Review: The Hip-Hop Dance Experience (Microsoft Xbox 360)

The Hip-Hop Dance Experience
Genre: Rhythm
Developer: iNiS
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 11/13/12

Ubisoft has gotten into the motion-based dancing subgenre pretty seriously through the Just Dance series, a dance franchise that aims to appeal to a wide variety of styles and genres, but they’ve also been experimenting with more genre and artist specific releases to various extents. While two of their thematic dance games, Dance on Broadway and ABBA: You Can Dance have stood alone, Ubisoft has also been building up a secondary dance franchise under the subtitle of The Experience. Starting with Michael Jackson: The Experience, which focused on the King of Pop exclusively, Ubisoft has built the franchise into a more focused one, collaborating next with the Black Eyed Peas in The Black Eyed Peas Experience before moving onto the target of our review today. The Hip-Hop Dance Experience isn’t quite as focused as the prior two games, as it focuses on several artists over one, but it does certainly focus on hip-hop music over trying to appeal to a wide range of styles and genres. This isn’t a bad idea, and the soundtrack proves that, as artists like ODB, Snoop Dogg and Mystikal don’t see much time in rhythm games despite their following and talents, and pairing them up with more radio friendly acts like LMFAO and Outkast in a dance game can also appeal to a wide variety of fans. The game also isn’t a full-priced release, dropping at forty dollars, giving it more of a chance for gamers who might drop money on a Michael Jackson themed game but would be more hesitant for a game with no name recognition. This works in the game’s favor, to be honest, as the game isn’t particularly robust in most respects, but because of its novelty in genre and its reduced price, it ends up being more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

There’s no story mode to speak of; this is a straight dancing game with nothing but play modes built in, so we’ll focus on those instead. The game offers four straight play modes to work with: Dance Party, which is your standard “pick a song and dance to it” mode, Dance Battle, which is your standard “pick a song and dance against a friend” mode, Dance Marathon, which is a sort of survival mode where you dance against random songs until you fail out or stop, and Power Skooling, which is a standard practice mode. You can also jump into the Wardrobe to customize the appearance of your avatar and the guest avatar as you see fit, or the Options menu to tune the system latency, voice recognition features, and so on. What the game has to offer is perfectly fine, as there are enough modes to get the most out of the experience without much effort, but the game lacks any sort of more involved options that might make it more appealing to pick up. There isn’t an online component installed into the game to speak of, save for online Leaderboards that allow you to compare your performance against others, which is fine enough, but those who lack the space to have two people in front of the Kinect may find it awkward that they have no multiplayer options available to them. The game also lacks some of the more common modes, such as a workout mode or a custom setlist option, that might give players a little more reason to stick with the game. What’s here, mode wise, is fine enough and you can do plenty with the options that are available, but one or two additional modes would have been preferable, as what’s here is only marginally more than the basic expected modes such a game would have.

Visually, The Hip-Hop Dance Experience puts on a nice show, whether you’re playing or watching it go to town. The dancers that are on-screen animate well and generally look pretty good, and in a nice touch, your dancer will be shown with their back to you during play, allowing you to mentally associate your movements to theirs instead of having to associate yourself as staring into a mirror or confusing yourself and going in the opposite direction. The backgrounds all generally look like fine enough dance clubs, as they are, and the lighting effects the game uses to play up the experience are well used and designed. Also, the music videos for the various songs you can dance to play in the background of the clubs (or parts of them do, at least) in a novel touch, though you’ll likely not be paying attention to them so much. Aurally, the soundtrack is easily the star of the show, as there’s a pretty wide variety of music to pick from across a fairly diverse range of artists, and there are plenty of solid Top Forty hits here to pick from for players who aren’t too familiar with the subject matter. The soundtrack mixes old and new high charting songs with tracks that aren’t so well known, so you’ll see artists like Nicki Minaj, LMFAO and R. Kelly alongside Q-Tip and ODB, which is fantastic, as it gives less mainstream artists a shot and their fans more reasons to check this out. Admittedly, the track list certainly has some choices that may not be for everyone; “Moment 4 Life” is not the most obvious Nicki Minaj choice, nor is “B.O.B” the obvious choice for Outkast, and there are no less than three tracks that feature Chris Brown, depending on your opinion of him. The quality of the tracks is generally strong, though, and there’s a fairly strong track list here overall that makes it easy to appreciate. To the extent that there are sound effects and voice snippets in the game outside of the tracklist, what’s here is just fine and fits the experience without being annoying or poorly assembled in the least, but it’s not especially notable either, for obvious reasons.

From a mechanical standpoint, The Hip-Hop Dance Experience is simple enough to work with and understand, and should be easy to figure out in concept… if not always in practice. The menus can be navigated with hand motions, the controller or voice prompts, depending on what’s easiest for you as the player, though the controller tends to be the easiest method for performing basic selection tasks. Once you jump into a song, the game then displays the dances you’ll be expected to perform on the left a few seconds beforehand, at which point it then has your avatar begin performing the dance moves, which you are expected to mimic with the Kinect. The game will turn any limbs that seem to be failing at performing the motions red to indicate you need to correct your actions with that body part, allowing you to work on your motions as needed. The closer you are to performing the dance the game is looking for at the time, the better your score for that section will be, and the game awards bonus points and such for properly scoring on a given section if you do well at it. At the end of the song, the game will inform you of how well you performed on the song overall, as well as which sections you did the best and worst in, should you want to practice them for later. You can sort the track list, in the modes that allow for this, by the song title, artist name, difficulty of the song (from one to five Flames) or tracks that have been recently played if you want to go back to a recent favorite. Each song also offers three difficulty levels to choose from, with lower difficulties being more forgiving of failure than higher ones. The mechanics, in theory, are all simple enough to work with; it’s when you put them into practice that things become more complex.

