When Dance Central debuted on Xbox 360, it was effectively the only reason to own a Kinect. Of course, most early Xbox One adopters have the latest Kinect and little to do with it. As such, Dance Central Spotlight launched at just the right time – before everyone starts getting Kinect-less systems. How does it compare to past entries? Does it evolve itself enough to still be worth a purchase after three iterations? Yes, there are changes, but whether or not you’ll find them good or bad depends on your stance toward DLC.
Before delving into that can of worms, let’s look over the basic mechanics of Dance Central Spotlight. In the game players are presented with a character dancing on-screen and must match their moves. Cards on the right side of the screen prompt what dance move is coming next. There’s no need for any peripherals other than the Kinect as it tracks bodies with surprising accuracy. Each song grades players on their performance with a five star ranking system. If successful enough, different routines for the same song are unlocked – with eight in all for each. Two player, which has been available since Dance Central 2, is also available here. A second player simply has to stand next to the first to be recognized for play.
As always, being recognized by the Kinect sensor is surprisingly accurate. Some dance routines even appear to include things that would not be recognized by the previous camera iteration (hand gestures, for example). When you’re notified of failing to do dance moves exactly it’s almost always your fault. This distinction has always made Dance Central harder than its Just Dance brethren, but many players enjoy it for that reason. A multitude of difficulty settings attempt to make the game fun for everyone. Each release continues to raise the bar for what is needed to be the best “real” dancing simulator.
Beyond the standard dancing mode there’s also a new fitness mode to track calories. Fitness mode sees changes that honestly should have been there from the very beginning. This includes the ability to choose what kind of workout you want (cardio or strength focused) and specify a duration from 10 to 90 minutes. It’s also possible to tweak information about your height and weight so the system can more accurately track calories burned. While in fitness mode a small counter flips between showing a calorie count and how much time is left on your exercise session. No breaks are built into the routine though, which means you have to pause the game yourself if one is needed.
The most surprising facet of Dance Central Spotlight isn’t small tweaks to fitness mode, but the game’s price. It’s available as a download-only title for $9.99 in comparison to its full-priced siblings. The reason for this is obvious once the song library is opened. There are only ten songs available. Of course, the default song selection does have popular tracks such as “Happy” by Pharrell Williams and “Diamonds” by Rihanna. Those who wish to actually enjoy the game (aka, dancing to more than ten tracks) must shell out additional cash for DLC. Harmonix have always been skilled at regularly releasing popular DLC and the shop is already packed full for launch. Both songs that were available as DLC before and brand new tracks are available for $1.99 each. Discounts can be had for buying artist track packs (Calvin Harris, Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, etc).
Dance Central Spotlight’s initial cheap cost could be considered a bargain as the difference can be made up à la carte. After all, there are always some songs in Dance Central that would never be played. The positioning of a new game with only ten songs doesn’t sit right with some, though. It seems to be a release reliant on capturing additional funds through DLC. Whatever side you fall on, the DLC content is high quality as each song includes eight routines just like base songs. DLC purchased in the previous games can be imported for free. Unfortunately, there’s no way to import on-disc libraries from past games to this version as they did with Rock Band games.
Dance Central began as a simple game with engaging, realistic dance-based play when it first launched. Since then, there has been a devoted effort to keep the series going — but with little innovation. When the biggest highlight of a new release is a revamped fitness mode, that’s not a big lure. Gameplay has been refined on each outing, but that alone doesn’t drive continued interest. Dance Central Spotlight will be a hard pill to swallow for the legions of rhythm fans burnt out on Rock Band DLC, but will suit those who’ve accepted DLC culture just fine. Cost-conscious gamers should proceed with caution because that $10 purchase price is just the beginning.
Platform: Xbox One