Even a year after the initial launch of the Kinect hardware, Harmonix’s Dance Central still remains one of the most compelling reasons to own Microsoft’s motion-sensing hardware. While this certainly speaks in part to the paucity of great experiences the Kinect has produced since then, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Dance Central did for shakin’ your rump what Guitar Hero and Rock Band did for making you feel like a rock star. Even if you’ve got two left feet and you’d never survive on an actual dance floor, you can still feel like a lock-poppin’ bad-ass in your living room, working up a decent sweat in the process. Dance Central 2 doesn’t reinvent this particular wheel, but it improves upon it with new features that range from using simple voice commands to queue up your favorite tracks to two-player simultaneous play. Dance Central 2 doesn’t feel as ambitious as the original Dance Central, though that’s admittedly asking a lot, since it still manages to fully replace its predecessor in every meaningful way.
Keeping with the Harmonix ethos of treating its games like platforms to be built upon, existing Dance Central players can seamlessly use any existing DLC they’ve purchased in Dance Central 2, and for a $5 fee, they can import all of the songs from the first game as well. Even if you haven’t already indulged in DLC, or this is your first Dance Central, the 44 tracks included on the disc are ample enough. Although it’s a fresh group of songs, the makeup of the Dance Central 2 playlist doesn’t stray too far from the tone established by the first game, with a distinct focus on modern club hits, and enough recognizable, older dance hits to keep the mix accessible. For every Donna Summer or Bobby Brown song, there’s a gaggle of David Guetta, Pitbull, and Usher tracks, but even if you don’t know the songs, they remain highly danceable.
This is partially because Harmonix has chosen a collection of really catchy tunes, regardless of era, but most of the credit has to go to the intuitive instruction and constant feedback of DC2’s dancing system, inherited almost whole-cloth from the first game. The idea is simple--you square up with a digital avatar, mimicking their moves with the help of a set of constantly rotating flash-cards--the flash-cards giving you the basic idea of what the next move will look like, and the avatar filling in the rest. If you’re not quite hitting your marks, the offending body parts will light up with a red outline, making it easier to adjust as is necessary. It feels roughly as responsive and accurate as it did in the original Dance Central, which may sound like faint praise, but without the strength of the game’s motion-recognition and its ability to provide you meaningful feedback in the moment about what you need to adjust in order to really kill it, the rest of the package would be meaningless.
Dance Central 2 builds on this strong base with some new features that seem so fundamental--like support for two-player simultaneous play, and the structured crew challenge story mode that introduces you to the game’s colorful collection of dance crews--it’s kind of hard to believe they weren’t in the original Dance Central to begin with. There are other additions, like the ability to use voice commands to quickly queue up a track; the ability to build your own custom playlists of songs; the improved flexibility of the instructional Break It Down mode, which makes it easier to single out specific moves in a routine that might have been giving you trouble; or the choice to make the interpretive freestyle sections of a song optional. These only come through iteration, but still have a meaningful impact on the experience. The whole thing feels more complete, and just a little bit slicker, with even flashier presentation, and more personality for the neon-futuristic dance crews.
Dance Central 2 is better than Dance Central, though that margin will vary significantly depending on how dissatisfied you were with the original’s lack of two-player support or a structured story mode to ease you into the experience. Personally, I was happy to just have more Dance Central, but what I got was better than that.