As a self-conscious person with no rhythm, I generally avoid dancing at all costs. At wedding receptions I spend most of my time either at the bar or hiding in the bathroom, at least until my wife finds me and forcibly drags me to the dance floor. In spite of this, I have enjoyed the Dance Central series, because of the fun, accessible game play that appeals to my whole family. Dance Central 3 sticks with that formula and adds some new modes and options to keep the party fresh, and it remains the game to beat in the genre.
At the beginning of the game, you stumble into a strange underground command center that looks like something out of a spy movie. After proving your dance skills you find that you’re being recruited – the evil Dr. Tan has been assembling legions of dancers with the freshest moves, and you need to travel back in time, mastering dance crazes from the last four decades in order to stop the impending dance crimes. Yes, the plot is pretty goofy, but given the nature of the game it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment.
The core gameplay remains the same from past entries in the series. Pick a difficulty, select a song and then mirror the moves of the dancers on screen. You’re graded on how well you match the move, and limbs that don’t match will be outlined in red. It points out the problem areas, but there’s no specific feedback, so you may need to experiment in order to get it right. In one instance when my left arm was off I tried raising it and lowering if before discovering that I just needed to be moving it in time to the beat. It seemed that in general the game was stricter judging moves than past iterations, but not to a large degree.
In addition to following the dancers on screen, cards on the right will show you what move is coming next, so you can be prepared. At the end of a song you are graded on your performance, from one to five stars. In the single player game, you are sent back in time to uncover the craze for that decade. This requires finding and successfully executing the power moves for that decade, which are scattered throughout the songs. Collecting these craze moves allows you to decode the craze and unlock the final song for that decade. Completing the final song lets you to travel to the next decade, provided you have earned enough stars in your current era.
Dance Central 3 also features a fitness mode as part of its single player experience. In fitness mode you can set goals for how many times you would like to work out with the game each week, and how many calories you would like to burn each time. If you’re more casually interested in your calorie burn, you can simply toggle a calorie counter that will appear in any game mode you play. Obviously the numbers are estimates, but given what an aerobic workout dancing can be, it’s a nice feature to have, and the ability to use it in different ways is really nice.
The single player game is fine, but the real fun comes in the multiplayer, and there are plenty of options to choose from. When competing for score with a second person, the game throws in some twists to keep the action exciting. Occasionally one player will be put in the spotlight, where their move scores count double, while their opponent sits out that section. There are sections where each player can choose from several possible moves; successfully completing one unlocks more, and the more you complete in that section, the higher the bonus you can earn.
Nailing the finish pose for a song unlocks a pose mode, where you can keep matching your character’s different poses to earn more points. All of the different mechanics keep matches from getting stale, because you never know what’s coming, and even if a player is behind there are opportunities to catch up, like frantically trying to match poses ay the end of the song to earn those last few points. If you want some competition but don’t have a friend handy, there are weekly score challenges from the developer, and you can send and receive score challenges among Xbox Live friends with the game.
For a more free-flowing experience with others, there’s Party mode, which you can jump into as soon as you start the game. Party mode can handle one or two players at a time, and players can swap out easily between songs, making it ideal for gaming with a crowd. If you’re in the mood for something more competitive, Throwdown will allow you to divide into teams and face off in a series of one on one challenges until one team emerges victorious.
Both Party and Throwdown can be customized to your liking. By default they feature abbreviated songs, but you can opt for whole songs, and also choose to include or exclude any or all of the different game variants. Both also support custom playlists, so you can pick the songs you want ahead of time. In Party mode you can choose the next song using Smartglass on your phone or tablet device, although this feature is not available at the time of this writing.
Dance Central 3 has the same visual style as the previous games, and the look of the menus is largely the same as well. The visuals are smooth, with the exception of some odd framerate issues during a couple of the story scenes. The premise of the story gives the game a wide ranging soundtrack, from The Village People to Heavy D to Justin Bieber. As someone who doesn’t really follow popular music I recognized a lot of the songs. More importantly, my wife and little girl, who do follow popular music, thought the song selection was great.
Voice controls in the game are very good; they stay active until you stop talking, so you can quit your current song, back up a few menus, change game type and select a new song without having to say “Xbox” more than once. There are some rough spots in the presentation though – when playing in story mode it took me several minutes to figure out how to get out without losing all of my saved progress. The game occasionally has left hand menu options at the top and bottom of the screen, and trying to select the bottom option often starts to trigger the Kinect pause menu, which is a nuisance.
Like the previous games before it, Dance Central 3 is just plain fun to play. Games that my entire family enjoys are rare, and it’s even rarer that I enjoy playing those games on my own as well. Playing solo (with the blinds closed, of course), even on Easy, I worked up a pretty good sweat and had a blast doing it. With excellent motion recognition, a great track list and loads of multiplayer options, it remains the best dance game for Kinect.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.