Dance Central is not only a good use of the Kinect, it is the best use of the Kinect. You don’t have to take my word for it – Dance Central is the #1 title purchased with the peripheral. With the Kinect itself clearing 8 million sales in less than 60 days, there is no doubt that a good chunk of that resulted in plenty of folks shakin’ their ass in front of their Xbox 360. Even Reggie Fils-Amis, President of Nintendo of America was quoted as saying “Dance Central is, by far, the best Kinect game.” Harmonix, post self-purchase, has jumped back to the front of the Kinect pack with Dance Central 2. Not content to rest on their collective laurels, they’ve brought what they’ve learned with the Rock Band series, mixed in a whole bunch of fan feedback, and tossed in a whole bunch of new songs and features. Dust off your Kinect – Harmonix is ready to pull us off our couches once again!
“I like big butts and I cannot lie.”
The first thing that Harmonix learned was that just because you are playing the sequel doesn’t mean you should have to abandon the previous title. Just like Rock Band, think of Dance Central not as the game, but the platform in which you play the game. For 5 bucks you can import all 32 songs from the previous title into Dance Central 2, and all DLC you’ve grabbed will immediately work with this title. By the time you read this, there will already be over 100 songs on the store, in addition to the 40+ tracks on the disc.
As I’ve said for pretty much every music title I’ve reviewed, the soundtrack makes or breaks the game. The tracks for Dance Central 2 include The Humpty Dance, Sandstorm, This Is How We Do It, Rude Boy, Like a G6, Born this Way, and Baby Got Back, just to name a few. Even if you aren’t big into the R&B or Techno scene, you’ve likely heard of some or all of these tracks. The songs that might be outside of your musical bailiwick are still very ‘dance-able’. I did find music that I found impossible to tolerate, let alone to enjoy dancing to. In the original game the prize went to Crank That by Soulja Boy, and now Nicki Minaj earns the title with Massive Attack in Dance Central 2. If you are a fan of either track, I mourn your dreadful lack of musical taste.
The great news about the imported and DLC tracks is that they can and do take full advantage of the new gameplay modes introduced by Dance Central 2. The biggest change is the addition of a head-to-head Dance Battle. This mode lets you and a friend dance simultaneously in a battle to nab the most points. Just like in Rock Band, players can (and probably will) play on two different difficulties, but since there is more focus on pulling off each move precisely, the difficulty level selected doesn’t matter as much. The import couldn’t be simpler – you redeem the code from your original Dance Central manual (I got one of the copies with a card as it wasn’t printed on the manual – hope you kept that little thing!), download a 202mb file, and then look for the tracks that say “DC” next to them. Even though you can turn off photos and “Freestyle” in DC2 tracks, the songs for DC1 were balanced with those items in there – you’ll still see the Freestyle section, but it won’t take you out for the herky-jerky awkward-fest if you’ve disabled them in the options.
While you’ve got two people in front of the Kinect, you should probably try out the new Free For All mode. This minigame mode gives players a list of moves on the top of the screen, and each person ‘captures’ one of the moves until the end of the round. The player with the most captured moves wins. There are gold moves to collect that are worth far more points than any others, so nabbing those is key to turning things around if you are running behind.
In another obvious nod to Rock Band, there is now a story-driven mode called Crew Challenge. This mode gives players the chance to dance with the various new crews. Doing well earns you stars, and earning enough will impress the duo for that crew. Impressing them means you can try the “boss battle” which, if you do well, will let you rep for that crew. Similar to Rock Band, there are challenges that you can complete to unlock new dancers, outfits, crews, and even some boss battles to unlock other characters. The final boss battle reminds me of Rock Band’s Endless Setlist (or as we call it, the Iron Bladder challenge) as you’ll play 5 tracks in a row, needing 4 stars on each to move to the next track. If your primary complaint with the previous title was a lack of cohesive structure, here is your chance at a ‘story-esque’ mode.
“When we drink we do it right gettin slizzard”
It isn’t all new features with Dance Central 2 – there have been some fan-fueled overhauls as well. Break It Down mode gets a rebuild, letting players practice on specific moves that are giving them trouble, rather than having to repeat the entire section. If you have a few items, you can simply create a list to work on. If there is a particular move you are struggling with, you can record it and compare it to the dancer on screen to try to understand what isn’t working for you. Using the voice commands you can just say “Xbox, Previous” to keep working on a move. You can even slow it down or speed it up until you finally nail it. You no longer have to play through 6 other moves to figure out that one that is killing your score.
