When Kinect launched last year, it brought to the market an opportunity to evolve a previously niche game genre – the dance game.
Previously confined to clunky foot mats or tracking remotes, Kinect's body tracking offered the technology the genre desperately needed to go mainstream.
Enter Harmonix, key contributors to games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, who saw the potential to bring their love for all things rhythmic to the dance floor.
Their original Dance Central was an ambitious gamble, but it paid off, achieving an average score of 82% across reviews on Metacritic and selling over 2.5 million copies worldwide.
Now, Harmonix has brought us Dance Central 2 for Kinect - and as with the Rock Band series, we haven't seen a revolution from the core offering, but rather enhancements and tweaks that improve on the original.
One of my biggest gripes with Kinect games is how they often secretly record you while you are playing, and then play this footage back at the end of the round, all the while goading you to commit social suicide by sharing the footage with your friends.
Perhaps humiliating videos are a built-in requirement by Microsoft of making a Kinect game, because Dance Central was no exception. At least once in each song the game dropped the user into an unscripted ‘freestyle mode’, leaving him or her floundering like a drowning elephant at the loss of onscreen direction. The game then went on to dash any delusions of coolness by playing back a clip of the type of ‘dancing’ that should never be seen outside the confines of a pitch black nightclub after too many vodka shots.
So I was hugely relieved then to find that Harmonix (as they traditionally had in their previous games), listened to their audience and made several nice changes, including the option to turn off freestyle sections, and turn off video playback! Hooray!
Also added is a newly evolved two-player dance battle mode. No longer are you limited to one player at a time jumping in and out of game play (while everyone else watches that person), but now two players can compete side by side at the same time, each with their own difficulty setting too.
In fact, one can only wonder given the small things that have been tweaked for the better, if the first title deliberately had these small annoyances built in, specifically so they could be removed in the sequel.
The music lineup in Dance Central 2 is similar to the original, being mainly Hip Hop/RnB/Pop, and, as with the first title, is more female-skewed (which can make it hard for male players who must either dance like a girl or do the same few songs over and over).
However, Harmonix has continued a tradition it started with the original Rock Band by allowing players to import the tracks from previous titles into the sequels. Gone are the Singstar days where you had to change discs and re-start a different game every time someone wanted to play a song that was on a different disc. All you need to do is enter the unique code from your copy of Dance Central (and pay a small fee) and you can import (via download), the songs from the first game. DLC is also available for those who want to buy individual extra songs to further build their track library.
One thing that hasn't changed, though, is the sensitivity and accuracy of Kinect. While it is still the best technology option for this genre available, it isn't perfect, and players will still find that it occasionally has trouble reading players’ moves. That said, in Kinect's defence I noticed from watching other people play that when the player complains about a move not being tracked, 80% of the time they were clearly the one getting it wrong.
In short, Dance Central 2 is definitely a step up from its predecessor, albeit more of a tweaking than an evolution. Those who are nuts about the first game will love the sequel's new modes, songs and ability to combine their tracks together. Those who don't like dancing, or the music genre – how about a shot of vodka?
Lasting Appeal 8
Image: fans rock Dance Central 2 at this year's Armageddon Expo.