Since the prevalence of motion control gaming there has been an onslaught of gimmicky games that shell out terrible gameplay in an effort to turn over a quick dollar. Dancing games are notoriously placed in that category since its so appealing to the family gaming crowd. The difference here with Dance Central is two-fold. One on hand you have the new and surprisingly deep controller-less Kinect and secondly, you have a veteran developer in Harmonix.
Harmonix is best known as the guys responsible for the smash musical hit Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, single handedly raising the music genre of gaming from novelty to awesome with each successive release. Dance Central is a step in a new direction for the developer and it's one that will have you literally stepping up your game.
Dance Central features a couple different modes including single player, dance battles (2 player), workout mode and break-it-down mode (tutorials). Players will find themselves mirroring on-screen characters as they dance to a huge variety of tunes from Lady Gaga's Poker Face to Poison by Bell Biv DeVoe. Beside those characters runs a series of flash cards that depict the next move in the line-up and if a character's arm for instance flashes red that means your arm is in the wrong position. The Kinect does a spectacular job in tracking your movements for accuracy. However I have noticed that the game (or maybe Kinect) is more forgiving towards certain moves, specifically locking and popping. Whether or not that is a design decision or a flaw in Kinect I can't say. Either way the total impact on the game is minimal.
Even if you can't dance or have no intention of dancing outside your living room, there's still plenty of fun to be had. Break-it-down mode runs you through each dance move, allowing you to perfect difficult moves such as the seemingly impossible Jazz Squares or Reject. Dance battles are decisively more laid back, if frenzied due to the thrill of competition, and allows players to tackle songs with at any difficulty (harder difficulties must be unlocked one at a time in single player). Regardless, you can progress through the game in either mode, collecting stars for good performances and unlocking challenge segments. These challenge segments are a mix of all the songs of a particular section. But beware, The Grand Finale challenge will have you panting.
On screen characters look great here, something that previous Harmonix games lacked. The ability to unlock alternate costumes and new stages to dance add some depth to an otherwise straightforward title. The stages are vibrant and match the tone of the game. Whats perplexing here is the strange "ending". I'm not quite sure what to make of it as I didn't even know I was playing through a story. Whether or not Harmonix plans to use this to some degree in a possible sequel, who knows.
Even though the game boasts a huge lists of songs from various genres, Harmonix has been releasing downloadable songs to add to your library. This is very much welcome in expanding your time with the game and ensures you'll be Supermaning and Glitching your way into the near future.
I'm at an odd place here because I hate motion control gaming but this title is so much fun both alone and with friends/family that I can't help but hope we see more like it. There is loads of potential for expansion here so hopefully Harmonix doesn't get lost in developmental limbo (since it was recently acquired by a new owner). I have to give Dance Central a 5/5. Have fun with Pon de Replay.
Dance Central is rated T for Teen due to Lyrical content. There isn't much in the way of cursing here (a few damns or hells here) so the only thing I can think of to blame for that is Lil Wayne. Just kiddin'!