Truth. Kinect isn’t exactly a critical darling a year into its release, and it’s going to be an extra long, lonely walk down a narrow winding path before it gets anywhere near the levels of both critical and mainstream acclaim that the likes of the iPad have seen. That said, Microsoft’s best chance at achieving that much sought after level of mass hysteria would be through a mainstream title that captures the junta’s imagination enough to have them lining up round the block. And the only game that has come close to pulling it off is Harmonix’s Dance Central series.
The first Dance Central did everything right, letting gamers and non-gamers alike partake in a mutually acceptable experience (assuming you like dancing, that is. And if you don’t, you really should give it a try!). More importantly, the game threw open conventional barriers of entry by requiring nothing more than dancing in front of the sensor and leaving the game and the hardware to figure out how many left feet you had. It also forgoes the usual approach of mimicking the gamer, and instead has the gamer trying to dance along to the pre-rendered moves on screen. It may sound regressive when you have a set of motion capturing cameras at your disposal, but Dance Central’s system turns out to be far more immersive. A steady stream of flash cards to the right of the on-screen dancer alert you to the next moves in the routine.
The first game also came with a bunch of brilliant songs on its playlist, and each one scaled up beautifully by increasing the number, speed and complexity of moves you had to perform as you ramped up the difficulty. It also let you engage your friends in a Dance Battle, seeing who could rack up the highest score. The astute among you must be wondering why this review harps on about the last game when we should be looking at Dance Central 2 instead. As far as sequels go, Dance Central 2 is as safe as they come. Harmonix have decided to hedge their bets on past successes and stick to minor refinements instead.
The biggest of these is the addition of simultaneous drop-in drop-out play. So instead of taking turns dancing, you can now dance with your friend or loved one next to you. This comes with no visible compromise to the Kinect’s accuracy either, which in itself feels like quite a feat. The game gives you quite the workout, too. There’s a separate Fitness Mode that apparently tracks burnt calories, but there’s no way to gauge how accurately it’s doing so. Another noticeable improvement is the ability to create a playlist of your favourite tracks, even if picking the best among them is going to be an exercise in futility since they’re all very good. This feature is perfect if you’re looking to avoid fiddling with menus during a party. The Break It Down mode has also been much improved, with better controls, segregation of moves and the ability to play a recorded video of yourself to see what you’re doing wrong with a particular move. This is a mode you’ll want to explore as the harder difficulty routines of some of the later songs can be quite challenging.
Instead of individual dancers, you now have dance crews battling themselves for street cred. You earn stars that improve your standing with each crew, who then let you ‘represent’ them. It isn’t anything deep, but the addition of crews does give you a wider cast of characters to dance as. I do wish that there was a greater variety in the tone of the routines themselves. There seems to be a slant towards the fairer sex, which isn’t really too much to complain about as long you’re willing and able to pull off overtly feminine moves. What does bite is the number of venues to dance at. A greater variety would have been much appreciated, and some of the new additions (such as the mini-golf course) seem a tad uninspired.
The overall presentation is still top notch, however. There’s an exaggerated cartoony look to the characters, and the animations themselves are beautifully done. There isn’t a step or frame out of place, and every bit of incidental detail from the background sets, the crowds, clothing and even the expressions on the dancers’ faces are flawless. Granted, a lot of this is because the dancers are pre-rendered and aren’t mimicking the player, but that shouldn’t take away from the care Harmonix has put into the overall package.
While Dance Central 2 plays it safe by sticking to the same formula as the last game, the additions (especially co-op) that were added make the experience exceptionally better. Add to this the ability to import songs from the original game (for a fee, of course), and a decent-sized downloadable track list, and we’ve got arguably one of the most fun games available for any console at the moment. With how good the concept and the game itself is, it’s surprising that Microsoft aren’t pushing both Dance Central and Harmonix to the forefront of their Kinect strategy. I’d have liked to see Harmonix experiment a bit more as well, such a letting players choreograph their own routines perhaps, or creating their own dancer even. As good as the game is, the series wouldn’t hurt from a bit of innovation. Lets hope Dance Central 3 fixes that.
Also: An Indian version, please! It’s a no-brainer!