With so many different variations on 'motion-sensing' now on the market, everybody is looking for a reason to make their choice. A game that goes above and beyond the idea of 'shovelware' or other launch titles that are merely a show-off of the absolute basic function that the technology is designed for in the first place. A game that doesn't suck. It doesn't seem like much to expect, but any new hardware is going to have some growing pains, so we as a consumer accept that picking up one of these shiny new pieces of tech on launch day is going to come with the self-affirming explanation of 'don't worry... things are going to get better'. It is with great pleasure then that we inform you that Dance Central is a launch title worth shelling out money for.
Created by Harmonix (who know a thing or two about rhythm games), Dance Central tracks your body doing a number of dance moves in a routine that has been created by real choreographers. There are a number of tracks that you can get your groove on to, including hits from Lady Gaga, Cascada, Pitbull and even our Kylie. There's a number of 'old-skool' tracks too for you older generations, such as The Commodores, Kool & the Gang and Young MC, so overall there's a pretty good mix of tunes on there to keep a number of different genre-lovers occupied. If the track lineup looks a little lacking, never fear, as you'll be able to purchase and download songs separately down the track; there's already a handful available on the Marketplace but we're expecting many more in the near future to keep the game fresh with new routines and moves.
Selecting what you want in each menu is slick and intuitive using your hands, but you can use a controller if you so wish. Once jumping into the game, it's as easy as diving into the track-list and choosing which song you want to dance to first. The songs themselves are categorized in order of routine difficulty (much like in Rock Band) and once selecting each track, you have the option of doing it on Easy, Medium or Hard (the latter two being unlocked as you prove your worth). Once completing a section of songs, they are then thrown together in a medley of all the routines you've learned, so learning to perfect the moves as you go can become an important factor.
While playing each track, you simply have to mirror the dancer on screen and copy their moves. Nobody expects you to be able to be a mind reader though, so you have the ability to see flash-cards on the right side of the screen which warn you as to which funky move is coming up next. You definitely won't be able to nail a routine on the first play through, but the flash-cards are still incredibly helpful to give you an idea of what is around the corner; we found that sometimes we could interpret the flash-cards and with a bit of logic, nailed some of the moves the first time we saw them. This was very life-affirming and proved that the cards do work, highlighting which limb is going to be moving in each particular change of stance.
If you're struggling with a particular move in Dance Central, you have the option to Break it Down, which is a game mode entirely designed to step-by-step teach you the key moves of the routine you've chosen, so that you can put it all together in the performance. It gets you to repeatedly do the moves until you get them right, and moves on once you've succeeded (or failed so much that the game hates you). It's a pretty handy part of the game, as it focuses on each move separately and gives you a chance to really digest what is going on, which can be a bit difficult during the routine itself... especially on the harder difficulty settings! The only down-side here is that if there's only one move you are having problems with, you can't just select that move to work on outright - you have to go through all the steps as they are set out in the mode. Only a minor frustration perhaps, but a bit annoying if you only have one tricky body movement that needs work.
The other mode that's going to be the go-to for parties is the Dance Battle, which lets you and a friend go head-to-head in a dance-off of epic proportions. Unfortunately, Dance Central doesn't support two players doing routines on screen at the same time, which would certainly have been a great addition to the title. That being said, taking it in turns with somebody else in 30-45 second bursts is still a lot of fun, as you compete to try and do better than each other on the same moves. The Freestyle section of each song is also a real highlight here, as it allows you and your mates to dance around like complete tools for about 10 seconds, which is then briefly flashed onto the screen so you can see just how ridiculous you really look dancing in front of your TV. This, like Singstar and other party games before it, is just the kind of game that could easily be brought out at parties after a few drinks.
The most interesting thing is, the game really does seem to work, and work well. If you don't do the moves properly, you will likely get a crap score, and making the effort to do things as your taught throughout the game, you'll actually find yourself becoming a better dancer! It's true, and you may find this hard to believe, but the PALGN team aren't necessarily the best dancers in town... but after playing a few of the routines and learning the moves, you really do see the improvements in your style as you progress, with plenty of visual prompting letting you know that you're doing a flawless job. You can even see how many calories you're burning while dancing around your lounge room, which could be an extra incentive for those looking to add something fun to their exercise routine. Thanks!
Ultimately, if you're not into dancing, you probably still won't like Dance Central. But for those who don't mind a bit of a groove or like to be the one making a fool of themselves at parties, this title is, at this moment, the best showcase of the Kinect hardware. Harmonix have a clear understanding of the genre, and they've done a great job in implementing Kinect into a launch title that is not only fun, but also an easy-to-learn party starter that anybody can have a crack at without requiring any sort of serious tutorial. Like Guitar Hero and Rock Band before it, the game is incredibly playable and successful in the rhythm genre; it's even replaced dance mats as the best way to experience a dancing title. If any of the features of this game appeal to you, it could very well warrant the cost of Kinect at this very early stage; and that's saying something.