You should be dancin', YEAH!!!
So you've got your hands on the fabled Kinect (and have the necessary space), maybe after you read the reviews for it, maybe on day one, maybe after camping outside the your local GameStop for more than 24 hours while pissed because all those Oprah moms got it first. But what are you going to play? That game that came free with the box? Maybe for a day. What about all those mini-game compilations? A pass. Exercise? That's not a game. How about cute kittycats? Probably when no one's looking. Well, what about dancing? Umm... I'm just going to sit this one...
[image1]Don't even finish that sentence! You may have two left feet - and two right hands, for that matter - but there's no game that justifies the Kinect like Dance Central. (And hey, we dance like fools, so you can too!) Nearly all of the other Kinect launch titles experience terrible lag, have slow interfaces, and don't really track your body in real-time as much as they want you to match a point in space - all issues which Dance Central sidesteps with ease.
Perhaps the best feature of the game has nothing to do with dancing: the hand-swiping interface. To select an option, you simply hold out your right arm to highlight the item and swipe across your chest. To go back to a previous menu, you use your left arm instead. Why it takes a third-party developer like Harmonix - who to its credit has proven to be a genius in the rhythm genre - to understand how to use the Kinect technology properly is beyond me.
As a vessel for Kinect, Dance Central is the natural follow-up and perfect response to Just Dance for Wii. You can immediately jump into both games without any backstory, and attempt to match the dancing character in the center of the screen with the aid of scrolling flashcards on the right hand-side of the screen. What grade you receive after completing the song depends on how well your movements synchronize with the character. The more difficult the song, the more intricate and physically demanding the dance becomes.
Of course, due to the technological limitations of the Wii and Wii-mote, Just Dance can only guess at how well players are actually moving. Flailing your arms can register as a "perfect", and actually performing the moves correctly can register as an "okay". But since the Kinect monitors key joints on your body, moving and twisting your limbs in Dance Central is far from a crapshoot. Any body part that isn't in sync with the on-screen character is highlighted red, so if you're not getting a high star rating, there's usually a good reason for it.
[image2]Since you're matching the animations of a character instead of moving an on-screen avatar in real-time, the lag between your movements and the camera is suppressed. There's obviously some information processing that needs to happen, but any lag remains hidden. And since the system tracks your limbs accurately, you can't cheat the game, and the game can't cheat you. Better yet, you are actually learning dance moves that you can tactfully use at the dance club.
The 32-song tracklist has a fine mix of hip-hop, rap, techno, and house songs, all of which have dance routines that match with the song's flavor and lyrics. There are already extra DLC songs available, and hopefully Harmonix will be able to crank out DLC for Dance Central at least half as frequently as they have with the Rock Band franchise.
As you complete each song, sorted by difficulty in groups of four, you will earn points toward your ranking. It's a simple progression system that unlocks additional costumes and venues (and one cool robot). All songs are already unlocked on Easy, so parties are good to go right from the start, but to play the harder difficulties for a song, you need to earn at least three stars on the song's easier difficulties, and for good reason. Learning the choreography the first time through can be difficult for even trained dancers.
However, there is room for improvement that Harmonix should heed for the inevitable "Dance Central 2". The "Break It Down" trainer is straightforward and takes you through each section and step, allowing you to slow down the choreography to make sure you nail it all. But the lack of navigation means that you can't practice one particular step or do a quick practice run-through. And for some reason, you can't retry the recaps for each section.
As for flashcards, they don't show how many beats they last. Most flashcards last four beats by default, but they will frequently cut to two beats during Medium and Hard routines which have faster transitions. Just a simple number or symbol in the corner to indicate how long they last would do wonders. [It's been brought to our attention that every flashcard has a beat of four. We apologize for the screw-up. However, this doesn't meant that the flashcards don't have flaws. ~Ed. Nick]
As for flashcards, each one represents a particular move like "Say What Arms" for four counts and only four counts. For routines on harder difficulties, they could change up the counts to three or two, if not just to seamlessly include songs that aren't all in counts of four for future tracklists. Also, the way the flashcards scroll could be customized more deeply. The only setting is for them to scroll on the right hand-side while taking up a little more than a quarter of the screen, and since you're supposed to be focused on the character, having to glance over to the side of the screen can take you out of the groove. An option to have them smaller or scrolling along the left, top, or the bottom of the screen would make the experience more personalized and more engrossing.
Multiplayer is limited to Dance Battles, where you and another player take turns performing each section and comparing scores at the end. It's understandable that the system only tracks one person since the Kinect technology is so new, but let's hope that it can track two people in the future (without having them smack each other). The potential for synchronicity, mirroring, switch patterns, and partner work is almost overwhelming.
None of its flaws, though, detract Dance Central from justifying Kinect and revolutionizing the rhythm dance genre. It spearheads not just a movement in new video game technology, but also the inherent connection between dance and downright fun. Though you'll be sweating after three full routines, it doesn't feel like exercise, or aerobics simply set to music. Above all, Microsoft should be thanking Harmonix for showing them how to work with their own products and how to take a step in the right direction.