Publisher: Microsoft Games Studio
When Microsoft unleashed the wonder toy known as Kinect on the rest of us there was but one game worth owning amongst the launch titles. That game was a dance game from Rock Band developer Harmonix called Dance Central. It used the Kinect’s camera’s to track your movement and grade how well you were mimicking the dance moves being performed in front of you. Now a year has passed and the follow up, Dance Central 2, has been released. Time to bust a move and see if you have any skills!
The first game didn’t exactly overflow with either story or gameplay modes; in fact, there was no story. This time around there is something approaching a story mode, but that’s if you consider the plot in movies like Honey and You Got Served to be high drama. The modes available are much more in depth this time around. First of all, the biggest addition is the ability to play through the game with a partner right there in the game beside you. So now you and your friend can compete together, if you’ve got the space. Like all two player Kinect games it’s not for those living in tight quarters.
After this comes the fitness mode, which has been expanded upon greatly since the first game. Turning the option on in the menu will have the game track just how many calories you’ve burned in any particular session as well as how long a session has been going, plus the game includes specific workout routines designed to get the most out of your workouts if you want to go that route. Regarding the tracking of how many calories you just burned, I began to wonder about that the more I played the game. It seemed like every time I finished a song a notice would pop up saying I just burned 25 calories or something. It was always an exact number, always 25 or 50 calories. So I’m not sure if the game is actually tracking how many calories you’ve burned or how many calories should be burned per completed song. Either way it’s at the very least a good guide to show you how much exercise is needed to burn off that bottle of Coke you just drank.
Dance Central looked quite stylish, and this second effort is no slouch in that department either. The two returning characters from the first game have been given a bit of a make over. Angel looks to have lost a little bit of weight (probably from all that dancing) and Miss Aubrey looks less cartoony and more like a real woman. The rest of the characters are all new to the series and are a more diverse bunch than before.
The stages and graphical effects are also very stylish and sharp. As in the first game, when you string together a combination of successful moves, the stage changes into something out of a rave, with neon lights tracking your movements and bursts of light pulsing. The stages vary from a Mini Golf hole to a subway station to a sky scraper and various other unique places to stage a dance contest. And at some point all of the stages go in motion, so the subway station will suddenly switch to being on a moving subway car, etc. Of course, unless it’s something that really grabs your attention, your focus is going to be on the dancer and what moves you should be mimicking, so you may not notice every little detail the developers plugged into the game unless you are watching someone else play it.
This being a game where the audio quality is integral to the experience, allow me to allay your fears. Just like every other Harmonix game, Dance Central 2 sounds excellent. Be it the voice acting, the sound effects or the music itself, it all sounds outstanding. This shouldn’t be a surprise, and really it’s not at this point; I expect perfection from Harmonix, but it’s nice that they do too.
Regarding the music, there are 43 songs included with the basic game. This includes tracks like Bad Romance and Born this Way from Lady Gaga, Sandstorm from Darude, Like a G6 from Far East Movement and even a little Bieber action in Somebody to Love. The songs vary according to when they were released too, covering a wide range of yesterday and today. Willow’s Whip My Hair is contrasted with Bobby Brown’s My Prerogative, while Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff is an example of the 70s versus O-Zone’s Mai Ai Hee‘s 2000s. I would have preferred a little more Soul or Motown, some James Brown perhaps. Yet while the music itself isn’t typically on my I-Pod, I do have to admit that there has been an attempt made to keep the music varied and entertaining in an overall pop music kind of way.
In truth the story is just an excuse to get you to dance specific songs, and feels similar to the gigs one might play in Guitar Hero, strangely enough. Earn enough stars in a series of songs to unlock the final song in the competition, then beat that song to earn the right to move on to the next round of competition. The dancing feels like there is more hand movement this time around. I’m OK with that, as I can move my hands much easier than I can move my feet, and it feels like I’m getting more of a work out somehow. The trainer is excellent once again, and this time provides you with the opportunity to record yourself and compare to the on screen dancer to see what you’re doing wrong. This feature is a little strange at first, as the video of you plays back while you are attempting to do the move again. Once you figure out whats going on, though, it is certainly handy to see what it is you are doing versus what you are supposed to be doing.
