’t test it, Everybody Dance is compatible with SingStar microphones, allowing you to turn singing into a virtual karaoke minigame.
Just Dance Kids 2- tested on Nintendo Wii, also available on XBox 360 with Kinect and PlayStation 3 with PlayStation Move $29.99
Last up is Just Dance Kids 2, an offering for the boundless energy set. It only seemed appropriate to play this on the Wii, so that’s what we did. The songs are all kid appropriate and span a range from post-toddler favorites like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” to pre-teen friendly hits like “Burnin’ Up” by the Jonas Brothers. An unexpected fun time was had because the nursery songs could be played in English, Spanish, French or German. It was fun until my daughter announced “this game is for kids” … ahh, the boundless wisdom that nine long years of age brings.
Just Dance Kids also supports four players on both the Wii and the PlayStation 3 (but only 2 players on Kinect), but like the PlayStation Move, the game only tracks one hand’s movement. This left us with a little bit of an empty feeling. The interface is bright and cheery in a way you associate with a lot of kid things and creates the right atmosphere. On the Wii, there’s a special “balloon mode” where kids can compete against each other to earn points by shaking their Wiimotes to pop balloons.
Gameplay is similar to the elder versions of Just Dance, except the dance models are all kids, generally a main dancer with two backups. This title seems to be below my kids these days, but I loved the song list, which is very geek friendly, with songs from Yo Gabba Gabba, TMBG, and the Muppets. Unfortunately, a good number of these songs are covers performed by studio artists.
For us, the best console for these dance games was the XBox 360 with the Kinect, mostly because it felt the most natural and we liked dancing without having to hold a controller. At the same time, we thought the Kinect was the most forgiving (but probably least accurate in reading our movements). We really liked the interface in Everybody Dance and recognized Just Dance Kids 2 was a pretty great game for younger kids. Ultimately, we enjoyed playing on all systems and the games were similar enough that there wasn’t one thing that really forced one to rise to the top. But our big conclusion was this: as long as you’re getting up off the couch once in a while to shake your booty, it’s gotta be a good thing — because it sure is fun.
Disclosure: GeekDad was sent review copies of these games. You should also be thankful this wasn’t a video review.