Just Dance 2016 – Review
PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii-U
I returned from PAX with a horrid case of convention crud, and a copy of Just Dance 2016 on my doorstep.
Party games have always seemed like the mandatory board games that we have on our bookshelves, providing us with the ability to prepare for an immediate shared experience with friends but often not providing any other purpose. For many, the Guitar Hero kits remain in the corner until the next house party, neglected as we prefer to pick up a headset and controller to destroy the Darkness or Diablo or dragons collaboratively. When I saw this game at PAX Australia, I admit that I was transfixed as I watched Ubisoft’s marketing team and random PAX punters stand up on a stage and follow moves that ranged from second-nature shuffles to foreign contortions. There was nervous laughter, but at the end of 3-5 minutes these people had created some pretty fun memories together. In light of this, I was determined to ensure that it did not remain in my memory as a spectator sport.
This is where I discovered that Just Dance 2016 is not just another party game; it is an act of bravery.
My first courageous feat was to meet an unknown enemy. Just Dance 2016 provides a variety of repertoire, from musicals to Disney to “I Gotta Feeling”. Unfortunately, within the initial 44 tracks, I was not very familiar with any of the songs except for…. the handful from musicals, that one from a Disney movie, and “I Gotta Feeling”. The ability to unlock remixed versions (as well as duet, trio, and quartet versions) is something that provides motivation to play frequently, but it challenges the premise of the game being a pick-up game for social occasions. I felt that the only way to proceed honourably was to meet the most frightening beast of all…
… “Uptown Funk”.
At this declaration, the dragons all decided to retire and leave me to my fate.
I wanted to have an accurate assessment of how proficient my movement was in the face of my foe. Already owning the Playstation Camera, I decided to hook this up instead of downloading the Just Dance Controller app. It is a bit unfortunate that there is no way to calibrate the camera in-game, especially when it is foreseeable that the placement of the camera may vary depending on the number of people playing. The change in camera position is managed by quitting the game and using Sony’s Playroom software to reconfigure the camera, so it is just a bit of a clumsy process. This was the precision that I knew that I needed, and shrugged off the controller app as a wooden sword – a cheap weapon that would only prove effective if others chose to use it as well. I would leave the training wheels for the lesser warriors – the people who chose to coordinate armies, and outnumber their adversary.
The battle began, and that first hit was ice cold. I struggled to move as effortlessly as my competitor. I flailed around as Bruno Mars laughed at my misfortune, reiterating how hot he is. However, when I heard the clash of metal and stars appear in my periphery, I also heard the crowd cheer me on. They reiterated that I was doing “good”. They praised me for my perfect punches. That was where the second challenge presented itself: to persevere.
The beginning part of the song felt like an eternity as Bruno Mars demanded that I say his name and to hit his “hallelujah” (whatever that was). But as I was goaded to continue, to flaunt it, to own my talent, the perseverance turned into fierce competition. And with the help of the cheering crowd, my determination increased as I kicked and threw my hands in all directions to make contact. I pushed myself harder, and I saw more stars glow and sparkle in the perimeter of my vision. And even though Bruno screamed in his final defeat that Uptown Funk would “funk me up”, I knew that I had won.
Then Ubisoft decided to present the third and final challenge: a confrontation with my own inner self.
See, the Playstation Camera had not just made note of my movements, but it has also recorded me. I was faced with a documentary of my own movements, and I was ashamed. I looked nothing like those dancers that I had encountered at PAX Aus! My self-esteem plummeted as I realised that I was not a good as the crowd said I was, and that maybe Uptown Funk was not as “uptown” as it claimed to be. I could not excuse it due to my convention illness; I really could not just dance.
This is where the player can create their own challenge, as a defining difference between this iteration of Just Dance and others previous versions. The new modes allow the player to define their own challenges – while Dance Party will be the most frequent, quick, collaborative experience, Dance Quest allows players to truly compete against the game’s AI, developing skills over three songs. Showtime is the one mode that is available only with a Playstation Camera, and brings in a hybridised version of SingStar into the experience, encouraging players to create lip-synced music videos to share online. Similarly, additional songs are purchased through a monthly subscription service, with a launch library of 156 songs and promise of more to be added. I didn’t see the value in subscribing yet until it has something by Bette Midler.**
Just Dance 2016 is challenging and, for the courageous, confronting as you are forced to see yourself as the fantastic or flawed dancer that you truly are. Or, if you have a few friends around, it is good for a laugh. It is far from easy, and tries to give you false praise to cover that its tracking is less than precise. However, it is a challenge worth taking, if only to say that you have met your anxieties head-on, and growled at that dancing panda in righteous victory.
**As I mentioned before, my knowledge of popular music is horrible. I do not fear your judgement – I’ve had to face my own horrible dancing and I’m still here.