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The Best Exercise Games for the Xbox Kinect

Review of Just Dance 3 for Kinect

Posted by steve on October - 15 - 2011 with 3 Comments

Just Dance 3

A dance game that stresses fun and fitness more than precision dancing–and works.

Just Dance 3 is not Dance Central, nor does it try to be. While Dance Central focuses on teaching you precise whole body dance moves, Just Dance focuses more on the sheer fun of dancing, especially in a group. Fun choreography, a great selection of songs, and an innovative “create your own dances” features make this a winner, although you have to get through the clunky user interface first.

Rating by steve: 4.0 stars
****

Like most of you, I was curious about a few questions with Just Dance 3. First, how does Just Dance 3 for Kinect compare to its counterpart on the Wii? Second, how does it compare to the gold standard for dance games on the Kinect, Dance Central? Third, how does it stand on its own as a game? I’ll try to cover all those questions in this review.

As with the Wii version, the opening menu of Just Dance 3 is delightfully simple. You’re given four choices:

  • Dance
  • Just Create
  • Extras
  • Shop

Within the “Dance” menu there are four options.

1) Songs allows you to jump into the songs and start dancing. You scroll through a list of songs. As with the Wii version, you’ll see icons signifying the difficulty level (gears) and the intensity level (drops of sweat). The songs are the same as the Wii version. If you’re a Katy Perry fan, you might want to go to Best Buy to get the exclusive Best Buy Exclusive Katy Perry Edition which has two additional Katy Perry tracks, E.T. and Teenage Dream.

If you know and love the Wii version, it’ll be an easy transition to play the Kinect version. The gameplay and the graphics are virtually identical. A colorful silhouetted figure will dance on the screen and you have to dance the “mirror image” to it. The more accurately you dance, the more “stars” you’ll earn. At the end of the dance, you’ll see your point total and earn “Mojo Points” to unlock new songs, choreography, and playing modes (the first gift is “Jamaican Dance Mashup”)

In my opinion, Ubisoft has wisely kept the songs and the choreography identical across the platforms, which means you can learn the dances on a Wii and know the routines inside and out when visiting a friend with an Xbox.

There are two important distinctions from the Wii version: first, you’re not holding a remote in your hands so you have complete freedom of movement. Second, you see a little postage-sized silhouette of yourself in the upper left-hand corner which lets you easily compare how well you’re performing the dance with the on-screen silhouette. Both of these things are definitely an improvement over the Wii.

One thing that is decidedly not an improvement over the Wii version is multiplayer mode. It says that up to four players can play together, but all four players have to squeeze together in a staggered pattern to fit within the Kinect camera range, and players are so tight that you invariably end up hitting and bumping into each other. Still, if you’re playing with four kids or four smaller-sized people, it can be a ton of fun to dance the choreography together (basically, each player will stand in front of one silhouette at the beginning of the song and follow it all the way through). You can see from the song selection icon whether the choreography is designed for one, two, or four dancers. Watch this video of “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz and take a look at how intricate the choreography is for all four players:

Before each song you can choose a “difficulty level” by raising your hand. You can choose between “Easy” and “Normal”. The “Easy” setting icon shows a person whose torso is highlighted but whose lower body is white, leading me to believe that this was added to the Kinect version because of the different way peoples’ Kinects are set up (for example, many people like me have their images cut off at the waist because there’s no enough space for the whole body). But to be honest, I tried dancing to the same song on both settings and I really didn’t notice a difference between either.

The motion tracking seems to be spot on, if a little lenient. The first time I danced to “California Gurls”, I easily got 10,295 points and 5 stars. I started to think to myself, “hey, maybe I’ve got a future as a dance star”. But then I noticed that practically every song I tried (even ones I never tried before), I’d get 4 or 5 stars. As an experiment, I tried just standing still and flailing my arms up and down through the whole song, and I still ended up getting 3,613 points and one star. I think Ubisoft learned from their experience with the original Just Dance that it’s better to be a little more lenient in scoring than to be overly harsh. Some people (particularly kids or newbies dancing in a party setting) will welcome this, while others may be a little annoyed that there’s not much of a challenge in racking up a high score. As for me, I’ve learned to ignore the score and just enjoy the game on its own merits.

Because I have a small apartment, my Kinect is only about six feet from the TV, which meant my feet are largely cut off. That didn’t seem to affect gameplay nor my ability to get a high score, though (on either Easy or Normal difficulty). In that sense, it seemed that the greater emphasis (as with the Wii version) is placed on arm movements and general body movements, more so than precise detection of where you hands and feet are at any given time.

This is probably a good way to describe the difference between Just Dance and Dance Central. Dance Central definitely is a superior title if you that kind of precision or something approaching “detailed dance instruction”. On the other hand, Just Dance 3 is arguably the better title if you just want to hang out with friends and have a fun time. And this is just personal preference, but I much prefer the simplicity of Just Dance’s silhouetted characters over the overly stylized hipster doofuses in Dance Central.

