From: MTV Games
For: Xbox 360
Genre: Dance, Fitness / Health
ESRB Rating: Teen (13+)
The spirit of dance is a wonderful thing. It's active, it's social, it's fun - but it's not the easiest thing to recreate in a video game. And while there have been popular dancing titles in the past like Dance Dance Revolution, to date the essence of dancing games has been little more than an exercise in memorizing patterns and trying to stomp them out with your feet on a special floor mat controller.
Dance Central, on the other hand, manages to capture the spirit of dance more faithfully than any game that's come before.
Developed by Harmonix and published by MTV Games (the same pairing responsible for the popular Rock Band franchise), Dance Central provides players the opportunity to get in front of their TV's and learn some full on, club-worthy dance moves.
Utilizing Microsoft's new Kinect hardware accessory for the Xbox 360, the game flawlessly tracks a player's body movements as they attempt to match dance moves that appear on the screen. Recreate the moves perfectly and your score will rise quickly. Perform poorly and your score will slow to a crawl.
The game knows not every couch potato is part of Britney Spears' dance crew, so it's pretty forgiving of little mistakes. In an effort to help you improve, Dance Central even tries to steer you in the right direction by highlighting the parts of your body that aren't quite in sync with your on screen counterpart.
Should you find that simply jumping in and busting a move isn't quite netting you the score you deserve, each song features a tutorial mode that will walk you through each of its dances step by step, letting you master its moves at a friendlier pace. The game also features a multiplayer mode called "Dance Battle" that will allow two players to swap off in mid song to see who can earn the most points, offering up a perfect mode for the social gaming setting.
In addition to the regular modes, players can activate a workout mode that will track their exercise time and approximate calories lost during play. While it might not be as effective as a gym membership, it's hard to not appreciate anything that encourages fitness amongst gamers - or even non-gamers otherwise too shy, too busy or too lazy to get to a gym.
The music selection in Dance Central is a far cry from the rock 'n' roll that one might be accustomed to from previous Harmonix games - Rock Dance Hero this is not - but the danceable soundtrack is a great fit for the style of gameplay on offer. There are 32 songs in total, ranging from disco favorites like Funkytown to more modern fare from the likes of Lady Gaga, M.I.A. and Soulja Boy.
Thirty-two songs may sound like a small number, but with varying dance routines for each song based on difficulty and over 650 different dance moves to learn, it equates to nearly one hundred dance routines for you to get your groove on. Combine that with the promise of additional songs and routines appearing as downloadable content, and you've got a game that could take even seasoned dancers months to master.
Dance Central manages to impress not only as a brilliantly fun dance game, but also as a shining example of what Microsoft's Kinect is capable of bringing to the living room. The full body tracking works flawlessly, acting as a convincing proof of concept for the Xbox brand's latest endeavor. Harmonix has even put some thought into how to make menu navigation comfortable, offering a sliding mechanism that feels far more natural than the "hovering hand" gesture that Microsoft is employing in their own software.
A perfect party game, a challenging work out, and a flawless proof of concept for Kinect, Dance Central might just be the most innovative music title of the year. If you've ever wanted to get off the couch and go dancing, now's your chance to do it without the hassle of having to leave the living room.