‘Dance Central 3’ vs. ‘Just Dance 4’: Which one has the right stuff?

Oct. 18, 2012 | 7:00 a.m.
dancebattle cp2 Dance Central 3 vs. Just Dance 4: Which one has the right stuff?

Harmonix's "Dance Central 3," left, and Ubisoft's "Just Dance 4" were released within a week of each other, leading to a dance battle between the two most popular dance game franchises. (Harmonix; Ubisoft)

lush70s01 Dance Central 3 vs. Just Dance 4: Which one has the right stuff?

Miss Aubrey and Angel dance in a 1970s roller rink in "Dance Central 3." (Harmonix)

characters Dance Central 3 vs. Just Dance 4: Which one has the right stuff?

The avatars in "Just Dance 4" are based on motion-capture performances by professional dancers. (Ubisoft)

Dancing is important.

Why just this week the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science unveiled the latest winner of its annual “Dance Your Ph.D” contest. For those curious, the victor was Peter Liddicoat, a materials scientist from Australia. His 17-word titled dissertation likely won’t become the next “Gangnam Style,” but it doesn’t need to be a pop hit to lend credence to the theory that dancing is serious business.

Two new games released this month purport to let anyone become an ace dancer — or at least pretend to be one for a few hours, no choreography training or science degree needed. The latest in popular franchises “Just Dance” and “Dance Central” are out now. Ubisoft’s “Just Dance 4,” the follow-up to the No. 2 selling game of 2011, according to the NPD Group, is available for all major consoles while Harmonix’s “Dance Central 3” is an Xbox exclusive.

We had two of our video game writers for Hero Complex test the Xbox editions of each of the games.

Todd Martens: Let’s state this up top as a disclaimer. You have played and enjoyed dance games in the past. I have steadfastly — stubbornly, perhaps — gone out of my way to avoid them. If they’ve come on at friends’ gatherings, I’ve bolted to another room.

Mainly, I have no rhythm. If there’s a crowd clap-along moment at a Hollywood Bowl show, I will be the person clapping off beat. So, I ask, why should I pay attention to one of these dance games?

Noelene Clark: The reasons you avoid dance games — a lack of rhythm and coordination and swagger — are the reasons I find them so appealing. Games like “Dance Central” and “Just Dance” take something I find difficult and mystifying and break it down into individual steps I can mimic and learn. Granted, I’ll look foolish, but games like this make it safe to be silly.

TM: The first game we played was “Dance Central 3.” This game is populated in different parts with characters. Two of them, Rasa and Lima, quite frankly, are intimidating. They look and act like the suave, good-looking folks who go to dance clubs and just naturally attract a crowd.

“Just Dance 4” was initially more inviting, as the avatars are faceless, anonymous — just perfect dancing machines. As smooth as they are, they’re also more robotic in appearance. No one has to worry about the eyeless avatars of “Just Dance 4” judging your choice of jeans. In short, my first impression was that “Dance Central 3” was more serious and “Just Dance 4” was more playful. That’s not to say “Dance Central 3” doesn’t have its silly side.

NC:  I’d agree with that. “Dance Central’s” avatars (the same crews we met in previous iterations of the game) dress and talk like grown-up Bratz dolls. I don’t know that their smack-talk and costumes are entirely appropriate for younger players. The “Just Dance” franchise avatars are more goofy and move less stiffly. And that’s in keeping with the overall tone of each game; “Just Dance 4” is more family-friendly and accessible — the sort of game you could turn on at a party. “Dance Central” also has fun party features, including a mode that lets you make up your own moves, but it takes the choreography more seriously; if you mess up, the game lets you know, highlighting the problem areas in red. I found “Just Dance 4” to be much more forgiving.

characters Dance Central 3 vs. Just Dance 4: Which one has the right stuff?

The avatars in “Just Dance 4” are based on motion-capture performances by professional dancers. (Ubisoft)

TM: Because I’m a dance-game newbie, that initially seemed to give “Just Dance 4” the edge. It actually reminded me of playing Twister as a kid, as it put stumbling around with friends ahead of perfection. Yet if I’m going to dance for the first time since — well, ever — I may as well be learning something.

Once I received praise in “Just Dance 4” for doing a jumping jack instead of the dance move, the more challenging “Dance Central 3” became more appealing. In fact, “Just Dance 4” descended into a game of how wacky can I be and still get points. I found I could crawl.

