Harmonix’s Dance Central was one of the most widely praised launch titles for the Xbox 360’s full body motion-control device when it launched last year. Since then Kinect has benefited from a number of titles that have pushed the device far beyond what was considered the limit of its capabilities, especially in recent months. And so eyes are now on Harmonix’s second effort, Dance Central 2, to see if they can up the ante, and take back their crown as the leader of Kinect engineering.
From the immediacy of Dance Central 2’s two player gameplay, it’s clear to see that Harmonix has understood that other studios have managed to push the boundaries of what Kinect is capable of, and do the same in their own unique way. Dance Central 2 allows a second player to join the dancing action at any point, be it from the main menu, in the all-new Crew Challenge mode or even in the middle of a track. Simply jumping into position and raising your hand is all you need to do to command Dance Central 2 to bring another play chart into the fold, and another on-screen avatar to represent the newcomer. It’s a system that works fluidly, even in low lighting conditions.
The aforementioned Crew Challenge mode is effectively Dance Central 2’s campaign mode. Joining a specific crew, players will compete against rival crews to work their way up the rankings. Beginning with easy routines and slowly building new, and more difficult, moves into their routines, the Crew Challenge is the perfect place for budding dancers to get to grips with Dance Central 2’s challenge. Along the way you’ll unlock new characters and outfits while taking part in a light hearted story. It’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but then no one ever said it had to be.
While the Crew Challenge mode offers a mostly gentle learning curve, there may be some tracks players simply can’t beat. The solution for this problem comes in the form of the Break It Down mode, wherein players can create customised practice sessions. After performing a song in the exhibition mode – known as Perform It – players can access a list of the moves they failed and specifically practice them, and if that’s not enough you can record a video of yourself dancing to compare with the on-screen avatar, allowing you to view directly where you are going wrong. After this, there’s no excuse not to be hitting that dance floor with record scores.
Dance Central 2 also features a specific Fitness Mode in which a selection of playlists has been pre-constructed. Playing in Fitness Mode will track your time played and estimate the calories you have burned in a session. Fitness Mode can also be enabled across any mode in addition to the organised playlists, allowing those looking to monitor their play to do so.
Kinect gaming was always meant to be a social experience, with most of the videogame titles available for the device incorporating multiplayer gameplay in one way or another. Dance Central 2 capitalises on this aspect, and not just with the aforementioned drop-in/drop-out gameplay. With Kinect Share, players can export recorded moments of action and upload them to Twitter or Facebook without leaving the videogame’s menu. Photos feature the player’s score, the name of the song and the difficulty setting, all through a simple one-button interface.
The technical improvement over the original Dance Central goes way beyond the social aspect however, with the player detection being far greater. Even with the lights dimmed the software does a very good job of picking out the player(s) from their surroundings. When players are seen to be performing a move inaccurately, the edge of the associated limb will begin to glow, indicating to the player what needs to be changed and providing enough time in each move for the player to acknowledge this feedback and correct it without dropping too many points. It’s a remarkable system thanks to its immediacy, and one that will undoubtedly become the standard upon which future identifiers are based.
Dance Central 2 has a tracklist that is sure to please many fans, taking modern hits from the past year as well as popular tracks from decades past. The selection extends to more than forty tracks (plus the option to import tracks from the first title and download more via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace) including the likes of Lady Gaga, Rhianna, Bruno Mars and Nicky Minaj coupled with alternative stars Daft Punk and Sir Mix-a-Lot. With this line-up of pop artists and the colourful visual design, it’s clear that Dance Central 2 is intended to be the height of fashionable trends for popular music: it’s the Top of the Pops for the interactive era. And in that respect it’s entirely successful. Dance Central 2 may have a tough time on its hands when being considered as an example of software pushing the Kinect device, but in terms of mainstream appeal there’s arguably few better titles launching this winter.