XBOX 360 Review: Dance Central
Titles such as Konami's Dance Dance Revolution and Ubisoft's Just Dance have proven that there is a market for dance centric video games. Despite their successes, dancing games up to this point have never been able to fully capture dancing in its entirety and required a peripheral, be it a dance pad or a hand held motion controller. Through the power of Kinect, Harmonix's Dance Central alleviates all the functional issues surrounding past dancing titles and delivers not only the best dancing game to date but the best Kinect game as well.
Dancing is a far cry from rocking out in your living room holding your plastic guitar controller but Harmonix's previous work with the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises laid the perfect foundation for what Dance Central is. Instead of doing timed button presses in time with the music on a small arsenal of plastic instruments, Dance Central requires players to move their body in time with the music based on a series of choreographed moves and while it may be the Microsoft slogan for the Kinect hardware, this game really does make you the controller.
The routines in Dance Central are heavily choreographed and while one could just jump right in and perform them, it would be best to learn the moves before hand. Harmonix has included the Break it Down mode, which is basically a dance lesson for each song that will teach you the moves needed. If you are having trouble with a particular move you can slow it down and try to perform it at a slower pace before stepping up your game and doing it in real time.
Much like early Guitar Hero titles, Dance Central separates it's content into a tiers of different difficulties. Unlike those early Guitar Hero titles though, Dance Central does not lock any of the music content away from users. This is great because otherwise, myself and a ton of other users would never get a chance to play the majority of the content because many people are going to find Dance Central to be a very challenging game and locking content could have made it go from fun to frustrating,
However as fantastic as it is to have everything unlocked from the get go it does very much kill a game's progression and so Harmonix has delivered progression via the difficulty levels. Dance Central has three difficulty levels, Easy, Medium and Hard but the player cannot start out on Hard and instead needs to complete the song sufficiently on Easy and then Medium before they can really kick it. Each increase in difficulty adds more moves to master, effectively providing each song with three separate dance routines to learn and master.
Obviously Dance Central is a very active game and as much as it puts the player through a workout, it also puts the Kinect hardware through one. Fortunately the Kinect is up to the challenge set forth and out of all the Kinect launch titles, Dance Central suffers the least from input lag and it does a great job of tracking your movements scoring you on how well you perform them as well as your timing. It isn't always perfect though as I was able fool the system into thinking I was able to do the Merengue by doing what was best described by my wife and daughter as a deranged version of the Funky Chicken.
Deranged chicken dances aside, Dance Central is a blast to play and features a fantastic soundtrack of old and new dance songs but it is also very much a first generation music game. There is no single player campaign to speak of and aside from special challenges at the end of each difficulty tier there is not much to do outside of performing the 30 plus songs, a rather low number for a modern day rhythm game, and a simplistic multiplayer battle dance mode, that is more fun in theory than in actual execution.
In fact if there is a major complaint against the game it would be that Dance Central is a very solo experience and it goes against the very nature of club dancing. The Battle Dance mode has players alternating between their turns but there is never a time when two players are performing routines at the same time. The Kinect hardware is most likely to blame for this because move detection drops by half when you have another player in the mix but it is a shame because Dance Central had the potential to be a huge hit at parties.
Regardless of its first generation deficiencies and lack of real multiplayer Dance Central delivers the best pure dancing experience on a video game console to date and beats out all the other Kinect games in terms of quality and polish. It is a showpiece game and if you own a Kinect it belongs in your library.