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Dance Central for XBox 360 Kinect : A Review

March 14th, 2011

dance-central-kinect.jpgFinally, a dance game that actually requires dancing. This is great news for players who would like to gain a little swag…in the privacy of their homes. This game isn’t about waving a stick around in vague correlation with an on-screen avatar. It isn’t about stepping on color-coded squares at the right time, and it isn’t about jazzercising onto a balance board. Dance Central, released in October for the Xbox 360’s Kinect, is about doing legitimate dance moves using your full body, and doing them correctly – right down to the angles of your elbows.

To help players learn the moves is a lineup of hot-shot trainers, each with a unique style. In “Break It Down” mode, the trainer performs dance steps, then challenges the player to imitate them. Players receive feedback on success or failure, and red highlights on the trainer’s body demonstrate problem areas. The Kinect sensor watches it all — three-dimensional movement, foot placement, and body and arm angles. For intimidating dance patterns, a rookie player can take comfort in the “Slow It Down” mode, which shows maneuvers in slow motion.

Once players have mastered the steps, “Perform It” mode connects it all into one full, choreographed dance, for which players earn a rating on performance accuracy.

A number of difficulty options exist, and even formerly clumsy dancers may find themselves graduating from a simple stand-and-clap movement in Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface” to an entire Hardcore performance of “Just Dance.”

Learning Lady Gaga’s moves is exciting, but even beyond that, Dance Central boasts a great soundtrack. Although it sticks to club hits, there is something for everybody. Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” is filled with sexy, feminine moves, while Audio Push’s “Teach Me How to Jerk” is a song best reserved for the fellows. Players can dance to modern hits like Cascada’s “Evacuate the Dance Floor” or visit beloved past-era tracks like Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” and Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.”

Nearly as awesome as its music is Dance Central’s visual appeal. The graphics are colorful and stylized. Trainers resemble caricatures of club stereotypes, and players can choose from a set of well-rendered backgrounds, including one that eerily resembles the Jersey shore skyline.

Choices of both trainers and backgrounds are few though, and may leave players craving more variety. Also, where avatars of other Kinect games mimic the movements of the player, Dance Central’s trainers do not respond to players at all. Alit with red, Latino sensation Angel will keep on dancing even as you stop to grab a phone call. Somewhat useful, however, is the small overlaid video of the player’s real-time silhouette.

Because trainers are non-interactive, all the fun is had by the player, while spectators are left with a lackluster experience. For this reason, despite ads touting this a “social” game, Dance Central is better played solitary. Adding to its poor value as a social game is the ill-conceived two-player mode, the “Dance Battle,” which basically consists of one player stringing through half a song’s dance steps while the other player watches idly, and then does the exact same moves. Sure, friends can be altruistic and form a just-for-fun backup crew behind the main dancer, like in the commercials. But once you factor in the Kinect’s distance requirement of eight feet, whose living room has space left for an entourage?

As a one-player game Dance Central shines, and the learning process is so immersive, you won’t want to share anyway. Many of the dance moves are demanding, and the Kinect sensor is unforgiving about errors. With this kind of precision, players will find themselves whittling away the time trying to perfect moves like the Jazz Square. The feedback is so specific, it feels like actual one-on-one dance training, and the reward is a sense of true achievement. When performing the songs, you may feel so ramped up by the cheering that you forget you’re not actually a blinged-out performer in a club. Don’t worry — the “Freestyle” camera playback will remind you that you just got up, you haven’t brushed your hair yet, and you’re still in your pajamas.

By the way, while you’re busy with your new obsession, you might not notice that you’re also getting a great cardio workout. And if you want an even greater reward, check the “Workout Mode” box before each performance to find out how many calories you’ve burned while having all of that fun.

Xbox 360’s Dance Central is exhilarating, and its accuracy using the Kinect sensor is unprecedented in dance games. Its soundtrack is compelling and varied, and its graphics, though limited, are attractive and well-rendered. While not recommended in a multiplayer setting, this game is great for a beginning dancer who wants to be enormously entertained, learn a few moves, and get into shape doing so. The first step is, as promised by Kinect developers, getting off the couch. The second is running to the store to pick up this game. The third is the Merengue.

Overall Rating : 8.5/10

This article on Dance Central for the Kinect was supplied by Meg Ivy from Constant Content.

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