I’m not sure exactly how I became our resident Just Dance expert, but here I am after several years with my ninth review. It’s not an easy series to evaluate year after year as not a whole lot changes, but I’m committed to reviewing every entry in this series until it stops existing. The irony in the whole thing is that this will mark the third review since I predicted the physical version of the series will become obsolete in favor of the digital service Just Dance Unlimited, which still makes more sense. Regrettably, it seems that Ubisoft is content for the foreseeable future continuing to release the physical version of the game, a move evidenced by the fact that Just Dance 2018 is being released on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U and even the original Wii (yes, the Wii, a console two generations old for those keeping score).
Believe it or not, this review was actually being written mere hours prior to the revelation that Kinect was no longer being manufactured. I originally surmised that Ubisoft was positioning the Nintendo Switch version of the game to be the flagship version in favor of the Xbox One, likely because its target fanbase probably didn’t actually have a Kinect. It looks like my hypothesis was right (if only I was able to finish this review sooner…); whether it’s because Ubisoft has been aware that the Kinect was winding down production or simply because like many they could see the writing on the wall for the device. Proving the Nintendo Switch flagship theory, Ubisoft has included two exclusive features in this version of the game. The first — dubbed “Double Rumble” — is actually one of the most innovative modes to be added to the series since its inception. In it, players use both Joy-Con controllers to match choreography of various jobs including a handyman, athlete, cook, cowboy, and uh, witch (which has coincidentally topped the list of highest-paying jobs without a college degree in 2017). The rumble feedback in the controllers along with the beat makes this a funky rhythm game with a lot of potential. As things stand it’s too easy in difficulty, but if Ubisoft expands on this format, it could make for a legitimate rhythm mode that stays true to the spirit of the franchise. The second Nintendo Switch exclusive feature is a special Mario dance, which is way more fun that it has any right to be, although is really just a slight remake from the same dance in Just Dance 3. It also should be noted that while we predominately reviewed the game on Switch, we tested out the Xbox One/Kinect version (which may very well be the last time we can say that) and it performed up to the standards of past entries.
The second biggest addition is Dance Lab, which replaces Just Dance Machine that debuted in Just Dance 2017. Machine felt like a pointless addition, but it was commended for thinking outside of the box and showed potential for adding a legitimate plot to the series. Unfortunately, Dance Lab is a strange regression where players quickly swap between dancing as different animals or professionals like a jellyfish or astronaut (but sadly not a jellyfish astronaut). There’s no story to speak of and the whole thing is bizarre and rather pointless. Better than nothing at all, but it’s unfortunate that Ubisoft didn’t instead refine Machine, which showed more potential. The other new mode is Kids Mode, which is basically a toned-down version of the main gameplay. There’s no way to lose (completely failing a move simply results in a “HAHA” grade, which is actually more painful in practice than a simple “X” as in the main mode) and the moves and interface are significantly toned down. I don’t have kids or am a kid (which just made me question why I’m playing Just Dance), so it’s hard to predict how much of an asset this mode is, but it seems like all but the youngest of children could get along with the main gameplay just fine. Finally it should be noted that Just Dance 2018 adds a third scoring rating with “Super” now being in between “Good” and “Perfect,” giving more weight to the competitiveness of the proceedings.
The Just Dance 2018 track list is underwhelming but just good enough that it squeaks by without being detrimental to the experience. The amount of what I would consider to be “good” songs is well under ten, but that’s as subjective as always. Some of the bigger hits of the year are included — Luis Fonsi’s and Daddy Yankee’s song of the summer “Despacito,” Selena Gomez’ “Bad Liar” and Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” — but there are some glaring omissions both in and outside the pop genre. Two missed opportunities to include smash hits outside of the pop genre are Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still” and Imagine Dragon’s “Thunder.” Yes, Feel it Still just recently climbed the charts, but it was released all the way back in March, which proves my long-held view that the developers should be mining the indie world more instead of just throwing pop songs together. We commended Just Dance 2017 for finding and basically debuting unknown pop singer Gigi Rowe to the world and they thankfully have included another one of her songs “I Got That” in this edition, which is nice continuity. Hopefully Rowe will have her break soon, because her music is far too commercially viable to be languishing with few thousand views on YouTube. Another unknown but fantastic singer is given a shot in Just Dance 2018 and that’s Canada’s LIGHTS. LIGHTS is no stranger to video games and was featured in LOUD on Planet X last year (read our interview with her about that appearance here), so it’s nice to see her back in our world. Overall, though, the soundtrack plays it far too safe, but it does have the greatest song ever written in “Footloose,” so it can’t be all bad.
It’s starting to feel pointless to review Just Dance titles since it’s hard to grasp what exactly Ubisoft is trying to accomplish with them at this point, but darn it I’ve come this far and I’m going to see this through, even if it takes until Just Dance 2049. When Just Dance Unlimited debuted, it seemed primed as a service to take over the yearly physical installments as a continually-updated platform to debut new songs into Just Dance, but it seems like it’s now become a way to simply access the back catalog of the series without swapping discs. It’s strange how it’s implemented into the main framework of Just Dance 2018 and forced upon players automatically with a three month free trial and seamlessly included in-game, blurring the line between the two entities. It’s hard to fathom what Ubisoft plans for this series going forward, but they should figure it out sooner rather than later, because continuing to release the core game for the Wii and ignoring the potential of the streaming service seems like a sign of regression. As for the core game itself, there’s an innovative new mode on the Nintendo Switch version, the interface is easier to navigate and the song list is decent enough, if typically underwhelming. There’s hints of Ubisoft doing the right thing, like throwing in a song or two from an unknown artist and trying out new modes, but they never see it all the way through. Frankly, it’s time for a reboot if Unlimited isn’t the future of Just Dance.