As well, just like Guitar Hero 2 was just a tiny bit more difficult than GH1, Harmonix seems to have decided that the dances should be just a little bit more difficult to 5 star this time around. Mess up a couple of times and you can still get the four stars, but five requires precision.
The two player dancing will require a larger room, as dancing side by side can be a little difficult in a small setting. The second player gets a mirrored flash card setup of player one on the left hand side of the screen. What’s neat is at any time while playing single player a second person can hop in and start dancing, just like in Kinect Adventures, and if that second player then gets bored and leaves, the game instantly goes back to single player. Very slick.
With 3 levels of difficulty and the addition of both competitive and co-operative multiplayer the game can last you for quite a while. Of course, if you’re a series veteran who knows their stuff, you’ll probably start the game on hard and finish it on hard, thus killing two-thirds of the replay value. Still, as you can download songs from Harmonix via the Dance Central Store the game will last as long as Harmonix chooses to keep supporting it. If their efforts via Rock Band are any indication, that’s at least two games.
The workout mode also increases the replay value. With ten separate workout routines for you to choose from you can vary your work outs, from a simple beginner list to get you going to more advanced sets for burning those calories.
You can also create your own set lists to play, so instead of constantly having to select your favorite songs one after another you can just select them all ahead of time and get to the dancing.
Just like the first game, Dance Central 2 is arranged by the difficulty of the moves you will be asked to perform in the songs. Also just like the first game you can set the difficulty between easy medium and hard. So it should be no surprise that the harder you set the difficulty, the more challenging the game will be.
While certainly entertaining, this isn’t exactly a game you can’t put down. To put it bluntly, the game is best in small to mid sized doses. Gaming marathons will require you to be in marathon shape.
Even though it isn’t a game you can’t put down, it is a game you can’t put away. Be it the conditioning aspect of it or just the dancing itself, if you are into the game you’ll likely want to come back to it.
Well, there is that feature allowing you to record yourself and see what you’re doing wrong. And the team at Harmonix have really tried to integrate some of the other features the Kinect has going for it, like Voice Commands. During the training you can skip ahead or skip back, slow down the dance steps and pause the game all with just your voice. You can also select songs to dance to right from the main menu with just voice commands. It’s the kind of thing I’ve been expecting from developers since the Kinect was launched, and I’m glad that someone has decided to finally do it. It feels very cool being able to be all Star Trek and tell the computer what to do.
The voice commands are still a little limited, as the option to start dancing right from the main menu does not include any of the story modes and is thus something of a quick start menu instead of a fully fledged integration with the rest of the game. Also, there is no list of the songs on screen to tell you what you can choose, so if you don’t know what songs are in the game, you’ll have to wait for the name of a song to flash on screen as they all cycle through.
Those who know me will tell you that I am not what you would call the most graceful person in the world, yet even I can have a good time and even come to look like I might have an inkling about what I’m doing thanks to the first game and now the sequel. You’ll never see me on an actual dance floor, and I’m not exactly a fan of the music, but here, in front of the Kinect, I can dance without any sense of self doubt or shyness that might grab hold elsewhere.
If you ARE someone who goes to clubs and enjoys getting on the floor to bust a move, well then. Here’s your chance to get some practice in without anyone watching.
Like Rock Band before it, you can import the songs from the first game into the second one, thus virtually doubling the number of songs you can dance to at a time. This little nugget will cost you 400 Microsoft Points, and you’ll need the 16 digit code found inside the instruction manual from the first game, however. Perhaps to offset this, the developers included a voucher for 240 Microsoft Points, which is the cost of a typical song for download from the store.
Lastly, the photos are back. Just like in the first Dance Central you’ll be presented with a psychedelic screen at a point during the song to allow you to freestyle and create your own moves. While you are doing so, the Kinect will take your photo at different points and save them in memory until the end of the song, where they will then be played to the amusement of all. As I wasn’t really a fan of the feature after the initial amusement wore off, I am happy to report that you can turn the feature off this time around, allowing you to continue dancing without the distraction. Any songs you import from the original Dance Central will not allow you to turn off the feature, though.
Control and Gameplay: Great
Appeal Factor: Incredible
Miscellaneous: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: Incredible Game
Short Attention Span Summary:
Dance Central 2 is an excellent continuation of the series. With the addition of anytime two player and voice commands, the game is easily the class of the field when it comes to showing off what the Kinect can do, and it just happens to be a damned fun game to play too!
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