Dance Central at Eurogamer Expo 2010

When it comes to dancing, it’s not that easy outlining my abilities. The best way to describe how I look when clunkily plodding around the dance floor is like how an enchanted tree uprooting itself and walking for the first time may look, or possibly a dinosaur trying to get its leg over a lamp post. I think it is probably with this in mind why my superiors here at the lovely Critical Gamer asked me to cover Kinect groove simulator, Dance Central.

When first skirting around the edge of the dance stage Microsoft had set up for this, I couldn’t help but think they had turned large scale public humiliation into a game. Watching the guy on the stage awkwardly twitch to Lady GaGa noises made me instantly think what an idiot he was. His performance sucked in the sniggers from the audience like a hoover. It was only when his three star score popped up on the screen that I remembered, “Damn, that’s about to be me.”

Handy prompts highlight body parts to confuse the non-dancer even more

Standing in front of the Kinect camera bar for the first time was definitely interesting. Navigating the game’s menu was a case of holding your right arm out to the side and pitching it up and down to scroll through menu options. To select your desired option you must swipe your arm across your body, almost slapping your left arm (and taking care not to almost smack the PR person guiding you through all of this in the face). The scrolling motion worked surprisingly well as it didn’t fail to read my flailing once. It was the selection process that foiled me slightly, sometimes requiring multiple swipes to finally confirm my menu choices.

There were five songs available on the day and 15 dance routines in total (one routine per difficulty setting per song). In the full game there are 30 songs and 90 routines reflecting the difficulty, but there will be DLC to flesh this out once the game is released.

Opting for an easier song that wasn’t po-po-po-po-Pokerface, I went with Funky Town, and my on screen dance troupe popped up to guide me through it. To play the game you have to mime the movements of the on-screen characters and successfully dance your way through the song. I have no idea how you score points exactly but the camera is allegedly able to judge how well you are doing. There is also a Guitar Hero style score multiplier that, in an ideal world, you keep high through consistently performing. In an ideal world.

Performing the "Frenchy" in a panicked state can be dangerous to those nearby

It turns out that Dance Central is bloody difficult if you have the dancing grace of a fence post. Locking eyes with the on-screen performance meant that I could block out the judging eyes of the gathered crowd. But I panicked slightly when the game told me to freestyle, which means ‘dance round like a mad man before we play back your performance to you’. I had briefly considered working a Cossack dance into this but I didn’t want to be the person who kicked the equipment to bits. Whatever I ended up doing (I believe this is what people refer to as a ‘repressed memory’), it was the icing on the cake that earned me my one out of five score.

I suppose the most disappointing thing I found with the game was that the avatars on screen are not mimicking your movements, like I naively thought they might have done. I can appreciate that they serve a better purpose performing the moves correctly for you to follow, but I thought the whole point of Kinect was to immerse you in the game more. There seemed to be a distinct lack of indication on the screen that displayed your input into the game. You can achieve a very similar Dance Central experience by simply gyrating in front of any music video and asking strangers to rate how you did.

The Xbox camera gadget knows more about dancing than I do, as it does calculate how well you do and applies the score to it, but I don’t think this will be the experience that converts non-dancers to dancing games. It lacks the joyful simplicity of arcade dance games where you have to stamp on arrow pads in a manner similar to Guitar Hero, but for your shoes.

What a fine hat and pose combo

If you are a dance nut however, this is probably a good way for you to go head to head with mates in a dance off in your living room. I can definitely say that I deserved my pitiful score, but from watching others succeed where I mega-failed, it is a relatively good judge of talent. It’s definitely a good game for getting your sweat on, for those health conscious dancers out there.

As a brief aside, I did have one other dancing experience at Eurogamer with Just Dance 2 on the Wii. This one was not on a stage for optimised humiliation, although the PR guy helping me through a session did warn me off performing one song with him, as it would require the man to grind up against me. This has been my first ever experience being a dance correspondent, and if the editorial team get their way, I have a horrible feeling it won’t be my last.

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.

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