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The Best Exercise Games for the Xbox Kinect

Review of Dance Central for Kinect

Posted by steve on April - 27 - 2011 with 1 Comment

dance central kinect fitness game

Dance Central

As good as a dance game gets, for the time being.

An amazing game that effectively shows off the capabilities of the Kinect. You learn real dance moves, which are adjudicated precisely by the Kinect, and in the process you can get a great workout.

Rating by steve: 5.0 stars
*****

In my lifetime, I’ve played a lot of dance games. Back in the stone ages, I played Dance Dance Revolution. When the Wii came out, game developers thought they were being clever by basically copying DDR, but having you punch your Wii remote to targets in the air instead of stomping on a mat.  The game Just Dance changed all that. Now, you were learning real dance moves. But as great a concept as it was, it never quite overcame the limitations of the Wii’s motion detection capabilities.

Dance Central was one of several games that came out with the launch of the Xbox Kinect. It (along with Kinect Sports), does a great job of showcasing the full potential of the Kinect.

When you start up Dance Central, you see a title screen with your silhouette in white showing. You learn that you control menus by putting your hand in a button and “swiping” it to the left–not a bad user experience, but as I’ve said in previous reviews I don’t know why Microsoft didn’t enforce consistent user interaction with its game publishers.

You then immediately see four options: Dance!, Your Stats, Options, and Dance Central Store. Your Stats shows a summary of all the tasks and accomplishments you’ve done in the game; of particular interest to readers of this blog will be the “Workout Mode” stats, which tracks how many Workout Mode sessions you’ve played, how much time you’ve spend playing them, total calories burned, and your favorite workout song. They tried to be cute by giving little nicknames to get you to move to the next level (who wants to be a “sedentary” “couch potato”?)

Options let you calibrate your settings in case things aren’t quite right with the system while you’re playing. I didn’t need to go here because things were perfect for me from the get-go. Dance Central Store is where you can purchase additional music and routines if your Xbox is connected online.

Now the part you’ve been waiting for: Dance! Here, you immediately get sent to a scrolling list of songs. Here’s a list of songs that come with the title, in order of increasing difficulty:

Warmup:

  • Poker Face (Lady Gaga)
  • Hey Mami (Fannypack)
  • I Know You Want Me (Fanny Pack)
  • Evacuate the Dance Floor (Cascada)

Simple

  • Funkytown (Lipps, Inc.)
  • Galang ’05 (M.I.A.)
  • C’mon n’ Ride It (Quad City DJ’s)
  • Can’t Get You Out of My Head (Kylie Minogue)

Moderate

  • Crank That (Soulia Boy)
  • Rump Shaker (Wreckx-n-Effect)
  • Jungle Boogie (Kool and the Gang)
  • Down (Jay Sean)
  • Pon De Replay (Rihanna)

Tough

  • Move Ya Body (Nina Sky)
  • King of the Dance Hall (Beenie Man)
  • Rendez Vu (Basement Jaxx)
  • Hella Good (No Doubt)
  • Dip It Low (Christina Milian)

Legit

  • Push It (Salt ‘N Pepa)
  • Flava in Ya Ear (Craig Mack)
  • Poison (Bell Biv Devoe)
  • Teach Me How to Jerk (Audio Push)
  • Maneater (Nelly Furtado)

Hardcore

  • Satisfaction (Benny Benassi)
  • Bust a Move (Young MC)
  • Days Go By (Dirty Vegas)
  • Pump Up the Jam (Technotronic)

Off the Hook

  • Brick House (Commodores)
  • Body Movin’ (Beastie Boys)
  • Drop it Like It’s Hot (Snoop Dogg)
  • Don’t Sweat the Technique (Eric B and Rakim)
  • Just Dance (Lady Gaga)

When you select a song, you have four choices: Break It Down, Perform It, Dance Battle, and Leaderboards. Mots people will want to go straight to “Perform It”, and they’ll probably do fine for the first couple songs. But if you really want to master the moves, you’ll Break It Down first to get a step-by-step demonstration of each move. You’ll be amazed at how much better your score becomes once you master all the individual moves and then string them together (plus, you can impress everyone by stringing the moves together next time you’re dancing at a wedding or a club).

When you select Perform It you’ll then select the difficulty level of the song. When you select the song for the first time, you’ll only be able to do the Easy level, but once you clear that you’ll be able to access the Medium and then the Hard levels.

To perform the song, you have a couple cues on the screen to look at. First is the animated dancer (you can choose a hipster dude or a hipster dudette). You basically want to “mirror” his or her moves as best you can. The second cue is a little icon that tells you what move is coming up next. If you’ve mastered the move under “Break It Down”, you know exactly what to do. The third cue is a little square where you see your own silhouette and can compare it to both the animated dancer and the icon.

Not wanting to be a glutton for punishment, I turned off the YouTube comments so I wouldn’t get any snide remarks about my “freestyling”. (For the record, I hammed it up intentionally–I am not really THAT bad a dancer!)

The motion detection is nothing short of amazing. If you’ve been frustrated by the accuracy of Just Dance on the Wii, be prepared for a shock. Everything from the position of your hands to the movement of your feet are captured almost flawlessly (you’ll get instant feedback, whether in the form of congratulatory text or by seeing a limb you’re not moving correctly flash red on the animated dancer).

Each song also lets you turn on “workout mode”. This basically is the same thing as the regular game, except that you input your weight beforehand, and a counter will display how many calories you’ve burned. Unlike other exercise video games, this counter doesn’t exaggerate the calories you’ve expended.

You can also perform a “dance battle” between two players. To “make it fair”, advanced players can set their difficulty higher, and beginning players can play on the easy level.This is the extent to which you can have multiplayer–I would have liked to see multiplayer options where dancers can dance side-by-side, or even online. I guess they have to leave something for “Dance Central 2”.

As for the question of whether this makes a good workout game, the answer as always is, you get out of it what you put into it. If you dance one or two routines without breaking a sweat, you’d probably get more fitness value out of playing Dig Dug. On the other hand, if you try to master all the moves, progress through all the songs (including the “challenges” between levels), and play over and over again until you clear each song with a high score, chances are in the process you’ll elevate your heart rate, perspire, and get a pretty good cardio workout. Plus, have a lot of fun and learn skills you can use for later to boot.

Overall, I’m impressed by Harmonix’s effort, and I look forward to seeing what they do for an encore. As of right now, this is the best dance game available for any video game system, period.