I Play Just Dance and See Why It’s So Divisive

Hope you had a great Easter weekend. For me, it was a great opportunity to spend some time with my family as well as my girlfriend’s family. As far as gaming goes, most of it went down at my girlfriend’s house, where my girlfriend, her sister, her sister’s boyfriend and I played a bunch of Wii games. We played a bunch of games, including the Beatles: Rock Band, Rock Band Track Pack Volume 2, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 (which was really fun) and we beat New Super Mario Bros. Wii (which was epic, because we stayed up till 3am on Sunday night to beat it).

The one game I wanted to talk about today though was Just Dance. My girlfriend and her sister had been extremely excited to buy this game and finally picked it up over the weekend. Just Dance is the hottest new game on Wii, having sold over 2 million copies worldwide and garnering rave reviews from customers. However, the gaming press and core gamers have slammed Just Dance hard, claiming that it’s a half-baked product that doesn’t even work.

Now that I’ve played it, I see where both sides are coming from.

The strongest asset Just Dance has going for it is its core concept. The idea of a dancing game where you actually dance is fantastic. People all over the world love to dance and up until this point, the technology hasn’t been there to allow for people to translate their real-life dance movements into a game. Even those who play Dance Dance Revolution know that stepping on directional tiles is nothing like real dancing. Just Dance asks players to do contemporary and classic dance moves that make total sense within the lexicon of dancing. You don’t have to have any video game experience to play this, all you have to do is dance. Kudos for Ubisoft for tapping into an idea that a lot of people have wanted to see for a long time.

Adding to the accessibility of the product is its set-list, which is filled with mass appeal hits, an extremely simple interface, a varied mix of music and dance styles as well as the inability to fail. If the game thinks you danced poorly, it will not stop the song half way through to tell you that you suck, unlike most other music games. If you do poorly, it will be reflected by the score at the end, but that’s no big deal.

Just like real dancing, it’s fun to do with a group of people. Get three friends over and throw on “I Like To Move It” and you’re almost certain to have a good time as you try your best (and usually fail) to imitate the movements on screen. All four of us playing it had a blast as we tried to keep in step with varying degrees of success. Adding to the fun were my girlfriend’s relatives, who thought it was hilarious to watch us break it down.

For the right audience, Just Dance is the ultimate party-starter. For core gamers and for those who don’t like to dance, you will hate this game with a passion. If you hate dancing, then I don’t need to explain to you why you’ll hate this. From the core gamer perspective, this game does a very poor job of fitting their description of what a video game is.

As a rhythm game, Just Dance falls well short of the standards set by other games in the genre. The 32-song set list will feel paltry to gamers used to getting 60-80 songs on a disc. While I wouldn’t say that Just Dance has bad graphics, the iPod commercial art style can come off as lazy. There are very few modes and options to vary your experience with the game, which can cut down the lifespan of this game dramatically if you’re used to playing games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

The biggest problem Just Dance faces is in the execution of its core concept. Yes, you dance as you would in real-life, but the game does a poor job of tracking player’s movements and telling players why they’re doing well or poorly.

If you’ve messed around with a Wii remote, you already know the limitations that controller has. It does not track true one-to-one motion. It reads gestures. I can tell that Ubisoft choreographed the dance routines a certain way to give the Wii remote a better chance of tracking your movements. The problem is that it really doesn’t work as you would want it to. Oftentimes, I would do what appeared to me as the exact same gesture twice, only for the game to say that one of them was great and the other was wrong. Also, there were times where I would do the movement on screen completely wrong, but the game would tell me that I did great.

To a point, the game’s tracking and scoring feels random and broken. You could be the best dancer in the room, but if your Wii remote isn’t moving exactly the way the game wants you to move it, you could lose to someone sitting on the couch just twisting their wrist around. Where the random theory falls apart to a point occurs when you play it with four-players. In my experience, my girlfriend and her sister consistently beat the guys, which means they were consistently better at this game than we were. The girls did a better job of lining up their movements to what the game wanted them to do.

This is where as a game, it falls apart for me. Let’s say that I want to show those girls who is the king of the dance floor. How do I get better at this game? I don’t think I can. I can dance like Michael Jackson and still suck at this game if my Wii remote’s motions don’t line up with what the game wants me to do. If I get it wrong, the game has no way of telling me why my motions were wrong and how to improve it. For gamers who like that feeling of progression, I don’t think you’re going to get it from this game, no matter how hard you try because the game doesn’t give you the tools you need to play it the way it wants you to.

But do all those criticisms matter if you and your friends are having a blast dancing to Cotton Eye Joe? For the audience Just Dance is intended for, probably not. While it comes up horribly short as a video game in terms of how core gamers would define what a video game is, you can’t take away the fact that Just Dance is a great facilitator of a good time for the audience this product is meant for. It’s already a monster success and millions of people love it. If you’re one of those people that thinks it’s great, awesome. If you’re not willing to let up on the fact that as a video game, it’s terrible, I respect that too. I was fully conscious of the game’s faults when I played it, but it didn’t stop me from having a good time with three other people. If a good time is all that matters to you in the end, then maybe it’s best that we end all the talk and “just dance”. Sorry, I couldn’t help it.

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