Dance Central 2
The closest thing to real dance instruction in a video game
Dance Central 2 picks up where its predecessor left off, with spot-on motion detection, clear instructions on complex dance moves. This version adds two-player simultaneous dancing and a great fitness mode. For now, assuming you’re committed to learning each dance at the highest levels, it’s the best fitness game on the Kinect.
Dance Central was a huge step forward in dance video games when it was released as a launch title for the Xbox Kinect. It wasn’t the first video game to let you use “real dance steps” (Just Dance had pioneered the concept a year earlier on the Wii). But by making use of the Kinect, it offered unprecedented accuracy in evaluating your precise moves. The question is, does Dance Central 2 move the platform forward?
The answer is a resounding “yes”.
As soon as I started up the game, one thing I noticed right away was that my whole body was getting picked up by the Kinect sensor, even though my TV is only about 6 feet from me. I can’t tell you how many Kinect games can only detect my torso and above.
Something else I noticed right off the bat was that the user interface that Harmonix developed was the best I’ve seen of any Kinect game. You can scroll through long song lists easily, and menu selections require simple and foolproof “swipes” of the hand. Microsoft should require every game developer to use this instead of the current situation where each invents their own.
Okay, on to the game play itself.
There are five menu options when you start Dance Central. They are:
- Crew Challenge
- Buy New Dances
As with the previous version of Dance Central, you can just jump right into dancing by selecting Dance. You’ll be shown a list of songs to choose from (the complexity of the song is in parentheses):
- Atlantic Connection and Armanni Reign – Reach (1)
- B.o.B ft. Bruno Mars – Nothin’ on You (3)
- Bananarama – Venus (2)
- Bobby Brown – My Prerogative (4)
- Britney Spears – Toxic (7)
- Bruno Mars – Grenade (4)
- Chingy – Right Thurr (3)
- Ciara ft. Petey Pablo – Goodies (4)
- Daddy Yankee ft. Fergie – Impacto (Remix) (2)
- Daft Punk – Technologic (6)
- Darude – Sandstorm (1)
- David Guetta ft. Akon – Sexy Chick (7)
- Diddy ft. Keyshia Cole – Last Night (2)
- Digital Underground – The Humpty Dance (2)
- Donna Summer – Hot Stuff (3)
- Electric Valentine – Body to Body (3)
- Enrique Iglesias ft. Pitbull – I Like It (3)
- EXILE – I Wish for You (4)
- Far East Movement ft. Cataracs and Dev – Like a G6 (5)
- Flo Rida ft. David Guetta – Club Can’t Handle Me (3)
- Gnarls Barkley – Run (I’m a Natural Disaster) (6)
- Haddaway – What Is Love (5)
- Justin Bieber – Somebody to Love (6)
- Kevin Lyttle – Turn Me On (2)
- Kurtis Blow – The Breaks (2)
- La Roux – Bulletproof (2)
- Lady Gaga – Bad Romance (5)
- Lady Gaga – Born This Way (5)
- Lena – Satellite (7)
- Little Boots – Meddle (4)
- Mary J. Blige – Real Love (1)
- Missy Elliot – Get Ur Freak On (7)
- Montell Jordan – This Is How We Do It (2)
- New Boyz – You’re a Jerk (3)
- Nicki Minaj ft. Sean Garrett – Massive Attack (4)
- O-Zone – Mai Ai Hee (Dragostea Din Tei) (1)
- Remy Ma – Conceited (There’s Something About Remy) (5)
- Rihanna – Rude Boy (3)
- Sean Kingston – Fire Burning (3)
- Sir Mix-a-Lot – Baby Got Back (Mix Mix) (6)
- Tweet ft. Missy Elliot – Oops (Oh My) (3)
- Usher ft. Lil’ Jon & Ludacris – Yeah! (5)
- Usher ft. Pitbull – DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love (5)
- Willow Smith – Whip My Hair (5)
For each song, each player can select a difficulty of Easy, Medium, or Hard. The “complexity of the song” plus “difficulty level” together dictate how complex and intricate the choreography is.
New to Dance Central 2 is the ability for two dancers to dance at once head-to-head. Once you select a song, the screen basically splits into two sides, where both dancers select the difficulty level they want to dance to (this allows for a “golf-like handicap” where strong dancers and weaker dancers can compete head-to-head). Here’s where you really do need at least 8-10 feet of space and to stand separately, or you’ll be bumping into each other and confusing the system if your motions cross. I was a little perplexed as to why the system automatically assumed that two players; I would have rather seen the split screen come up only when another person stepped into the camera. Still, if you’re playing solo, you can just ignore the left side of the screen and select “Play Solo”.