Each song you can play generally has a few basic dance motions it requires you to perform, and each song will usually rotate through those motions, so you might see a specific set of motions come up a few times in a song based on the section you’re playing. The motions generally try to fit with the song thematically, so you’ll see dance motions that are more provocative during some songs, or, for a specific example, a dance that involves a gesture for pulling off your tearaway pants when playing “Sexy And I Know It”. The point being that the motions, such as they are, will take some getting used to, as they’re often more involved than simple arm and leg motions, so you’ll have to put in some practice to get good at a song. Power Skooling will help a bit with this, as it gives you a chance to practice the moves and really learn what you need to do to get the highest possible scores, but you’ll have to put time into learning some of the more involved steps, plain and simple. The good news is that the game is generally forgiving if you dance like an epileptic zombie, so you can manage to complete a song without too much trouble on the easiest difficulty, which gives the game a solid difficulty curve. If you want to put in the time to learn how best to achieve good scores on higher difficulty levels, you can do so, but for just goofing around, you can generally jump into the game knowing nothing and not fail out if you make an effort.

There’s no specific time limit needed to “complete” the game, since it’s more about just upgrading your high scores and such, but with forty songs included in the base package you can expect to get a good few hours out of the game just playing through each song in rotation. Whether you’re looking for a simple dancing game that lets you goof off and have fun or something to really work at for the best scores possible, The Hip-Hop Dance Experience can accommodate your needs, as it’s reasonably well balanced and gives you plenty of room to grow and goof off as you see fit. There are also plenty of Achievements to try and earn for various things, such as scoring well, completing all of the songs offered and so on, for those who are interested. You can also work towards boosting your scores on the online leaderboards if you’re interested, try to improve your stamina with the Dance Marathon mode, or get some friends together to have fun in Dance Battle mode if the mood strikes. What’s here is generally solid enough to allow the game to stand on its own, and while it’s not the most robust game and won’t likely keep your interest for months or years, it makes a good argument to come back for a while, and given its discounted price point, that’s not bad.

The single biggest issue against The Hip-Hop Dance Experience is that it’s simply limited in structure and design. Forty songs is a fine amount of songs to choose from, to be sure, but what you can do with those songs is limited, especially when compared to Ubisoft mainstay series Just Dance and the features contained there. This game offers the bare minimum, content-wise, to make it viable, with a solo play, versus, survival and practice mode and nothing else, which makes it harder to recommend to anyone not immediately enthralled with the track list. With the prior games having a big name licensed attached this would be less problematic for fans of the artist associated, but as a broad appeal title the game doesn’t compare to its contemporaries in terms of content offered. The game is certainly less expensive than, say, Dance Central 3, but for ten dollars more that game offers more songs and play options, which evens things out a good bit. There’s nothing exceptionally wrong with The Hip-Hop Dance Experience mind you, it’s just shallow in its offerings, leaving the soundtrack to do the heavy lifting, and the soundtrack is solid enough, to be sure, but whether it’s solid enough to carry the price tag is really going to depend on the person.

In other words, The Hip-Hop Dance Experience is a fun, well structured game that offers a good amount of content designed to appeal to a specific market, which may be worthwhile for genre fans, but it’s more limited than similar titles in the genre, both from the same publisher and otherwise. For the forty dollar price point you’re given a handful of expected modes attached to a solid front-end and a tracklist that’s interesting and varied within the genre, featuring acts you’ll likely never see in other titles of this type. The game is as simple or as complex as you want it to be, mechanically, and is willing to work with you whether you want to aim for high scores or just want to goof off, its body recognition is generally strong, and it’s fun to play either way. However, the game has a small amount of modes to work with, lacking in anything really exciting as well as base fundamentals other games in the genre offer, and the reduced price is minimal when considering how much more similar games in the genre offer in comparison. The Hip-Hop Dance Experience is a neat idea, to be certain, and the end result is solid and features tracks you’ll not likely find anywhere else, but unless you’re a hip-hop fan you’ll find that the game won’t hold your interest as long as similar games, as Ubisoft’s own Just Dance 4 is the same price, features the same amount of tracks, and offers much more to do with the game.

The Scores:
Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: CLASSIC
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: GREAT
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: GOOD

FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
The Hip-Hop Dance Experience is a nice idea, focusing on a specific genre instead of being a mass appeal product, that should be interesting to hip-hop fans, but a dearth of modes makes it harder to recommend to anyone outside of that group. The game certainly looks and sounds just fine, there are enough modes to give you something to spend time with, and there are acts featured here, like ODB, Da Brat and Q-Tip, that you won’t likely find anywhere else. The game works with your skill level as a player, allowing you to be as good or as bad at the game as you want but still rewarding you on some level, so players of all skill and interest levels can have fun with this. You can aim to get some serious high scores to post on the leaderboards or just play around with friends and the game allows for this either way, which helps its appeal well and makes for a friendly experience. However, the game modes offered are bare bones, as only the bare minimum of what one would expect is on display here, making it harder to recommend to anyone who isn’t a fan of hip-hop. For genre fans, The Hip-Hop Dance Experience offers a variety of songs you won’t see anywhere else, which may make it worth a look, but you can find other games, including Ubisoft’s own Just Dance 4, that cost the same price or only marginally more and offer a wider variety of modes to pick from, which limits the value of what’s here in the long run.

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