canuckeh's Dance Central (Xbox 360) review

Requires some physical exertion and sex appeal on your behalf

The Kinect is a very special kind of hardware, both identical and polar opposite to the motion options of the Wiimote and Playstation Move. All three of them involve some kind of motion of the body beyond your thumbs, but otherwise…Not to rip into the Wiimote or PS3 Move (though I will gladly rip into the Wiimote anytime, actually, fucking Wii Sports) but the required motion in those games is limited to arm flicks and movements of various degrees of abstraction. You swing a baseball bat by either assuming a batter pose and pray the Wiimote acknowledges you’re in a batter pose, or flick your wrist and trick the remote into thinking your hand is on steroids. The Kinect is the one motion controller option that requires you to move! There is no waggles or sitting down in a relaxed position here, you’ve got to burn those precious caleries. I understand if you want your video games to be sedentary experiences. I can accept someone that wants to sit down and only sit down for their CODBLOPS experience because they had a long day at work or the concept of exerting force from their muscles seems intimidating. That’s cool. Dance Central is not the game for you.

No, Dance Central is the game for people willing to make a physical commitment. You may need to move furniture to create the necessary space. You may bump into chairs, walls, or have your hand crash into the ceiling a few times. You may need to learn about such fitness concepts as “warming up” and “stretching”. Your scores will improve with having a second player assume the role of a spotter, offering suggestions on how to better your technique. You may sweat. You may feel the pump in your muscles. You may get injured if you’re not used to using the full range of motion in your hips. You should consult a doctor before beginning Dance Central.

Walk the plank...
The game presents you with a simple concept; do the dance Harmonix tell you to do. A charismatic dancer figure with the build of a Rock Band musician does a dance move in the order displayed on a series of flashcards to the right of the screen. You are graded based on your ability to recreate these maneuvers. The game is alarmingly accurate at reading your motions; I’m sure the Kinect can’t tell how many fingers you’re holding up, or which wall your face is staring at. But the game can very much pick up on the major motions of your arms, legs, hips, torso, shoulders and neck, and thus becomes a stern critic of these joints on the harder difficulties. I learned very recently that Dance Central has a very specific definition for what constitutes a Salsa or a Cabbage Patch, and will not be happy if you swing an arm in the wrong direction. The game initially locks up the Medium and Hard difficulty settings of each song for a very good reason.

It’s very easy at first to blame the Kinect sensor for not scoring you right. You could curse and swear at the technology all you want. But what I found was that you can improve your scores through practice and putting your heart into your dance. You know, like real dancing, or real fitness-related activities. A friend of mine has kicked my ass hard at Dance Central scores because, as she puts it, she tries to be more sexy with her dances. I cannot hope to break her score on Christina Milian’s Dip It Low, and I tried. Jumping into a song for the first time often leads to disaster and head scratching as the player is left wondering what the game considers a “Gank.” Hence, you ought to take the time to enter Break It Down mode, where the game gives you ample chances to practice each move before giving the real song a chance. While I would’ve liked a more versatile practice mode that lets me jump straight to moves I want to practice, (you know, like the Gank!”) the mode here is adequate enough to use for practice.

Dance Central is, admittedly, not as feature-rich as most music games. It’s perhaps best comparable to the original Guitar Hero. Instead of customizable avatar characters, you can choose from pre-built dancers. They include the jock-bitch, the Brit-bitch, the Spanish-dick and my favorite, the Spiritual pretentious man with The Flash’s powers. There is no online play. There is no World Tour mode where you travel throughout a map of the world, increasing an arbitrary number of “fans” who idolize your song covers. The multiplayer mode is merely two people taking turns and competing for points.

 You will move your hips. A lot.
At the same time, the multiplayer potential out of that single mode is higher than you think. This was a game designed to be played by a social bunch eager to kindly mock each other. Like every Kinect game, Dance Central frequently snaps photos of you doing your thing. Every song has a freestyle interlude, where the game just asks you to pounce around like a dancing fool. The game then animates a series of photos taken during this sequence and repeats them to you in a manner specifically designed to look as goofy and ridiculous as possible.

And then you get to the setlist itself. 32 songs does not seem like a large setlist at first, until you realize the time it will take to actually practice and learn each of the moves. (And keep in mind, harder difficulty settings will add newer, more demanding moves.) There’s a decided focus on songs from the last decade, which may or may not be enough for today’s finicky generation of teens that can’t compute anything not recorded on Auto-Tune. At the same time, you’ll quickly learn why each song made its way into the game after performing its routines. There are moves that you will be either glad to revisit (Funkytown) or wishing you forgot about (Salt ‘n Pepa’s song). And while the choices for downloadable content is expanding at a slow rate, you get the sense that Harmonix wants to pump out some gems. As of this typing, you can purchase and dance to “Whoop! There it is!” by Tag Team. Thank you.

Let me outline a scenario: there is a song on this game called “Teach Me How To Jerk.” I initially had great difficulty learning how to jerk, as jerking required frequently twisting my knees at odd angles and sliding across the floor. I had to roll up the carpeting off my floor in order to give my joints a smooth enough surface to jerk off of. I also had to do a lot of practice in order to master jerking myself off of. But I ultimately got the upper hand on how to jerk, and my lady friend got a real good laugh at all of the time I spent jerking myself off.

If that does not sound appealing to you at all, then you don’t want Dance Central. You want to get back to sitting on the couch and sipping on your soda of choice while playing your favorite military shooter. Dance Central is a game for people that want something more upbeat than that. Something that requires a little work, a lot of movement and a lot of laughs at the expense of themselves and others. Thus, I’ll constitute it as one of my favorite games of 2010.

4 stars 
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