The first time you play, you start out by reviewing the basics. For those who don’t know, the concept is simple: you try to mirror the movements of an on-screen dancer as if you’re looking through a mirror. A series of unique flashcards, with real dance move names like “cabbage patch”, “snake”, and “shoulder pop”, will tell you which moves you should be performing as well as which ones are coming up. You have a couple cues to tell you how well you’re dancing–a “spotlight” under your feet will display encouraging words when you hit the moves, the onscreen dancers will glow red if you’re out of place, a boombox will display 1-5 stars depending on your progress through the song. Gold flashcards are worth 4x the points, and if you nail multiple moves at once, you’ll “pump up the room”.
As with the first version of Dance Central, the motion detection is spot-on. Every motion of your arms, legs, and body seem to be tracked almost perfectly–sometimes maybe too much so (if you’re not matching every piece of the dancer’s body, your score will suffer). There are certain types of actions that the Kinect isn’t necessarily great for (gunfire, precision sword fighting, and auto racing come to mind), but it’s games like this where the Kinect’s capabilities really shine.
After the song is done, you can view Photos of your performance. A nice new touch is that there is also a “Break Down” section, where the system will identify which areas of the song you didn’t perform very well in, and patiently review which areas you need to practice by running you through them over and over until you get it. It took me a while before I could achieve 4 stars even on “Easy” setting for Bananarama’s “Venus”–it wasn’t until I repeated the moves several times and got my body position just right until it finally gave it to me!
Crew Challenge is another new feature of the game. This is a 2-player “story” mode where both players perform as a “Dance Crew” battling to get to the top. Scoring works the same as in Dance mode with a few differences. For example, during dance battles, each member of the crew will be able to “go solo” where good performances will result in double the points. During a “Free 4 All”, the dancers have to perform any of the moves of the song to score points. And so on. I was a little disappointed that the mode required two players, as this leaves out a large percentage of people. Having said that, if you’ve got a dancing buddy, you’re going to love it.
To play Fitness mode you need to sign into a gamer profile. There’s no option on the main menu to do this, you need to go to the Kinect menu and do it. Once you’re signed in, you’re brought to a menu where you can “Enable Fitness Mode”. Once you’ve done this, the game will begin to track the calories you burn and the length of time you’ve played the game, both per session and lifetime. There are also a couple suggested workouts song mixes you can choose from, with names ranging from “Easy Start” (a 20-minute workout consisting of lighter songs such as Last Night and Hot Stuff) to “Sprint” (a 10-minute workout consisting of intense songs such as “Run (I’m a Natural Disaster” and “Toxic”) and “The Long Haul” (a 49 minute marathon consisting of just about everything). I would have liked some more features within Fitness mode, such as the ability to set goals, set a schedule, see graphs of your progress, and so on. But regardless of all that, Dance Central 2 does have the potential of being a great way to work out that surpasses any step aerobics class at the gym.
In the Options menu, you can turn on and off Photos, Freestyling, Autosave, and Voice Control. There’s also an intruguing option called “Enter Cheats”.
Buy New Dances leads you to the downloadable content store. As of this writing there are 32 additional songs, each costing 240 Microsoft Points (about $3 a song). You can also purchase Dance Packs for 480-960 Microsoft Points each, and Marathon Packs for 1400 Microsoft Points. There’s a pretty good variety of artists to choose from, from Ne-Yo to Rihanna to James Brown to The Black Eyed Peas to Sean Paul.
Bottom line, Dance Central 2 is a great sequel to an already great game. Of course, there is going to be a debate over whether Dance Central 2 or Just Dance 3 is the “better game”, and I’m sure opposing sides will defend their choice with religious ferocity. But from my point of view, they’re very different games. Just Dance seems to put more of an emphasis on being party game that’s just “fun” (with more frivolous and humorous choreography and perhaps at the expense of overly precise motion tracking). Dance Central, on the other hand, definitely puts a higher emphasis on technical accuracy and perfecting the dance steps precisely. But at the end of the day, both are extremely enjoyable to play, and both can provide a great workout.
But when all is said and done, after you play Just Dance 3, you won’t look like a real dancer, you’ll look like someone playing a video game. If you have the patience and stamina to learn the real dance moves of Dance Central 2, at the end of the day you’ll look like a real dancer. From a motion detection perspective and a game which can teach you real dance moves that you can take onto any dance floor, Dance Central 2 right now represents the pinnacle of “real dance move-based” dance games on any platform.