NC: Although “Dance Central” is more challenging, it has a rehearsal mode (and Usher is your dance coach), so you can learn and practice each move in any given song instead of just jumping in and trying to keep up. Kinect’s voice commands work really well here to slow down or repeat a difficult move, though I found I had to drop my voice an octave to be recognized. For some reason, the Kinect seems to favor deeper voices. But despite that, the interface for “Dance Central” was significantly easier to navigate than “Just Dance,” which was frustratingly unresponsive to gestures.

TM: The Kinect hand gestures on “Just Dance 4” are less intuitive,  so much so that it detracts from the game. “Dance Central 3” can be navigated with just a wave of the arm whereas “Just Dance 4” requires players to tap a song twice — if you’re lucky. It took more than 10 minutes to select “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” in “Just Dance 4.” Maybe the game just really wanted me to dance to Skrillex’s “Rock N’ Roll (Will Take You to the Mountain)” instead, but selecting a song, any song, in “Just Dance 4” was no easy task.

NC: It was nearly impossible — at one point you threatened to throw the Kinect sensor at the screen. But once we got the song going, I felt like Jennifer Grey dancing with Patrick Swayze, complete with twirls and dips and shimmies. “Just Dance 4” gets it right when it comes to interaction between players. Quite a few songs (like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Wild Wild West”) have up to four players at once dancing with each other. “Dance Central” is limited to two players at a time, dancing side-by-side, not really interacting.

“Just Dance 4” also allows players to post videos of themselves to “Just Dance TV.” When we were checking it out, the most popular video was of an adorable little kid in a Superman cape, busting a move to Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling.” It’s a smart way to build a community around the game.

TM: And “Just Dance 4” is in the new Justin Bieber video as well. Neither of the games strays too far from top-40 mode. Both have a head scratcher or two. “Just Dance 4” thinks there’s an appropriate dance to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The game is wrong. Then the crotch-grabbing in “Dance Central 3” during LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” gets a little cringe-inducing. Yet judging these games purely on music selection, “Dance Central 3” gets the edge as it relies slightly less on current chart trends. After all, it’s been a while since I heard Marcia Griffiths’ “Electric Boogie.”

NC: Part of that musical diversity is owed to “Dance Central’s” new story mode. It’s sort of like the narratives in old-school fighting or racing games. You’re recruited as agents of Dance Central Intelligence — “the city’s first and last defense line against dance crimes” — to stop the villain Dr. Tan’s evil plan Operation Lockstep by time traveling to different decades and collecting each craze’s super moves. Think “Y.M.C.A.,” “Macarena” and “Teach Me How to Dougie.”

TM: Ultimately, each of these games is geared toward a very different sort of evening. As someone embarrassed to dance, I found “Dance Central 3” made me feel dancing was possible for me to do well with practice and patience. That being said, there’s less of a sense of an accomplishment in “Just Dance 4,” but it reinforced that dancing is much more fun with a partner, even if you are out of step.

“Dance Central 3,” Harmonix, $49.99, released for Xbox Oct. 16, 2012; “Just Dance 4,” Ubisoft, $39.99, released for Xbox Oct. 9, 2012.

— Noelene Clark and Todd Martens


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19 Responses to ‘Dance Central 3’ vs. ‘Just Dance 4’: Which one has the right stuff?

  1. @undefined says:

    Yay! Love it! Now I guess I need to get both of them.

  2. Boybee says:

    In my opinion, Dance central 3 is more fun. Yes, Just Dance has more simpler moves and is more fun at first, after a while you'll get bored with "goofing around" with the simple dance moves. 2. Just because the avatar provided in just dance looks robotic doesn't alleviate nervousness. Some people will find it uncomfortable to dance with a avatar that they did not pick, especially if the avatar is the opposite gender. Dance central on the other hand allows one to choose from a variety of avatars, with their unique perspectives.( For example, one who is active and lively and likes to act "cool" may prefer Glitch and Mo from Dance central ) And not to mention that Dance Central has more interesting songs. Yes, they are all condensed versions, but who cares when the moves are fun and challenging???

    • Meghan says:

      I agree, I found JD fun before I heard of DC, but then when I played it. Well lets just say I don't play JD all that much anymore

  3. promise says:

    omg dance central is more awesome and challenging i love that stuff and + it has my fave team! the HD! glitch and mo. i kinda like just dance but dance central is much better! :3

  4. Linn says:

    If you have little ones like I do (3 and 6), Just Dance is the better choice since it's more forgiving. Even if they are totally off with the moves, they get 1 or 2 stars and feel pretty smug.

