Just Dance 2015 Review (Xbox One)
It’s always dangerous to build a review around a direct comparison with another game, but in this case it’s going to be very hard for me to avoid doing just that. You see, since the release of Dance Central Spotlight, I’ve played it most nights. I’ve endured its buggy, broken interface, its terribly animated dancers and its total lack of recognisable dance choreography as I’ve moved my limbs in a robotic, awkward facsimile of human motion that you would struggle to call “dance”. And yet I was never fully aware of the inherent faults of Dance Central Spotlight until I played a much better game. Just Dance 2015 is that better game. There are a lot of reasons that it’s better. For one, it doesn’t hard lock my console each time I unlock an achievement….
Ok, let me try to focus on the strengths of Just Dance 2015 rather than the myriad problems with Dance Central Spotlight. Let’s start again.
Just Dance was a fantastically successful Wii game that games reviewers famously “didn’t get”. While the series has always sold fantastically well, it’s taken a long time for games writers to recognise its appeal. Most prominently, while the first game dominated the sales charts, reviewers were quick to deride its basic controls and its lack of accuracy relating to players movements. Spectacularly missing the point that players who buy a dance game actually want an excuse to dance, the core criticism of the game was that you could play it while sitting on your sofa instead of jumping around like an idiot. It seems that reviewers were more focused on using the rudimentary controls as an excuse to surrender to their inhibitions rather than enjoying the game in all its stupid, bouncy brilliance.
It’s probably worth saying though that while the Xbox One offers two completely different control schemes, neither of them is particularly accurate or convincing. You can allow Kinect to track your movements, or you can use an app on your phone and hold that while you dance. Using the inbuilt accelerometer/gyroscope in the phone lets it convey information to the game about how well you are matching the dance moves on screen.
Crucially both systems really only track one of your hands. This might seem incredibly regressive considering other Kinect dance games are able to track your whole body, but in fact it’s quite a good system, and it will take me a while to explain why. Let me try.
First off, unless you actually ARE a dancer, dancing is really hard. I know this to be true, because in all my attempts to dance – whether it be with games or amateur dance classes or in clubs – my limbs are remarkably uncoordinated and uncooperative when I ask them to move in time with music. Indeed I don’t know anyone else who learns dance moves as slowly or awkwardly as I do, leading some harsh (but honest) critics to describe me as “dance-dyslexic”.
As a result of the inherent complexity of even basic dances that you see in music videos, any method to reduce the fidelity and introduce some interpenetration to dance is helpful. In the case of Just Dance, by focusing on one part of your body you can score reasonably well if your focus on that one part of your body. And while it MIGHT be possible to fake your way through the dances by only moving your one hand, it is in fact easier (and hugely more enjoyable) to just try to do the same dance as your little onscreen companion. Just Dance isn’t really scoring you on how well you dance, it’s scoring you on how much you join in, and crucially, the more you cast off inhibitions and just try your best, the better you do.
Indeed this is a big reason that Just Dance is more successful than other dance games. No matter what your set up, Kinect (and it’s time for everyone to just accept this fact) doesn’t really work. It doesn’t work for one person dancing, and it certainly doesn’t work well with more than one person in a small room. With Just Dance 2015 though, Kinect is just about sensitive enough to make out the players and differentiate them accurately, and the only time we had problems was on the four player dances. Most especially the dances that involved moving around and swapping positions were a struggle, but even then we managed to get it to work passably. Importantly, while Dance Central would often pick out people in the background as dancers too, Just Dance was better at picking out the people who were playing from the people who were just watching. And this is good because whats the point of playing a dancing game without a bunch of friends sitting around laughing at you?
Probably the biggest reason for Just Dance 2015’s success is the production values and quality of the dancing videos and the accompanying visual effects. Whether it’s the way the song lyrics play out as animated swishes of colour in the unquestionably stylish rendition of John Newman’s “Love Me Again” or the childish picture book complete with farm animals in “What did the Fox Say”, the presentation is gorgeous, funny and charming. It also spans several different styles, with songs perfect for little dancing bubblegum princesses, camp 70’s loving uncles, or disco queen mums. The mix is eclectic, and even when you don’t like the songs, the videos often win you over with effusive enthusiasm and little background jokes.
With a strong song list comes a number of other clever decisions about how that song list is presented. Almost all of the tracks are available from the start, but for those who want to unlock more through progress, additional dances and modes can be obtained. There’s also some neat ideas for dances that are meant for sitting players, encouraging those who aren’t so enthusiastic to play from the sofa, and hopefully eventually convincing them to get to their feet. Each of the dances is also playable by up to eight players, with the game adapting simply to the number who want to play. Often dances are best with specific player counts (One lead dancer and two backing dancers for Gaga’s Bad Romance for example), but if you have either more or less, the game still gracefully lets anyone change their roles and adapts to the number of dancers. If everyone wants to be Gaga, everyone can be Gaga.
While some features are rudimentary, others are refreshingly unfussy. You can use a calorie counter if you are playing for fitness, but there’s no real organised fitness plan. Making play lists is easy though, and on Kinect the post-game video playback of your own performance is hilariously cringe-y to watch. You can see other peoples uploaded videos too, although that feature frequently made our party guests feel a little uncomfortable. We were also somewhat frustrated by the games constant recommendations to play with others online – something we absolutely had no interest in doing.
All of this is just window dressing for the real star of the show though – the dances. While FPS’s need solid weapons and platformers need good level design, dance games live or die on their routines, and Just Dance 2015’s are perfect. There’s an incredible variety, and almost all of them are fun to dance to. These dances have been created by professional choreographers and are performed by some of the best dancers in the world. As a result they look amazing, and they put every other dance game to shame. While dancing in (I know, I know) Dance Central feels like it’s been clumsily animated by a programmer on an animation package, the routines in Just Dance 2015 are full of life and rhythm and energy. You’re never in any doubt that you’re watching a real person dancing, and you feel like your dancing with them. And you really are, although you certainly don’t look like they do.
But you feel like you do. And that’s what Just Dance 2015 does so perfectly. It sells you the dream that you can dance, just like Guitar Hero sells you the dream that you are Jimmy Hendrix.
So if you can set your cynicism aside and gather your three least inhibited friends (and maybe some of their kids or younger sibblings), Just Dance 2015 can be one of the most fun games you’ll play this year.
Or if you’re like on of those other reviewers, you can just sit on the sofa and wiggle your hand around to the Rihanna dancer lady.
4 Rhythm-challenged reviewers out of 5Just Dance 2015 Review (Xbox One),