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The Best Exercise Games for the Xbox Kinect

Review of Just Dance 4 for Kinect

Posted by steve on February - 2 - 2013 with 2 Comments

Just Dance 4

Solid Xbox Fitness Game

Despite a few glitches, Just Dance 4 is an excellent dance game that focuses more on fun and frivolity vs. the more serious and technical Dance Central 3. Its fun and its motivational features are excellent for getting you to return over and over to get a great workout.

Rating by steve: 4.5 stars
****1/2

I’ve previously written reviews of Just Dance 4 for the Playstation 3, the Wii U, and the Wii.

For the most part, the Xbox version of Just Dance 4 is identical to the game on other platforms, from the music selection to the choreography to the functionality (there are a few exceptions which I’ll talk about below). This makes the game ideal if, for example, you have friends who own a Wii or a PS3. You can each practice the same dance moves individually, and come together for a killer routine.

The biggest complaint I (and most reviewers I’ve seen) have about Just Dance 4 for Kinect is how difficult it is to use hand gestures to make menu selections. This is something that’s glaringly obvious immediately upon starting the game. If you’re read my other reviews, you’ll see that this comes up time and time again with Kinect games. In this case, the hand motions in theory are intuitive enough–you move your hand to make a selection and you make a “pressing” motion with your hand to select something. The problem is, if your movements are not precisely parallel with the screen or you’re standing at an angle, the Kinect sensor will sometimes not pick up your motions, or will sometimes think you’re pressing when you’re not. Happily, they do give you the option of using a wireless controller to make selections now, but I never cease to be shocked at how no game developer yet seems to have mastered something so basic as letting people easily navigate menus with the Kinect.

Perhaps after hearing some of the negative feedback, Ubisoft did build in an instruction page with the following tips:

  • Don’t stand too close to the Kinect sensor
  • In menus, relax and use smaller, gentle motions
  • Select songs just like on your favorite touch screen device (I think they wanted to say the iPhone here but couldn’t).
  • You can use a controller if you prefer, press any button

The second annoyance with the game comes next. You’re asked to sign up for UPlay, which is Ubisoft’s attempt to build its own online network. Evidently, to access certain features of the game you need to sign up for it.

I’d actually signed up for an account many years ago when playing another Ubisoft game, but I’ve long forgotten my password. There was nowhere on the Xbox where I could retrieve a lost password. After an eternity of searching, I finally used my PC to find a page where I could get my password emailed to me.

Once you finally log into UPlay, it’s a total mess. The menu options (Uplay TV, Shop, Actions, Rewards) don’t make much sense at all. They shout at you from every direction that you can earn “U Rewards”, but it’s never clear what they are or what you can use them for. The whole experience is just terribly confusing. Obviously, Ubisoft is trying to get into the money that’s being made by Xbox Live and PSN, but frankly I didn’t have use for it.

You finally get to the Just Dance 4 screen. Unlike the Wii and PS3 versions, there are four menu options as opposed to two:

“Just Dance” is of course Just Dance’s main mode. You scroll through a cover flow-like listing of songs you can dance to. Each song has the title, artist, highest score, and difficulty rating. You can also see the highest number of stars reached on the song, as well as the personal best from the player that’s signed in.

The Kinect supports one to four dancers (certain songs are have one version of choreography that all dancers share, while others contain complex choreography involving all four dancers dancing their own steps). Unlike the previous version of the game, where dancers had to stand in an awkward “staggered” pattern, Just Dance 4 lets dancers stand side-to-side, providing of course that you have enough room in front of the Kinect camera to fit everyone.

To start playing, you “move into position to select your dancer”. There’s a set of four vertical bars of different colors next to each other, and each dancer moves into the colored bar corresponding to the order they want to stand in. You can play with anywhere from 1-4 dancers, but you’ll need a LOT of space if you’re going to want to play with four dancers, and even then expect there to be some bumping into each other.

One neat feature the Xbox has is that the system automatically detects which dancer is in which bar, and then captures that dancer’s face and puts it up as that dancer’s icon throughout the dance to identify which dancer he or she is. Neat feature, and a neat use of the Kinect camera.

Dancing works the same as all other versions of Just Dance. You basically dance by mirroring an on-screen counterpart’s moves. Pictograms scrolling on the bottom of the page will show you what moves are coming up next. At certain points you’ll see a video camera icon flashing that shows that you’re being recorded at that point.

(For those of you new to the blog, yes, that’s me in the ninja outfit. As I’ve explained before, I wear it on account of my being bashful).

As the dance is going on you’ll see various cues on the screen that’ll tell you how well you’re dancing. On the left you’ll see a progress bar that’ll let you know how many stars out of 5 stars you’ve earned by dancing accurately. On the top of the screen you’ll see messages such as “PERFECT”, “GOOD”, and “X” that’ll tell you whether you’re hitting the moves.

I noticed that unlike Just Dance 4 on other platforms, on the Kinect my score was lower because the system didn’t just track my right hand but my whole body as well.

