VGBlogger Year-End Dance Off

Way the hell back in 1969, Sydney Pollack directed an uplifting little movie called “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” For moviegoers whose cinematic memory stalls out somewhere around the first Spider-Man flick, it starred a young Jane Fonda as a wannabe starlet roped into a Depression-era dance marathon where contestants often literally danced themselves to death.

Trying to blaze one’s way through not one, not two, but five different dance videogames in straight succession sometimes felt a little like that movie, especially when the virtual DJ dialed up “Whip My Hair” for the second or third time. (They shoot videogame writers, don’t they? Wait—don’t answer that. ) But it was a necessary sacrifice. In the space of just two years, the dance game genre on modern consoles has become a dance-floor jungle, with all sorts of colorful and chord-happy contenders thumping the bass to stake a claim to your wallets, your heart rates and the dregs of your dignity. Somebody has to separate the Jerry Rices from the Kate Gosselins. You’re welcome.

Dance Central 2 (Microsoft / Harmonix)

DanceCentral2.jpg

Platforms: Xbox 360 (Kinect)
Song Count: 44
Shares Tracks with: Get Up and Dance
Pump Up the Volume: Usher’s “DJ Got Us Falling In Love,” Far East Movement’s “Like a G6”
Lord, Make it Stop: Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair,” Daft Punk’s “Technologic”
Any Good DLC? What, are you kidding? Harmonix is the undisputed king of stretching revenue stream on their music games. They’re still pumping out DLC for the original Rock Band, for god’s sake. What? Dance Central 2 DLC? Right. How ‘bout this hefty dose of RiRi?

Dance Central was easily the king of the Kinect launch lineup last year, and its sequel smartly refused to scratch the needle on any part the first game’s smooth groove. Instead, it’s all about extras and remixes. Eight additional characters to unlock and get down with; the ability to have two dancers competing on-screen at once and actually have their routines scored; a Crew Challenge mode that makes you feel like you’re busting a move in front of the judges on Dancing with the Stars. Without the stars, that is.

DC2 already enjoyed the best graphics and presentation of any dance game out there—still love the stroke of creative genius that has the boombox in the corner tracking your score and star accumulation.

Really, the only things missing here are the ability to school opponents in an online multiplayer mode and the ability to create, tape and share your own choreography (a feature Just Dance 3, the Kirstie Alley to Dance Central’s Erin Andrews, just broke out in its latest iteration. Keep reading.) Who wants to bet a new dance reality show that both features will be front and center in the inevitable Dance Central 3?

BuyIt.jpg

Just Dance 3 (Ubisoft)

JustDance3.jpg

Platforms: Xbox 360 Kinect, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii
Song Count: 50
Shares Tracks With: Everybody Dance, Black Eyed Peas Experience, Get Up and Dance
Pump Up the Volume: Scissor Sisters’ “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You”
Lord, Make it Stop: The Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star,” KISS’s “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”
Any Good DLC? You bet your bootylicious. Just like the game’s main setlist, the DLC is a mix of the unexpected, experimental and downright bizarro, including off-the beaten path tracks by the B-52s, Fatboy Slim and Jamiroquai. The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” and the Mardi Gras version of “Iko Iko” are basically must-downloads.

Ubisoft’s Just Dance series is the Kardashian family of the dance video game universe. There’s no discernible reason why it should be so wildly popular, and yet it just is. By now, it’s a little hard to argue with the sales figures—and it doesn’t exactly hurt your image when President Obama reportedly slipped a last-minute copy into his daughters’ stockings this Christmas.

That said, it’s never been hard to tell which side of serious-versus-silly equation the series prefers to shake its money maker (literally). Even when you’re playing on Kinect and your hippy shake isn’t hamstrung by the cord that connects the Wiimote and the Nunchuk, it’s easy to see that it doesn’t really matter what sort of moves you’re busting in front of the TV, as long as you’re looking as ridiculous as possible. How else to explain the game’s forcing you to bust The Running Man, a routine no sensible person would ever dream of rocking on an actual dance floor? The multicolored, cel-shaded avatars the game asks players to mirror have always been awful at teaching noob dancers how not to look like a flamingo suffering an epileptic fit. Face it: Just Dance 3 is far more about good-natured public humiliation than actual choreography.

Except, of course, when it’s not. Just Dance 3’s big new sell is its recording feature, a nifty little addition that lets you turn your very own bust-a moves into something you can force your friends to try to (badly) copy. It’s also more robust and well-implemented than the similar feature in Everybody Dance.

Just Dance 3 is also a game that settles for cover versions more quickly than the sloshed locals at the neighborhood dive bar. Several entries in the song lineup aren’t performed by the signature singer, which means you’ll have to decide (again) if dancing to a faux Britney Spears is a deal-breaker.