The other modes under “Dance” include “Playlists”, which lets you choose from similar types of songs grouped together (e.g. oldies, songs that make you sweat, duets, etc.); “Specials”, which lets you play unlocked play modes; and “Sweat”, which which activated lets you dance to any song or playlist and accumulate “Sweat Points”. Just as in the Wii version, about 4.2 sweat points = 1 calorie burned. As you hit milestones, the system will offer encouraging comments (after 1000 sweat points, it’ll tell you that you just exercised the equivalent of walking across Central Park).

The “Just Create” menu is unique to the Kinect, and it is where Just Dance 3 for Kinect really shines. In it, you can record your own choreography. You can select “Coach Me”, where you can create your choreography based on the Just Dance 3 choreography (the dancers will be dancing the standard routine behind you as you record your movements in front), or “Freestyle”, where there are no background dancers and you just create your choreography from scratch. There’s also “Dance Off” mode, where you’ll dance most of the song to the pre-set choreography, but be able to go off and freestyle during specific parts in the song. In all these modes, you appear on screen as a grainy silhouetted figure yourself, not exactly the same as the usual on-screen characters, but close enough.

After you create your dance moves, you or your friends can play them just like any other Just Dance song. You can even share your original creation with the world in the online “Gallery”, or play other peoples’ creations. While no doubt there are some dancers who will use this to create intricate and professionally choreographed dance routines, I get the sense most people will use it to just goof around and have a lot of fun with friends to see who can come up with the silliest moves. The good news is, it works well for both.

Here is my homage to Will Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro in their classic dance routine on Fresh Prince of Bel Air to “Apache (Jump On It)” by The Sugarhill Gang. I stayed pretty faithful to their routine, but since I don’t know the dance steps after Will threw Carlton off the stage, I panicked and had to improvise using dance steps such as the moonwalk and the Batusi. Thank heavens my face and body are silhouetted out, as I have no intention of becoming the next Rebecca Black.

Under Extras, you can view Credits, enter an Unlock Code (presumably a future feature that Ubisoft will use for promotional purposes), select a Hard Drive “for loading and saving your progression”, and turn on/off Pictograms, Lyrics, How to Play Tips, Short Dance, or Short Create.

Under Shop, there are only three choices as of this writing: Fame by Irene Cara, Heart of Glass by Blondie, and U Can’t Touch this by MC Hammer (these were songs that were available on the original Just Dance for the Wii; I assume over time they will port all of those songs over).

You may notice that I give the game 5 stars for “fun” but overall 4 stars. And this is mainly because of Ubisoft’s very poor execution of the Kinect user interface, which seems like a trivial point but really impacts the overall enjoyment of this title.

The first annoyance was that when you first start up the game, it asks you to “select a device” (a hard drive) on which to store my data. Seemed like a superfluous step–I only have one hard drive, so why like other games couldn’t it have chosen it for me? Not the end of the world, but my first indication of many to come that Ubisoft really needs to hone its Xbox development skills.

The first indication of a real interface problem was when I was selecting the list of songs. It was painful to try to choose one. There’s a very long list of songs to scroll through, and you have no control over the speed at which the list scrolls. You just lift your arm to scroll up and lower your arm to scroll down. When you find the song you want, it takes several tries before you can pinpoint the one you want, and then you have to keep completely still to select and “swipe” it in a very precise way. The controls are so hypersensitive that the slightest body movement in the wrong way and you need to start over, which can get very annoying. This could have been executed much, much better.

The hypersensitivity of the controls is a problem throughout the menu selection process. Here is a true story: I played a few songs before sitting down to write this review in front of the TV. I then looked up at the screen and saw a purchase of downloadable content had been made. I was perplexed until I realized what happened. The Kinect continued to track my body movements, and had, completely on its own, selected “Shop” > “You Can’t Touch This” > “Buy It”, and then checked out (deducting 240 Microsoft Points from my account) all without me realizing it. Needless to say, I was really ticked off. So the poor execution of Just Dance 3’s user interface ended up costing me in a very real sense. The irony is, while the system is horrifically hypersensitive on the home screen, in other parts of the program you have to swipe and swipe at a menu option before it’ll let you select anything.

At the end of the day, I turned on my Xbox Controller and stopped trying to use the Kinect to navigate the menus, which thankfully shut off Kinect tracking for menu selection. That made things a thousand times better.

Horrific execution of the Kinect user interface notwithstanding, Just Dance 3 is overall an extremely enjoyable game, once you get to play it. If you’re more of a dancing purist, I would hold off and see what Dance Central 2 has to offer. On the other hand, if your goal is to just have fun and get exercise, I think Just Dance 3 definitely rates just as high or higher than Dance Central on the “fun” side for its fun graphics, easy-to-master dance moves, and its whimsical sense of humor. And the Just Create mode, unique to the Kinect for now (time will tell if and how well they incorporate it into the PS3 version) is worth the price of admission–it really expands the fun you can have with the game and ensures that it’ll be one you play with friends over and over again.

4 of 5 stars, 5 of 5 if you turn on your Xbox Controller and navigate menus with that rather than the Kinect.