Sometimes you get the bear. Sometimes the bear gets you. That thought occurred to me when I found out I was assigned to review Country Dance All Stars. The truth is country music is not what you’d call my favorite way to tap my feet. Still, I’ve been surprised before. Hip hop and its ilk isn’t in my top ten either, yet I enjoyed Dance Central and its sequel enormously. So I popped Country Dance All Stars into my Xbox 360, then cleared the dance floor and limbered up. Somewhere a good old boy yelled “Let’s do this!”, another gave a whoop and started plucking a fiddle. And then it was on.
Country Dance All Stars is not what you would call a terribly deep game when it comes to how many modes are offered, but don’t let that fool you. Dance Central really only offers the one mode, and that’s more than enough. CDAS in fact manages to give you a few different takes on the dancing game genre. True, you have the standard dance mode, but the developers have gone and added a couple of different modes beyond that. One is Freeze mode, which freezes the action and then judges you on how closely your body mirrors the dance move currently being performed. The longer it takes you to get your body into position, the more points get eaten away from your total. After this we then have Perfection mode, which will only accept your best. Essentially, you must perform the dance moves perfectly to score anything at all in this mode, so bring your dancing boots.
The game also includes a practice mode, but it’s less than ideal. Rather than helping you out with each individual dance move like Dance Central does, you are forced to perform an entire section of the dance before you are given the chance to repeat the section. It’s still better than no practice mode at all (hello Kinect Star Wars), but it’s an area of the game that could do with some improvement.
Honestly I’m not sure this game couldn’t have been done on the Wii (oh hey look at that, it was). In fact I know it could have. The backgrounds are fairly nice, but the dancers look very stiff. And I don’t know what the developers were thinking when they chose to clothe the dancers. Essentially, instead of giving each dancer a different clothing pattern, they chose to shine a light on them. One of those lights that move around with patterns on them. That wouldn’t be too bad, I guess, except the only thing that is affected are the dancers’ outfits – not their faces, not the dance floor around them. And it looks really weird and distracting.
One thing I can’t fault the game on is its selection of songs. With artists like Brooks and Dunn, Miley Cyrus, Carrie Underwood. and Keith Urban, Nashville is extremely well represented here. In fact, there are over 30 songs on the disc, and the option exists to do a Rock Band like store already built into the game. There are no songs up right now, but if the game sells I imagine that won’t take much work.
And even though it isn’t my first choice of musical genre, I can tell you that the music sounds terrific. There is no distortion and it is mixed quite well. There isn’t much in the way of sound effects, but what is there does the job.
It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. If that is true, then Harmonix should be very flattered. Country Dance All Stars is clearly trying to emulate the user experience of Dance Central here. From the way you choose things on the menu to the way the upcoming dance moves are shown on the right side of the screen, Country Dance All Stars feels quite familiar. I won’t say it’s an exact copy because it’s not. Harmonix does it better. But I appreciate the understanding that the standard has been set and should be followed.
The songs are divided into three levels of difficulty. So what you see is what you get – no going into the options to pick a more difficult version of the same song. Some of the songs are played a little differently, as they would be considered line dancing. What the point of performing line dancing on your own would be I don’t know, but maybe the developers felt obligated, this being a game about country and western dancing.
The game allows you to play in small doses, or to play up to ten songs one after the other. Unfortunately the developers didn’t include an option for a playlist, so if you want to play 10 songs you’re going to have to pick your next song immediately after finishing your last one. And as an added bonus the song menu defaults to the very top of the list with no way of sorting the songs. So if you only want to play level two difficulty songs, you’ll have to wave your arm up and down until you find the one you’re looking for.
If you’ve got the room and a friend just as willing to dosey doe as you are, then I have good news! Like many Kinect games, Country Dance All Stars allows for a second person to hop into the action and dance along side you.
And as mentioned already the game does have a music store for downloading new songs. There just aren’t any yet.
As I mentioned above the game has songs which are set to specific difficulty levels. The easiest level of songs are best described as being too slow. Not the music itself, but instead the dance steps. Watching a virtual cowboy sashay this way and that at three fourths the speed he should be moving is a little disconcerting, but when you move up to the mid level songs this problem disappears. And when you bring in the hardest songs you’ll be moving as fast as you can to keep up.
The Freeze and Perfection modes were a little more hard to get used to. Freeze in particular is harder than it should be as there is no warning that I could see to tell you when a pose is coming up. And it can kill the mood to be dancing away for a minute or so only to have to come to a complete stop and be a perfect match for the dancer as quickly as possible, then start back into the dancing once you’ve achieved the desired pose.
I like Perfection mode, if only because it’s a voluntary bump in difficulty, the ultimate hard mode if you will. Scoring well in this mode means you’ve got a good handle on your dance moves and on the songs.
The new modes, Perfection and Freeze, are interesting attempts at bringing something new to the genre. The rest of the game is certainly a countrified version of that city game Dance Central, but without some of the polish that Harmonix is known for.
The interface makes it a little difficult to stay addicted if you manage to find yourself heading that way. It’s not terrible, it’s just clunky. Dropping you back to the main menu after finishing a set, not letting you create a playlist, and the awkwardness that comes from having no way to sort the songs really takes away from any desire to play this for long periods of time.
Strangely I don’t know who this game would really appeal to. You would think that it would be right up the alley of those who love dancing and those who love country music, but most of the steps are more difficult than the average line dancer might be willing to try. On the other hand, people who would be able to step up and dance would probably be put off by the country flavor of the music. I don’t know how many Dance Central or Just Dance fans would be interested in the music taking a more southern route.
I’m not suggesting that people who like country can’t dance well. I just don’t think enough of the people who own a Kinect and like these kinds of games would be willing to play it.
The only problem I had with the songs was the steps some of the dances were using. I’m sorry, but people dancing to country music should not be pulling disco steps out of their repertoire. It just seems wrong on numerous levels.
Finally, I think it’s time that developers stop trying to get us to pose for pictures while dancing or adventuring while standing in front of the Kinect. It was cute for a minute, during the first play through of Kinect Adventures, but now it’s just tired and needs to go away.
Oh yeah, one more thing. Apparently Gwyneth Paltrow is a country singer. And her song isn’t terrible. I’m kind of stunned.
Modes: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Poor
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
Not a terrible game, not even a bad game. It’s merely stuck with the fact that there are better games out there in the same genre. It’s one advantage is the focus specifically on Country Music, which has been hugely under served by those other games.