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It wasn’t too long ago that I was walking through a Best Buy store and I saw this amazing game for the PS2. It had a plastic guitar and kids were jamming to classic riffs. Crowds gathered and people waited through several songs just to have a turn playing this game, which was called Guitar Hero. Of course, that game went on to spawn several sequels, all with additional features that made the experience a richer and deeper one. But there was something magical about that first Guitar Hero – the first time you actualy felt like you were jamming like a rock star. Harmonix, the makers of that genre-defining title are at it again, and this time instead of giving you a plastic guitar and a smokey club to play in, you’re under the lights of a fancy disco, showing off your moves with the latest in gaming technology. Their game is Dance Central and like the first Guitar Hero, it comes packed with a ton of magic that makes you feel like a superstar.
You can’t start talking about Dance Central without first talking about Kinect. Despite what you might think about Microsoft’s salvo into the world of casual gaming, with strong initial sales reports one can say that this new tech is here to stay. Microsoft’s ad campaign was strong as well, with multiple packed demonstration stations at the mall. The curiosity got the best of me, and I decide that it was time for me to join the casual gaming revolution and grab a Kinect. So, with a stack of Best Buy Reward Zone coupons in hand, I grabbed a Kinect unit (and my Blu-ray copy of Kick Ass) on Black Friday. I was hoping to grab a free copy of Dance Central from Old Navy at midnight, but realized that I don’t wear Old Navy. So instead, I went to Mr. Craig and his List and contacted one of the many brave souls who had gotten this game for free and had no idea what it was. I paid only $30 and I got to sleep in…not too shabby.
Setup of the unit took about a half hour and I was immediately impressed with how accurate it was with recognizing people and the surroundings in my living room. In the bottom corner is an image of what your connect sees, and as I moved my arms Kinect tracked them quite well. I even did some things sitting down! There was some initial lag with Kinect Adventures, but I found that if I stepped father back the unit would respond better. I also noticed that the more I played, the tighter the controls became. As a pack-in game, Kinect Advenures was okay, but nothing to write home about. But yet it had just enough fun activities to get my family excited about Kinect. With the excitement around the unboxing of the new toy, it was time to get serious. It was time for Dance Central.
I had heard many great thing about Dance Central and even got to play with it a bit at the Minnesota State Fair. The game places you in several different dance venues as myriad characters teach you how to groove to some dance tunes. The moves you are to perform scroll up on the right side of the screen and a small circle underneath your character indicates how well you have done. Miss part of the step and the part of the body that you aren’t hitting well will glow red, indicating you need to work on that area. The moves start out slow and easy with lots of opportunity to master them. But as you move up the difficulty, things get much more challenging. The game comes with 32 songs that are all unlocked and progress in difficulty. This may not seem like much, but each difficulty adds new moves and a new routine, giving you over 650 moves and 90 routines.
That’s cool, but is it fun? In a word…YEAH! First, the tech of Kinect just works in this game. The hand controls for selecting menus are quite intuitive and very tight. There is something very cool about controlling the menu like Tom Cruise in Minority Report. No waiting for the select circle to light up; just wave and go. Second, the game teaches you how to dance and in no time flat you’ll start to feel like you too can kick Bristol Palin’s ass in a danceoff. Simply follow what the character is doing onscreen and you’ll catch on in no time. here is even a freestyle segment in every routine where you can just bust a move and do whatever. Kinect will capture pictures of this craziness and play it back for you immediately afterward. I dare you not to smile, especially at your non-dancing friend who’s trying to look cool. Next, there are leaderboards so you can compete against your friends. (I finished a routine and felt pretty good about it, until I saw that Lefty Brown had scored higher than I did. Sorry Lefty, but it’s ON!) Finally the music is very upbeat and recognizable. Whether you grew up on disco or are into the new Latin craze, there is something for you here in this game.
Now, there are some drawbacks to Dance Central. First off, only one person can dance and be tracked at a time. Of course, you can have everyone in the living room copy the moves, but only one person can score. I was more than a bit shocked at this as even Kinect Adventures allows for multiple players at once. The game makes up for this with a two person Dance Battle mode where players take turns on the same song. Dance Battle is wicked fun, but I would rather of had my competitor dancing with me. Second, there is no real story mode. Now in fairness, the first Guitar Hero never really had much of a story either. But in the iterations to come, players have become used to the idea of creating their own avatar and progessing through the songs to some end. Let’s hope that in future renditions we can have these features added to this franchise as it’s very much missed in this game.
Finally, and this more of a warning than a game drawback, you will sweat playing this game. And I don’t mean sweat just a little bit, but more like buckets of sweat. Anybody doing dance aerobics for exercise should already know this, but dancing is becoming a more legitimate way to lose weight. I’ve dropped well over 30 pounds myself after taking up Zumba, so I had some idea that this would not be a passive activity. But I was presently suprised at how everyone in my family had to start taking off their coats and sweaters five minutes into the game. So be comfortable when playing Dance Central as it will give you a decent workout. There is even a workout feature in the game that will track how many calories you burn playing the game. (Expect about 600 per hour of gameplay).
Now I’ll admit, I’ve loved music and dancing ever since I was kid hanging out at the local roller rink. But you don’t have to love dancing to appreciate this game. In fact, I think that it’s actually more fun if you don’t consider yourself to be a good dancer at all and you allow Dance Central to do what it does best…magically whisk you away into an environment you didn’t expect and allow yourself to become a dancing superstar. It’s a must-have game for any Kinect owner!