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)Link
"Just Dance 4" features a new dance battle mode. (Ubisoft)Link
Miss Aubrey and Angel dance in a 1970s roller rink in "Dance Central 3." (Harmonix)Link
The avatars in "Just Dance 4" are based on motion-capture performances by professional dancers. (Ubisoft)Link
Rasa, left, and Lima are in the limelight in "Dance Central 3." (Harmonix)Link
One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" in "Just Dance 4." (Ubisoft)Link
The character Mo in "Dance Central 3." (Harmonix)Link
Taye, left, and Li'l T get down in "Dance Central 3." (Harmonix)Link
Skrillex's "Rock N' Roll (Will Take You To The Mountain)" in "Just Dance 4." (Ubisoft)Link
The character Miss Aubrey in "Dance Central 3." (Harmonix)Link
Carly Rae Jepsen's summer jam "Call Me Maybe" is featured in "Just Dance 4." (Ubisoft)Link
The character Li'l T in "Dance Central 3." (Harmonix)Link
Will Smith's "Wild Wild West" in Just Dance 4. (Ubisoft)Link
Lima, left, and Rasa bust a move in "Dance Central 3." (Harmonix)Link
"Just Dance 4" avatars dance to Panjabi MC's "Beware of the Boys (Mundian To Bach Ke)." (Ubisoft)Link
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.
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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