Hands-free, controller-free, skeptic-free.
Anyone who tells you that the Kinect is just a gimmick either hasn't played Dance Central or sucks at dancing and doesn't want to admit it. Even our resident Kinect-pessimist Blake made a quick 180 (pirouette) when he had the chance to play the game at Comic-Con. He burned the floor, shook his shake, and put on his poker face at Comic-Con. That might be because he was dancing with a girl cosplaying in a squirrel outfit, but that's besides the point.
[image1]Compared to other dancing titles, Dance Central is by far the most approachable, more than DDR which needs a dance pad and Just Dance which needs players to hold Wii-motes. Beyond the urban club song list, bringing together pop, salsa, house, techno, and hip-hop, it's as casual as games get. All you need to do is stand in front of the Kinect, go through a few calibration screens, select the song and difficulty (Easy, Medium, Hard) by waving your arms, and then dance by following the characters on-screen. It's that simple.
Each song in each difficulty has a unique, professionally choreographed routine that is broken down into parts that scroll in sequence along the right-hand side of the screen. Each part has a visual and textual clue, like "Say What Arms", "Merengue", or "Hip Swing", to help you understand the move through association. While harder songs require faster, more physical movements involving a fuller range of body motion, there's no rush in becoming a dancing sensation overnight. A "Break It Down" step-by-step tutorial separates and slows down each move in a routine, so that you can learn it at your own pace and perform each move correctly.
Showing off the Kinect's ability to monitor your entire body, the game asks you to mimic the dancers on screen with timing and precision, from the angle of your knee to the sway of your back. Any problems are highlighted in red on the character, encouraging you to improve your body awareness, to stretch and reach and lock and twist. Of course, the choreography isn't going to be anywhere near the level of a Mia Michaels contemporary piece or a Quest Crew hip-hop odyssey - but unless you're already a professional dancer, it will make you break a sweat and push you to move your limbs in ways you never thought you could.
[image2]Trickier moves change up the directional pattern. Where most moves go left, right, left, right, any moves labelled 'D' go left, left, right, left and then right, right, left, right. And anyone looking to become a professional dancer or get through Vegas Week on So You Think You Can Dance can turn on invisible mode, where you have to recall the entire routine from memory.
In cue with other rhythm titles, matching moves correctly awards points, a higher multiplier, and more stars. But the scoring and the subsequent leaderboards are really a novelty that provide a thin, almost see-through veneer to justify the game as, well, a game. Dancing is supposed to be fun, without high scores, and Dance Central agrees. Every song is unlocked on no-fail Easy difficulty - for parties, kids, and grandma - and every song has a freestyle section where the Kinect camera captures whatever you perform and then replays it in a cool flourish.
With multiplayer cooperative modes and Dance Battles that both have players trading off with one another, a tracklist with Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Snopp Dogg, and plans for DLC already on their way, Dance Central looks to be yet another Harmonix hit set to become the life of parties everywhere, when it arrives November 4th. The Kinect is lucky to have Dance Central in its otherwise paltry lineup. In fact, Microsoft should drop Kinect Adventures from the advertised Kinect bundle in favor of Dance Central instead. Now that's one step we can get behind.