BuyIt.jpg

The Black Eyed Peas Experience (Ubisoft)

BlackEyedPeasExperience.jpg

Platforms: Xbox 360 Kinect, Nintendo Wii
Song Count: 30
Shares Tracks With: Just Dance 3
Pump Up the Volume: “Pump It,” “Boom Boom Pow”
Lord, Make it Stop: “My Humps”
Any Good DLC? Sorta. The Limited Edition of the game comes with codes to download “Light Up the Night” and “Someday” from what could conceivably be the Peas’ last studio album

Y’know, it’s a little confusing. I always sorta thought that the Black Eyed Peas experience was supposed to involve imagining oneself the modern day Bob Dylan while dropping third-grade level rhymes and lyrics (will i.am), using your band to shamelessly sing about your curves and goose your solo career (Fergie), writing an obtuse and self-conscious autobiography (Taboo) or being that one guy whose name nobody can ever remember or spell (Apl.D. App). It at least has to feature an underwhelming Super Bowl performance and an understated band breakup, right?

Nope. It turns out that The Black Peas Experience is a lot like the Michael Jackson Experience, except with more boom boom pow and less rhinestone glove. You’re dancing to a string of Black Eyed Peas’ hits, trying to unlock songs, venues and clothes while avoiding being blinded by will.i.am’s interesting costume choices.

This Experience does have its advantages, beginning with the way the game fronts its moves. A dance avatar at the top of the screen performs the entire move before you have to, which actually proves an easier way to learn it than the on-the-fly cue cards and icons Dance Central 2 uses. And it has disadvantages as well—the Kinect functions here are kinda fussy when it comes to picking up your more subtle dance moves. Not exactly the best way to get it started, if you know what I mean.

The real downside here is that you’re looking at 30 songs of nothing but Black Eyed Peas. As the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games that focused on individual groups proved, outside of the Beatles Rock Band, the distinct lack of performer variety can sink a game faster than will.i.am drops rhymes on “Imma Be.” If the Peas’ brand of pop-funk is your cup of booty-wagging tea, welcome to nirvana. Otherwise, the lack of variety here isn’t likely to make you want to meet Fergie, or any of the rest of the Peas halfway.

TryIt.jpg

Everybody Dance (Sony)

EverybodyDance.jpg

Platforms: PlayStation 3
Shares Tracks With: Dance Central 2
Song Count: 40
Pump Up the Volume: Republica’s “Ready to Go,” Billy Idol’s “Dancin’ With Myself”
Lord, Make it Stop: The New Kids on the Block’s “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair”
Any Good DLC? Three packs so far and counting. Each one has at least one or two classic ‘80s/’90s dance tunes. Like Ric Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Righteous.

Quick—what’s the most important part of your body in a dance routine? If you answered “my right hand,” then congratulations, you’re busting the same groove as Sony. As Just Dance 3 finally sheds the controller to dive onto the Kinect, Sony asks you to put it back in your paw before you boogie down.

Thanks to the Move controller’s superior tracking tech—it really is better than the Wiimote–most of the moves you’ll bust here while blustering your way through OK Go and OutKast register nicely (although there are still moves that don’t). Thing is, the only thing the game’s sensors are actually tracking is the controller itself, which means it’s possible to ace a song by just flapping your hand in the appropriate ways. Most players aren’t likely to test it, like the guy who exposed the limits of Rock Band 2’s voice recognition by reading the Declaration of Independence aloud, but it’s hard to escape the fact that Everybody Dance’s control scheme is set up to only nab part of your amazing performance.

Unlike Just Dance 3, the avatar you’re supposed to ape is clean and crisp, outlined in singular colors so it’s easy to discern. Like Just Dance 3, Everybody Dance also comes with a Dance Creator, which gives it a step or two up on several of its competitors. Everybody Dance evens lets you sing along to the music. I know I had forgotten that the PlayStation Eye packs a mic. Word up.

BuyIt.jpg

Get Up and Dance (O-Games)

GetUpAndDance.jpg

Platforms: PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii
Song Count: 30
Shares Tracks With: Just Dance 3
Pump Up the Volume: Salt –N-Pepa’s “Push It,” Black Kids’ “I Am Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance”
Lord, Make it Stop: Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart,” Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling“
Any Good DLC? Nope. Not yet, anyway.

GUAD—now there’s a catchy acronym, as I’m sure the Urban Dictionary would agree—is the value-priced contestant on this year’s dance floor. It retails for a full $20 less than its competitors, but as you might expect, this is definitely a case of getting what you pay for. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing: After all, not everyone considers having the PlayStation Eye camera taking constant snapshots of your, um, craaaaaazy moves an essential feature.

The presentation‘s kinda bare-bones, but it works just fine, thank you. GUAD’s onscreen avatar is slightly harder to track than the one in Everybody Dance, but given that all that matters is that the hand holding the controller’s making all the right moves, it’s no problem. One of the clever available game modes is called Tug of War, a dance-off that gives you the opportunity to thrash your opponent before The Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha” reaches its third chorus. I like that you can opt to just watch the music videos rather than dance along. But the sound the game makes when you nail a “flawless” sequence is loud enough to drown out the music, and that’s kinda disruptive.

TryIt.jpg

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.