After the dance is over you’ll see your score, as well as “Mojo Points” which will let you unlock different features and songs in the game. I was surprised at how motivated I was to keep dancing just by collecting these points.

After the dance is over you’ll see a selection of videos and photos of you dancing, compiled from all the places in the game where a video camera icon flashed. You can select each of the videos to watch, as well as with the option to save an “Autodance” video. If you choose this option, a progress bar will pop up saying “generating funky moves” which will take a minute or two. After this, you’ll see the result: a roughly 30 second video of highlights of you and/or your group’s dance performance. Each song will stylize the video slightly differently with different lighting, color, and moves. The videos all finish with a little ad for Just Dance 4 that proclaims “Anyone can Just Dance”.

Your options are Play, Replay, Save, and Share. There’s no option yet for “Holy crap you just recorded me dancing to “Call Me Maybe” in my underwear and I want you to destroy all evidence on this video” (The closest thing is the “Back” button which I pressed early and often).

If you do wish to share your performance, you can “Share it” or “Save it”.
I got repeated error messages that said “your gamer profile does not have the correct permissions to access Xbox LIVE functionality”. Again, it was terribly difficult to troubleshoot this one, but I finally realized that it was a setting in my Xbox menu that was causing this. Here were the steps to fix it:

  1. From the Xbox Main main menu, select the Settings menu (the last screen, with eight green buttons).
  2. In the Settings menu, choose Privacy, then Change Settings, then Customize.
  3. You’ll need “Kinect Sharing” settings to be changed to “Everyone”.

Once I got past this error, I now saw options to share to Facebook, JDTV (Just Dance TV). or with Xbox Live Friends.

By default, all three are checked. Again, I wasn’t not too crazy that it seems way too easy to accidentally share a potentially embarrassing performance with the entire world.

Perhaps because it has to compete with Dance Central 3, Ubisoft put some extra features in the Xbox version of the game that aren’t in the other versions.

The “Extras” option lets you create a UPlay account; redeem a code; select options such as turning lyrics, pictograms, and automatic captures on and off; and view credits.

“Just Sweat” is the workout portion of the game. Underneath it you’ll see four options with the estimated calories you’ll burn by playing each:

- Aerobics in Space (Moon Cruise) 50Kcal calorie count
- Sweat Around the World (Garden Steps) 40KCal calorie count
- Electro Body Control (Amateur Match) 45KCal calorie count
- Cheerleaders Boot Camp (Garage Rehearsal) 50KCal calorie count

Each workout consists of set playlists of music in different genres. For example, Aerobics in Space contains 80′s Pop music, Sweat Around the World contains music from different cultures, and so on. The “Dancer Card” option lets you see vital stats so you can track your workouts over time. You can see sweat time, calories, classes played, and you can set an avatar (which for some reason are just stick figure cartoon faces).

Just Sweat Mode has a 10 minute, a 25 minute, and a 45 minute routine for each musical genre. It also properly warms you up and cools you down, and songs are organized by intensity with the most intense songs happening in the middle of the workout.

“Just Dance TV” is something exclusive to the Kinect. This is where you can view any videos that you might have saved after your dances, as well as videos that others around the world have decided to share.

If you want to watch others’ dances, you can choose this option and view the “most recent”, “most popular” videos of strangers, view “friends” videos, view your own saved videos on “my channel”, and view “featured” videos.

As you’re watching videos, there’s a “like” button you can click if you like a video, and another button to “report” if you see something inappropriate. Surprisingly, all of the videos I saw, including those under “most recent” seem to be perfectly, clean, family-friendly videos. I’m guessing that there’s a team at Ubisoft that screens all the videos to make sure that those with less-than-fully-clad or less-than-sober performances are filtered out.

I was a little surprised at how many of the videos were uploaded by kids under 18. Granted, the kids are clearly having a lot of fun, some of the dancing is adorable and hilarious, and some of the performances are actually pretty impressive. On the other hand, in this day and age where you really don’t know who’s on the Internet, if I were a parent I’d probably think twice before allowing my kids to upload a videos to the Web. Given the amount of backlash that companies like Google and Facebook have faced recently over privacy, I wonder if the ease by which people can upload videos for the world to see at the touch of a button here will face scrutiny.

I shared my thoughts about the Just Dance franchise vs. the Dance Central franchise previously. Bottom line, Dance Central is more a game for serious and semi-serious dancers who want to get dance moves precisely right, while Just Dance is more a game for casual dancers to get together and have fun at family gatherings and parties. Both are very good, both are excellent ways to get a great aerobic workout.

I’m giving Just Dance 4 a 4.5 out of 5. The poor execution of menu navigation using the Kinect and the overall sloppiness of the online features was enough to dock half a star from it, but on the other hand, I did like how they improved the Xbox version over the PS3 and Wii versions by adding video and social sharing features. Overall, it’s a great Xbox Fitness game that will make a great addition to your collection.