Ubisoft and Microsoft have become heated rivals in the yearly dance game arena, a clash not seen since the days of EA and 2K duking it out over NFL. Ubisoft proclaims Just Dance the “world’s #1 best-selling dance game”, so Microsoft advertises Dance Central as the “#1 best-selling dance franchise on Kinect”. Microsoft locks in Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” and Ubisoft gets the rights for “Beauty and the Beat”. While one-upping each other on Bieber may not be the best way to sell games, it’s clear that both franchises are being developed with the intention of outdoing the other. Facing perhaps the best Just Dance yet, Microsoft plans to top it with new features, the largest tracklist yet and, believe it or not, a story.
That’s right: Dance Central 3 has a story. An evil genius named Dr. Tan has revealed his plan to attack the world of Dance Central. The only way to stop him? Keep on dancing! You’re recruited into “Dance Central Intelligence” (clever names abound) to travel through time and use sick moves to rescue an undercover crew trapped in each era from the ‘70s onward. Time-travel is accomplished by a boombox conduit named “Boomy” (we can’t make this stuff up). All told, it’s an excuse for an excess of retro music. After a brief intro, the remainder of the plot unfolds through ten second back-and-forth quips before or after songs. Still, if you need a reason to infuse a game with old music, it might as well be as ludicrous as possible.
Gameplay in Dance Central 3 remains the same as past entries. After selecting a song, players simply use their bodies to mimic the on-screen movement of virtual dancers and silhouette boxes. The more accurate the steps, the better the score. Featuring real choreography, the game is more specific about nailing the moves than other dance titles, with things like red lines forming around body parts of the dancer that aren’t being moving correctly. The Kinect tracks movements very accurately and it’s rarity to ever feel cheated.
To the credit of Harmonix, this remains the most polished dance game on any console. Rather than trying to capture the feel of a party, Dance Central replicates the aesthetics of a night club. From the moment the menus appear, it oozes style. Fonts shine, colors burst of the screen and the entire experience features a visually pleasing purple/blue color scheme. Progressing through menus is done by swiping your hand when the desired option is selected; very accurate and preferable over Just Dance’s “giant pointing hand” system.
While gameplay remains as strong as ever, there is some bad music in here. Sure, crummy tunes can be fun to dance to; Just Dance 4 uses them as a laughable way to become the life of a party (à la fumbling through karaoke). The issue here, however, is that Dance Central 3 is a game that requires practice and patience, making it so players will find themselves replaying “Ice Ice Baby” twenty times to nail the moves. Dancing around like a moron to a bad song is fun; trying to perfect serious choreography is not.
It seems like Harmonix sculpted the entire game around incorporating retro (I’m not using the word “classic” where the “Macarena” is involved) music. With all that effort, one would think more would have gone into soundtrack selection. The ‘80s, for instance, are entirely based on “street dancing” with songs like “You Got It,” “Da Butt,” and “Let the Music Play”. Not to knock “freestyle,” but why not use new wave? Put the game into a seedy, neon lit club with Talking Heads blaring and not only do you have have some genuinely good songs, but music ripe for lively choreography.
That being said, there are some good songs in here, and the ones that aren’t straight-up annoying tend to be fun to dance to. Dev’s “Bass Down Low” and Martin Solveig’s “Hello” and are personal highlights, with “Disco Inferno” and “Electric Boogie” standouts from the retro selections. While the soundtrack seems to get worse as the series go on, Harmonix has thankfully incorporated the porting of previous tracks into DC3, allowing fans of the series to play every track in the latest package. As the first two (especially the first) Dance Central entries can now be picked up cheap, it’s an exceptional feature that makes Dance Central 3 worth picking up for those who have the first games, and the first games worth picking up for those who have Dance Central 3.
If you can only buy one dance game this holiday season — get another job. Even though they have the same core concept, similar soundtracks and were released within a week of each other, Dance Central and Just Dance are very different beasts. More fun can be had at parties with Just Dance, but the richness of Dance Central makes it the clear winner for those going it alone or serious about learning authentic moves. It may not have the best soundtrack, but Dance Central 3 is polished, packed with content and utilizes the Kinect better than any other dance game.
Platform: Xbox 360 (Kinect)