Another simple addition is something we’ve also seen in Rock Band – the ability to jump in at will. If you are dancing in any song and a second player wants to jump in, they need only step in front of the Kinect and wave their right hand. You’ll join the song immediately, but you are going to do so on the same difficulty setting, so be ready! The great thing with drop in is that you don’t have to exit and re-select a special mode – everything is labeled with either a single player or multiplayer icon. If you want to just step in and dance together, just jump in. If you want to back out, just do exactly that. You don’t have to fool with profiles, recognition, or anything else. At our little party we had a bunch of folks jumping in and out at will without any issues.
I’m not 100% sure if it is tuning in the game to work with the Kinect more effectively, a little practice on my part, or some combination therein (my money is on the game) but it seems that the camera is much better at picking up the motions of the folks in front of it. Even songs that I had that I had difficulty with in DC1 seemed smoother in DC2. I was able to 4 star a song on Hard that had otherwise crushed me. It seems that Easy is a bit more approachable this time, which is a good thing for new players.
Another great addition to Dance Central is the ability to control the game with your voice. The original title was all about using gestures, but often times I ended up grabbing a controller for some of the finer control points. Dance Central 2 allows you to use commands like “Xbox, Dance” to bring up the song list, “Song, Random” for an obvious selection, and most importantly “Xbox, Pause”. While you can’t do longer commands like “Xbox, main menu” or “Xbox, back”, you can use a controller or the same hand movements as the previous title. Having used this tech in other Kinect games like UFC Personal Trainer, it is nice to see it make it to the Dance Central series.
Especially in titles like UFC Personal Trainer, Kinect has proven itself as a calorie burning contender. Nowhere is it more fun, however, than in Dance Central. Dance Central 2 continues the tradition, giving players the ability to use pre-made fitness playlists, or even customize their own selecting up to 20 tracks for a full burn.
The last two things I noticed about DC2 were a bit more subtle. With DC1 I was occasionally confused with the hand motions that the avatars were trying to show me. DC2 has some subtle light contrails that give you a better look at what is expected of you. It’s subtle, as I said, but I found myself immediately doing better without an additional ounce of conscious effort. To test this theory, I skipped the tutorials and went straight into the dance, 5 and 4 starring them on my first attempt. Let me assure you, I have absolutely no dance background, so that is a testament to the game mechanics. Just having the ability to skip the tutorials is a huge win already – it makes much more sense for a party environment. Also helping to keep the party environment going is the new sorting option – it lets players find tracks by difficulty, artist, and alphabetically.
Visually, if you’ve seen Dance Central you’ve pretty much seen Dance Central 2 – at least in screenshots. What I noticed fairly quickly is that the animation has gotten a nice overhaul, as has the load time. The game now loads inside of 2 seconds, and all of the characters in the game look far smoother than they did before. The framerate it locked, even when tracking two people.
With all of these additions, I was surprised to see something disappear – the percentage. For whatever reason, the game no longer gives you a percentage value to tell you how you did, leaving you the stars that appear on the boombox and the point values as your only indicator of success. This was an odd omission, to be sure. In its place you are given a list of how many times you hit a perfect or an almost perfect with little gems as indicators.
“Baby I like it!”
Every once in a while you do a review and at the end you sit back and say “Uh…is there anything wrong with this game?”. Dance Central 2 is almost flawless and that says a lot. While some of the little nagging issues with the Kinect hardware persist (lighting, space, etc.) and are compounded when you have two people in front of it, the game has gotten both more adaptive and intuitive. General polish and subtle improvements bookend larger ones like drop-in / drop-out cooperative play and smoother choreography. Bonuses like voice commands, the ability to turn off Freestyle, and the revamp of Break It Down are just clear indicators that Harmonix listens to their fans. It isn’t very often you get a sequel that improves in so many areas without changing too much, but it is clear that Dance Central is worthy of your precious holiday dollars. Get off your couch and join us as we make fools of ourselves for fun once again!