You can't fail out of a dance or do so poorly that the music suffers, so it's easy to just keep bopping along even if you flub a given section (or every section). Dance Central wants you to have fun dancing, so there is no punishment for having two left feet. The 32-song setlist features a good variety of dance styles from multiple decades, though the focus is clearly on songs that could play in a dance club. The routines range from simple and straightforward to complex and vigorous, and each song's routine comes in three different versions: easy, medium, and hard. The first time you play any song, the medium and hard routines are locked, which keeps you from getting overwhelmed with complex and varied moves. This three-tiered difficulty system not only adds further layers of challenge and accessibility, but it also creates a sense of progress within each song. Moving up the difficulty levels as you become more and more comfortable with a song makes you feel like you are mastering the routine, which makes it all the more satisfying when you deliver a five-star performance.6283529NoneThis is perhaps the closest thing to a Saturday Night Fever game on the market today.
If just dancing your way through the routine isn't enough to propel you on the road to mastery, the exceedingly helpful Break It Down mode is the place to go. In this mode, you are accompanied by a disembodied trainer voice that guides you through the moves in a given routine section by section. If you nail a move on the first try, you progress to the next move. If you don't quite get it, you are prompted to try it a few more times before moving on, and you can even slow down the music to really help you master the movements. This repetition is a helpful learning tool, though it may sometimes make you wish you could just get on with it already, and it's definitely better suited for solo play. Yet, even if you aren't mastering every move as you go, Break It Down mode never grinds to a halt by forcing you to achieve perfection. Practicing not only helps you perform better physically, but it also hones your ability to take cues from the flash cards so you can better anticipate what is coming next.
Dance Central doesn't have a career mode to speak of, though there are unlockable characters, outfits, venues, and challenges. There are also leaderboards and a persistent ranking to track your progress, as well as a Dance Battle mode for those interested in some living room competition. You can battle on any song, alternating sections and striving to outscore your opponent. It's also worth noting that there are freestyle sections in each song that encourage you to cut loose and show off your own moves. During these sections, the screen turns into a psychedelic rainbow and the Kinect rapidly takes pictures of you, which it then displays in a quasianimated slideshow before the normal routine resumes. Because the photos seem irregularly timed and the slideshow plays random snippets in forward and reverse, these sections feel more suited to just doing weird stuff in front of the camera than actually trying to record some legit moves. The game also seems to grab photos during your routine that you don't end up seeing, which is a little weird, but you can always disable photos in the menu if you so choose.
Practice makes perfect, but the red glow around his arms means you aren't quite there yet.
Though Dance Central isn't the first dance video game on the block, it boasts moves that no other can manage. From a tech standpoint, the full-body tracking system is not only novel, but it also provides great feedback to help you hone your skills. The slick dancer animations draw you into the game, and the flashy effects that kick in when you're doing well are a nice touch. Perhaps most importantly, the broad difficulty spectrum and the intuitive visual prompts mean the only barrier to entry is your own willingness to break a sweat and risk looking less than dignified. Dance Central may not offer much beyond the opportunity to stand up and dance in front of your television, but this is one invitation you shouldn't turn down.
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