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Dance Central 2 Review (Kinect)

When’s the last time you were too sore to play a game? Was it cramped fingers from Guitar Hero? Blisters on your thumbs from too much Mario? Aching wrist from too much Wii Sports? Well right now I am feeling game-related pain, and its not┬árelegated┬áto just one part of me. My whole body is in pain. Thanks Dance Central 2.

Hamronix new entry in the series improves on the original in many ways. From the much slicker interface to the redesigned characters and background and the story campaign, this feels like the game that Dance Central should have been .While the original nailed the essential gameplay, it felt like they were testing the waters with the first Dance Central and with the sequel they are adding everything their fans have asked for. Theres no doubt, this is both the best Dance Central and also the best dancing game ever made.

That’s not to say that Harmonix effort is perfect and I don’t discount Just Dance lightly. Although its often critically derided, the Just Dance games are great at parties and their exuberant, joyful presentation and diverse song selection has made them arguably more fun with friends than Dance Central due to how much easier they are to pick up and play. Messing around with the Kinect sensor and trying to get it to recognise those in the foreground without getting confused by background spectators is a pain and the ease with which four players can pick up Wii motes and play isntantly is far more appealing.

Crucially though Harmonix has addressed the two main areas where their previous game was eclipsed by Just Dance. The first is multiplayer. Whereas in the first game multiplayer was exclusively a swap-in affair, the ability to have two players dance at once makes an absolutely huge difference to the experience. If dancing is a primal need for people that goes back to when we lived in caves, dancing together is just as vital. Dancing with a partner is great when one player is poorer as they can follow the lead of the better player. Meanwhile, for the onlookers there are twice as many dancing idiots to laugh at and its far funnier to see synchronised foolishness. At high levels, the potential even exists for two people to dance in a vaguely impressive way. The dances are challenging enough in their own right that seeing two people who are both good at the game performing a tough song is genuinely entertaining, and not just as a way to mock them but as a chance for talented dancers to show of what they can do to their astonished friends.

The second way that Dance Central improves on the original is in the song choice. While dancing to something like “Hey Mami” was no fun at all, tracks like “Baby Got Back”, “Sexy Chick” and “Bad Romance” are better choices, but also have far better choreography than anything in the first game. Even the pure cheese is fun, with the “Numa Numa song” and Hadaway’s “What is Love” so much fun that they are impossible to dance to without smiling. The energy levels required are pleasingly high as the difficulty ramps up too; Eresin and I were both near collapse after trying to keep up with Daft Punk’s astoundingly bouncy “Technotronic”.

The campaign perfectly showcases the multiplayer nature of the game with you and your dancing partner taking on a series of “Crews” whom you must overcome. Once you achieve enough stars with any particular crew you get a chance to audition for them, and performing well in their audition song unlocks them for use throughout the game. The sassy dialogue and excellent character designs give you good incentive to dance against and impress each of the crews, and my lingering and troubling obsession for the digital vixen that is Miss Aubrey continues to disturb my friends.

Defeating all of the Crews sends you into a boss battle with an evil Doctor who has created dancing robots in a similar vein to the Good Robot Us’s. In truth this is the biggest bum note of the campaign. While the other dancers have great personalities that encourage you to beat them, its harder to follow the robots dance moves for some reason, maybe because they simply don’t look like real people dancing. Its a bit of a come down from the dramatic and fabulously villainous Glitterati crew that are the penultimate bosses of the game and have far more personality than the supposedly perfect dancing robots.

There seem to have been some tweaks made to the technology of the game too. Generally better at picking up your limbs and highlighting where you are going wrong, I found it more accurate at recording my moves. There’s much more variation in the moves too, and although I often got annoyed that the game wasn’t giving me points when I thought I was doing them correctly, a quick glance at my (much more skilled) dance partner showed that I was at fault rather than the game.

Singleplayer Dance Central will always be a bit soulless, but as a two player game it’s a completely unique experience, and one that no other medium can really provide you with. Defeating the challenges and dancing together, its impossible not to feel a great deal of pride in both your and your partners performance and getting a good score can lead to mutual admiration and spontaneous high-fiving. In larger groups, its more dependant on the inhibitions of your friends. If the ratios of sofa-spectators to dancers is poor then it will become tiresome quickly. With a bunch of more enthusiastic participants though, the different type of dance battles and multiplayer crew options can make for some truly memorable gaming nights.

When we stuck Dance Central 2 in the Xbox we thought we would give it a quick few games before moving on to something else. Five hours later we were facing our final challenge in the campaign and racking up scores we couldn’t have dreamt of when we started. We had learned new skills, new dance moves and we were absolutely exausted. Most of all though, we had just experienced one of the msot fun nights we had all had in months. Even if we never played again, it would still have been worth the price of the game. In fact, it was even worth the price of the pains I am feeling today!

9 aching limbs out of 10

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