I never thought I’d be reviewing another Just Dance game. While I was an early champion of the series, reviewing multiple entries positively, the series became over-saturated as soon as 2014. Last year’s entry was the straw that broke the camel’s back as it felt like a full-priced demo disc for Ubisoft’s fledgling Just Dance Unlimited. In the review of Just Dance 2016, I made a prediction that there wouldn’t be another physical Just Dance and it’s a prediction that I felt more confident about as the months went on as buzz around the latest title was basically nil. Yet against all odds, Ubisoft did indeed announce yet another installment of the franchise at E3 2016. So here we are a year later with a game that seems even less relevant and has no right to exist.
It’s rare to begin a game review talking about something that’s not technically part of the game, but the looming presence of Just Dance Unlimited is impossible to ignore. Last year Ubisoft had the idea to launch a paid subscription service under the Just Dance moniker that allows players to access hundreds of songs from past games as well as songs exclusive to Unlimited. In a day and age with so much content immediately available at our fingertips, it was a great idea and the logical evolution of the franchise. For $39.99 a year (or the insane $6.99 a month that hopefully nobody has elected to subscribe to), players can access an ever-growing catalogue of songs for the same price as buying the game on disc each year. In a perfect world, this would have replaced yearly physical Just Dance releases altogether, with the music that would be saved for the disc added throughout the year. Sadly, however, Ubisoft has chosen to release two additional physical entries since Unlimited launched, forcing players to pay the subscription rate and an additional $39.99 to get all the new songs that are only on disc.
It seemed as if Ubisoft had spent all of the manpower of their Just Dance development team to work on Just Dance Unlimited last year and threw out 2016 as a last minute afterthought to promote the launch of the new service. Strangely enough, Ubisoft has seemingly taken the opposite approach this year, putting more time into the physical release and denying Unlimited the addition of all of its songs. The fact that the service has now been established for a year makes the release of another Just Dance game completely unnecessary, creating this weird sort of self-competition between the service and the disc-based product.
Just Dance 2017 is basically the same game as its current (and late last) gen predecessors. One new mode has been added called Just Dance Machine and credit must be given to Ubisoft for at least trying to think outside the box. Just Dance Machine features a pair of aliens who’s spaceship run out of batteries as they’re passing by Earth. Desperate to return home, they decide to head to Earth to abduct dancers to dance hard enough to refill their spaceship’s batteries. Although bizarre, it’s a concept that’s never been done before in rhythm games and an example of the innovation the series needs to warrant a another physical release. Unfortunately, though, the mode itself is pointless, tasking players to dance to five different styles of dance in rapid-fire pace. Strip away the cute cutscene and unique visuals and you’ll left with a mundane mode.
After the disaster of a soundtrack in Just Dance 2016 that featured only a handful of recently-released music, 2017 is a huge improvement. In many of my previous Just Dance reviews, I’ve bashed the choice of music when so many better options were available. Truth be told, there really are only a handful of “bad” songs (if you thought you would never have to hear Scream & Shout by will.i.am ft Britney Spears, you were sorely mistaken) here with the majority of the soundtrack featuring quality current pop songs. Highlights include Sia’s “Cheap Thrills,” Ariana Grande’s “Into You,” Major Lazer’s “Lean On” and Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” To be entirely fair, though, the uptick in musical quality is predominately due to the fact that Top 40 music has substantially improved over the past year, with the infusion of Deep House and EDM and the departure from hip-hop. Let’s be honest: three years ago, Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande wouldn’t have made the list of “good” music.
Another area of improvement is the reduction of “joke” songs; it’s always good to have a few of these to throw on when the party gets tipsy, but the last few years there has been far too many taking up space in the limited lineup. One final area of note is the inclusion of the impressive “Run the Night” by Gigi Rowe. The up-and-coming Rowe has debuted this song and basically her singing career through the game this year and that’s exactly the kind of thing Just Dance should be doing more of. The developers should be scouring the internet and clubs looking for emerging artists they can help cut a single and debut it in Just Dance; doing it even just three or four times each year would make the game much more relevant.
This is our third year in a row criticizing Just Dance, but we’re not trying to beat up the series. We were champions of the pure fun the game offered early in its inception, but it’s become irrelevant now thanks to Just Dance Unlimited. Ubisoft needs to stop releasing this game physically and focus entirely on their streaming platform. This would benefit everybody involved as this is a game consumed by trendy young people with their finger on the pulse of popular music. Being able to play the latest Ariana Grande song immediately instead of waiting several months to play it (when they’ve likely moved on to the next hit) would make Just Dance an experience that needed to be played on a regular basis. For those who give into the temptation to buy this release, it’s thankfully a marked improvement over its predecessor. The songs are well-curated and of good quality, there’s a new (albeit throwaway) mode and the visuals and dance moves are more refined. It’s just a shame that Ubisoft is forcing consumers to buy both a physical release and subscribe to Just Dance Unlimited when they need to focus entirely on the latter.