I’m just gonna go ahead and say it:
Dance Central is the killer app for Microsoft’s Kinect.
Now, I know what you might be thinking.”Dance games are for kids and girls! They’re silly and lame!” Hear me out here. You know those choreographed dances in a Lady GaGa or Justin Timberlake music video? Say what you want about the music itself, but you gotta at least admit that the moves are kinda cool to watch, especially when a bunch of people are doing them in unison. What if I told you that there’s a game that would not only teach you and your friends how to dance like that, but would do so even if you had ZERO dancing ability to begin with. Isn’t that something that at least piques your interest?
Harmonix’s Dance Central is that game.
Think of it kinda like Rock Band, only your body is the instrument. (Well, if you want to get technical, the Kinect is actually the plastic instrument you have to buy.)
Dance games have been attempted before, but they were generally confined to sequences of steps on a mat (Dance Dance Revolution) or waving around an input controller (Just Dance). As many people would attest to, this is “dancing” as much as Guitar Hero is “playing the guitar.” Let’s face it, if you walk in on a room of people are playing DDR, they’re going to look pretty silly. However, if you walked into a room of people playing Dance Central, you might think they’re actually training as a real dance crew.
Using the full body tracking abilities of Microsoft’s Kinect, Dance Central lets you do a full range of motions with your body and hands free while scoring you on how accurately you perform the routine presented to you during each song. Honestly, I couldn’t have cared less about my score. It was just so much fun performing the moves that I found myself ignoring the score tally and just losing myself in the music and figuring out the moves. If the game didn’t even have a scoring system, I doubt a lot of casual players would notice. Nevertheless, I imagine once the novelty wears off, scoring highly will be a strong motivator to perform better as a dancer. As a gaming connoisseur, this excites me because it’s a game genre that has heretofore been impossible to fully replicate in a home environment. As a human being, this will excite you because its so intuitive and easy to get into.
All the songs in the game are original, licensed music. I had a hands on demonstration with Lady GaGa’s “Just Dance“ and Lipps Inc’s “Funkytown.” Other tracks I saw on the menu screen included Beastie Boys’ “Body Movin’,” No Doubt’s “Hella Good” and Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” Harmonix promises a song selection that spans a diverse set of genres from hip-hop, to funk, reggae, pop, and more. The Harmonix producer I spoke with also touted the fact that many of the dance routines include the same moves from songs’ original music videos.
Now, I couldn’t dance my way out of a box, but after my hands on with Dance Central at the Harmonix booth, I felt I had a decent shot within seconds after starting up “Just Dance.” The dance moves are intuitive and generally easy to understand. Granted, I was on “easy” difficulty, but I’ve also never danced a step in my life that didn’t involve the number “two.” Gameplay involves a sequence of dance moves that scroll on the right side, kind of like the wheel on The Price Is Right. Your goal is to duplicate the highlighted move in the center, while preparing for upcoming moves by looking further down the wheel. The game will give you feedback in the form of red highlights on your on screen avatar’s body depending on where you’re messing up. Perform moves accurately and your score will go up along with Harmonix’s standard 5-star rating system. Many songs also incorporate a “freestyle” section as well, where everyone dancing just kinda does their own thing, as a psychedelic background plays on screen. The Kinect camera records all the action and shows you on screen. It felt a little gimmicky, but was still a neat feature.
I ran into a couple of instances where I couldn’t really tell what a particular dance move entailed. While a friendly Harmonix dancer was there at E3 to coach me on what to do, there clearly won’t be a bundled dancer when the game ships this holiday. Fortunately there’s a practice mode called “Break It Down” where you can practice each individual dance move more slowly and in detail. These instances are few and far between, especially in easier difficulty settings, so I wouldn’t worry too much about difficulty putting a crimp in your dance party gatherings. Most of the moves are very intuitive and easy to perform.
My only other concern was with the menu system, namely the fact that it took multiple confirmations and long, methodical hand swipes to pick a song and difficulty. This may be more of an issue with the Kinect in general as I noticed similar issues with other titles as well. It’s not a dealbreaker; it’s just kind of annoying because using a controller to pick options would just be plain faster. Hopefully this is something Microsoft and Harmonix work on before the Kinect launch.
While many people were on stage dancing at the same time, the E3 demo of Dance Central only tracked one player for the game. It was able to track a person behind in silhouette form as well, but only the first player was scored. Harmonix mentioned that there would be “multiplayer dance battles,” but it sounded as if this would be limited to two scored players. It’s kind of a bummer, but not as much of a deal breaker as you would think. You can still have a group of friends do a routine with you in front of the camera, they just won’t be scored. Think of them as your backup dancer crew. It’ll probably be a good thing at parties, too, as it’ll be more welcoming for some of the more shy people to get involved.
Add all of it up and you have a strongly compelling game experience if you have any interest in music or dancing. The only thing that might keep you away is the $150 Kinect device buy-in price or if you really have no desire to move your body under any circumstance. If you’re at all intrigued by Kinect, though, you owe it to yourself to take a good long look at Harmonix’s Dance Central.