I never thought I’d be reviewing another Just Dance, yet here we are again just a few months later thanks to Nintendo’s new console. 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, now with Nintendo Switch features.
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.
Just Dance 2017 on Nintendo Switch is the definition of a port as besides allowing for new control options, there’s nothing to distinguish it from other consoles. That’s not a slight at Ubisoft, as there’s not much that could have been done to enhance this re-release besides updating the controls and they were successful in that. Using JoyCons is a fine way to experience the game, with similar functionality to that of a Wii Remote or smartphone (which are also compatible with the game) and makes it easy to rope in multiple players for those with a ton of them on hand. Given it’s been several months since the original release, however, it would have been nice to enhance the Switch version with a few new hit songs. The Weeknd’s “Starboy,” Imagine Dragon’s “Believer” or The Chainsmokers’ “Something Just Like This” would have been neat additions, for instance. The Xbox One version will always reign supreme due to its Kinect functionality, but the Nintendo Switch version is a fine option and being able to take throw the console on a tabletop and not be tethered to a TV is admittedly convenient.