  5. lexi says:

    I,lexi, luv dance central 3 because it has my favorite charactert (glITch) oh and who knows his to biggest secerets. sorry glitch. 1. his real name is david and 2.he was crushing on mmc if u look it up on you tube u will c i am not lying. i am only 10 and i can dance better than my 12 year old sister

  6. Abi says:

    My friend would invite us over to play Dance Central 3 and I would sit just watching them. (I'm not a big fan of dance) Her 10-year old sister would beat them all but I'd see them laughing and goofing off when they wouldn't get certain points to dance move or when they would finally get it. Or it was just so strange they would stand awkwardly and laugh at each other. Finally I couldn't take it, so I went up there and danced as well. To be truthful… I had so much fun! I never thought, I would dance around anyone, but I just enjoyed it so much I wanted to go again and again. I prefer the characters, (Rasa to be exact, a bit strange I know…) I like the whole fun of it I prefer it over Just Dance any time.

  7. AsianDrummer says:

    In my opinion, Just Dance multiplayer is better than Dance Central, and like whats already pointed out, scoring is less strict. Fun if you want to play casually with a bunch of friends whom aren’t dancers but want to get silly.

    I like to put Dance Central as the more PRO game of the two. It has more moves and avatars can be changed as well. If you’re really into dancing, better to pick this one up.

    But as a musician and a casual gamer myself. I’d prefer Just Dance for its Multiplayer mode :)

  8. latoya fleming says:

    dance central has waaaayyy better moves!!! totally!

    • Melody says:

      I agree dance central is better. With just dance 4 just saving your arms around gets you a perfect score than the person actually doing it. Especially woth the kinect. Thats ridiculous. Dance central is more challenging and fun.

  9. Azooz_Hunaiyyan says:

    in my opinion Just Dance is way better cuz it is the best at party games and it has lots of different modes such as: Dance Mashup, Medleys, Just Create, 8 player mode (just dance 2), Party Mode (Just Dance 2), Last One Standing (Just Dance 1) and so on….. most of them will return to just dance 2014, and its Multiplayer mode is up to 4 players which is better and interesting it has a duet mode and a triple mode (Just Dance 2014)
    in Just Dance you actually can goof around and with the autodance mode u can be extremely silly and have a great video. There is more creativity and fun in Just Dance and the people saying it sucks either havn't tried it or simply owned one of the 6 series and said it sucks they don't know what Just Dance has (P.S i dont care if it's repatitive. DC's Easy mode is much more repeatitive than Just Dance's). Sorry but Dance Central is simply not successful to me thats why i dont like it JUST DANCE ALL THE WAY

  10. SirDerpALot says:

    Call me lame but I think the dance moves are better in Just Dance. They are more fun to do and I think they fit the songs better (ex. Moves Like Jagger and Gangnam Stayle). You say JD tracking system sucks well guess what? I look nothing like the dance moves in DC and still make a high score on medium :/ huh. I don't know…the choreography in DC just dosn't always appeal to me. There are only a hand full of songs I like the moves for.

    • Blaster says:

      Well, I guess you don't like hardcore n. fast moves? Moves Like a Jagger in DC3 is very fast paced, and that is one of my favorite song all of Dance Central. I could never dance good before I got my Xbox & Kinect with DC1. Now, I own all three with all songs imported to DC3, and 1 DLC (because they are pricey, but whatever), and I dance around the house even while not playing it, now I am eagerly wanting DC4 to come, just it sucks that Harmonix does a useless game with Disney (I hate Disney Interactive developed games!!)

      Well, in JD, you can goof around, that's why it is "Just" Dance.
      And DC is for real dancers and dance learners, Dance "Central", or same concept as Dance "Core".

  11. Melody Carver says:

    Dance Central is SOOO much better! [i'm a fan of Glitch] Just Dance is only using one hand when on Dance Central you have to use your whole body! Oh and Dance central may be a little adictive- my brother is literaly play DC3 right now! i' m about to join him so Dance Central is better, lets leave it at that.

  12. jack fuller says:

    i wish a song!

  13. jeff says:

    I want JD because they were More Players Than DC.
    JD is more faster to dance because to exercise our body.
    DC is nice to because if you dance there were a guide
    DC also nice when freestyle mode you can do any thing.

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