No, Lady Gaga, I'm not sure it's gonna be okay.
No matter what type of gamer you are, be it an RPG diehard, a platformer phenom, or a first-person sharpshooter, you've most likely heard about Ubisoft's Just Dance series. And if you're of legal drinking age, it's likely that at least some playtime has come thanks to alcohol talking to you from inside your glass going, “No, totally! You should definitely play. You're an awesome dancer."
Regardless of your levels of sobriety, Ubisoft's next entry in the series, Just Dance 2016, keeps the party going for both seventh- and eighth-generation consoles. The gameplay hasn't changed: Using your Wii Remote, your PlayStation Move wand, or your body with Kinect, the goal is to mirror the dance moves done on screen by a variety of costumed characters. Points are awarded for accuracy, and bonus points can be scored if someone hooks up a mic (or uses the one on the Wii U Gamepad) and sings along in Karaoke Mode.
Points, aka “mojo,” can be used to unlock new dance routines, remixes, and other locked features. Those gutsy enough can challenge others online in dance challenges, and your routines can be recorded to show off to the world. (No, video of me dancing does not exists. GameRevolution would have to pay me significantly more for that.)
Like the previous entry, Just Dance 2015, this year's installment skews more towards what's hip, hot, and “now” in the music scene. The track list is rife with current and semi-current pop hits such as Meghan Trainor's “All About that Bass,” Ellie Goulding's “Lights,” and Mark Ronson's “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars. Traditionally, classic hits and soundtracks are peppered in to each title, and 2016 includes Grease's “You're the One That I Want,” covers of Barry Manilow's “Copacabana” and Earth, Wind & Fire's “Let's Groove,” and “Under the Sea” from Disney's The Little Mermaid… which is why my living room is all torn up right now as it requires you to perform the number on a couch or a large seat. I'd love to say that was the punchline to a good joke. It's… it's not.
The basic mode is the same as in every title: mirror the dancers on screen with up to six people (now for all consoles—more on that in a bit). The Sweat mode returns for those who want to get a good cardio workout (and you will indeed sweat in these more intense mixes), and Just Dance TV remains active from the last title in case shaking your “groove thang” for your friends just isn't enough attention. New to this entry on eighth-gen consoles is the Dance Quest, 3-song challenges against AI opponents (how do we know they're not cheating though?); Dance Party, a local co-op multiplayer mode with teamwork in mind; and the World Video Challenge mode, where now you can upload your dances and challenge friends or dancers around the world to see who rules the dance floor—or in my case, who sucks the least.
Everything seems pretty routine, but the game has new mechanics, some of which are beneficial, and some which are downright annoying at best and disturbing at worst. One of the new mechanics Ubisoft is championing is the Just Dance Controller App. With this app—which is free from the Apple App Store for iOS 6.0 or higher, or for Android devices with Gingerbread or later operating systems on Google Play, as well as Windows Phones later this year—your smartphone can now be used as a scoring device, using the accelerometer within most modern mobile devices. Essentially it turns your phone into a Wii Remote with a display for pop-up buttons.
The upside to the the Just Dance Controller App is that now all eighth-generation consoles can accommodate six dancers, not just Xbox One with Kinect—which also, thanks to the app, is no longer a requirement to play the game, for those who waited to pick up the console after Microsoft's big Xbox One-Eighty decision not to make the Kinect standard in the console bundle. It also makes browsing menus and selecting tracks far easier. For some odd reason, the Xbox One version (the platform this review is based on) required a lot more controller work—possibly due to the removal of the need for Kinect—so instead of picking up and putting down the controller in between dances, navigating with a smartphone moved seamlessly into dancing with the phone in my hand. And don't we all have our phones glued to our hands most of the time anyway?
The downside is that it's just about as accurate as a Wii-mote, which is to say not always. One of my test tracks with the Just Dance Controller app was one of my personal favorite tunes in the game, Ellie Goulding's “Lights.” With a friend, we attempted the dance both using Kinect and the Just Dance Controller app. Both of us noticed that it was less likely to register our moves on the app, with us scoring a lot more Okays and Xs than the Goods and Perfects via Kinect. Combine that with the fact that due to my current set-up my Kinect is in a sub-prime-but-not-horrible position, and it breeds reason for concern. It's clear that the Ubisoft publicity machine is pushing the app fairly hard, but if that's the case, the accuracy needs to be spot-on. Clearly, it has nothing to do with my dance skills, since I'm friggin' phenomenal.
Another new feature that I can do without—and one that's honestly a bit creepy—is Autodance. During my first dance, “All About that Bass,” I did as instructed and shook what the kids call “what my mama gave me.” (Aren't you proud of me, Mom?) I didn't notice, however, the small red blip in the corner next to the pictograms. When the song was over, I was relatively pleased with my 4 out of 5-star score. All that good feeling was instantly crushed when I was greeted with a recorded video of myself dancing.
The sight was possibly more terrifying than anything Five Nights at Freddy's or Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water could have dreamed of. After I deleted any trace of video capture along with contemplating wiping the whole hard drive clean and/or burning my apartment to the ground, I looked for a way to disable this automatic Satan who had manifested. The option to disable Autodance is there, but it's buried deep within the setting and options menus. I shouldn't have to dig to disable automatic recording. In fact, I shouldn't have to disable it at all; I should have to enable it if for some reason humiliating myself on the Internet is ever a life goal. Frankly, it got a little too “Big Brother Is Watching You” for my tastes. I'm not sure if this is an issue on the Wii U version, but Xbox Once dancers, you've been warned.
However, the icing on the cake is Ubisoft's new mechanism for downloadable songs, Just Dance Unlimited. And much like icing, some may think that it's a great topping, and some may find it makes them sick. Just Dance Unlimited provides the entire library of previous Just Dance titles plus downloadable content for Just Dance 2016 via a subscription service. The cost of the service is dependent on the length of subscription, and anyone who picks up the game gets a free 48-hour trial. It's a good alternative for those who may have missed out on tracks for previous titles, especially on seventh-gen consoles, because you'll never know when you get the sudden urge to do the Time Warp, even if you can't find a copy of Just Dance 4.
But Just Dance Unlimited is an all-or-nothing venture; unlike Dance Central Spotlight's a la carte or bundling options, Ubisoft's subscription services get you the entire catalog, whether or not you want it. So say I wanted to crank up some girl power with my favorite rachets, Kevin Schaller and Blake Peterson, with a little “Bang Bang,” but pretty much hate everything that Katy Perry's ever done, well, too bad for me… in addition to getting “Bang Bang,” I'm paying for “I Kissed A Girl,” “Waking Up in Vegas,” and “Roar.” Downloadable content has been a divisive issue since its introduction to the gamersphere, but when it comes to music/dance titles, it's a welcome addition; its main benefit, though, is selecting and paying for songs you actually wanted. I don't know what you were thinking, Ubisoft, but I can only handle so much Ke$ha.
All in all, Just Dance 2016 is the same Just Dance that millions of party people in varying levels of enthusiasm and sobriety have enjoyed for seven iterations now (not counting the multitude of spin-offs). Nothing's really changed there. What has changed, though, is how badly Ubisoft wants to get in your phone, your living room, and your wallet. It almost reminds me of another Ubisoft title: WATCH_DOGS.
Copy provided by publisher. Review based on Xbox Oen version. Also available for all major seventh- and eighth-gen consoles.