The Dance Central series has been one of the best-selling Xbox 360 Kinect games available, so Harmonix could’ve easily released a new entry with minimal upgrades. Although still lacking online multiplayer, they’ve evolved the series with Dance Central 3 by providing players with a story driven single-player campaign, a more diverse soundtrack, and a generous amount of multiplayer modes.
Dance Central 2 introduced a single-player experience where aspiring dancers needed to prove their skills to different crews where as this latest entry takes it a step further by providing us with a deeper (if not sillier) story fleshed out with cutscenes and character dialog. As the newest agent inducted into the DCI (Dance Central Intelligence), it’s your job to go back in time, decipher four fragments of an era-appropriate Dance Craze, and use them to stop the dastardly evil Dr. Tan’s from destroying dance forever. As you time travel through five decades of dance spanning from the ’70s to ’00s, you will meet up with familiar characters (as well as a few new faces) on an assortment of backdrops a city street lined with break-dancers or television sets that resemble MTV’s TRL or a scene from Saturday Night Fever.
Aside from the daunting challenge of obtaining 5-Stars in every song, you will also gain skill points after every dance, allowing you to level up and unlock costumes, characters, and stages. There is also a Live Challenge section that gives players a chance to gain extra skill points for beating a song’s score associated with a member of the Harmonix team or by their peers.
The time travel premise may sound absurd, but it allows Harmonix to expand the song selection past the regular “Top 40 Hits.” The soundtrack is composed of a staggering 40+ songs, ranging from ’70s hits like Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” to Maroon Five’s “Moves Like Jagger.” Some players might cringe at the very thought of performing choreographed moves to Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” or New Kids on the Block’s “You Got It (The Right Stuff)”, but overall the song selection provides enough variety for everyone to find something that suits their taste.
The difficulty of the routines themselves are designed to draw people in — regardless of their skill level. The new Beginner mode provides casual gamers (or left footed hardcore gamers) with accessible simplistic moves and forgiving detection, while the brutal Hard difficulty demands the accuracy, timing, and stamina of a seasoned dancer. Songs have received fresh choreography, and while you may recognize a few moves from past entries, the majority of the songs feature enough new moves to keep it feeling fresh. The on-screen character animations are smooth and graceful, making even the simplest of dance moves look pretty cool.
Since the scrolling flashcards can only convey so much information, it is near impossible to score a 5-star rating on some of the harder songs unless you’ve invested some time perfecting the routine. Practicing in Rehearsal (formerly known as “Break-It-Down”) will prep you accordingly for the well-designed choreography. Kinect voice commands make it easy to retry an ambitious dance move or decrease the speed of the instructions, but the main issue that has plagued previous entries is still prevalent in Dance Central 3. The red outline around your character’s limbs that communicate where a problem exists as you perform various dance moves never clearly defies what you are doing wrong. A little vocal reinforcement or direction would still be appreciated.
Being a party game, multiplayer is still a main component as it reaches new heights thanks to the refreshing jump-in/jump-out play and fresh modes. In the past, setting up a game in Dance Central was a complicated process as you painstakingly teach newcomers how to use the Kinect and rummage through countless menus. Party Time mode elevates the headache and provides an infinite mix to keep the party going, with excerpts of songs transitioning into one another. You basically start it up and players join and leave as they like, without the hassle of having to constantly start up a new sessions. Also, the new Xbox SmartGlass program allows you to control your Party Time playlists, update settings like difficulty and play modes, set and track fitness goals, and more…all without interrupting gameplay, or having to navigate in-game menus.
Though the number of simultaneous dancers is capped off at two, up to eight players split up into two crews will battle through six rounds and a final showdown in the engaging Crew Throwdown mode. Keep the Beat is centered around freestyle dancing, and only requires that you move in time to the beat of the song as you accumulate points. While Strike a Pose is an delightful assault of movement as you try to copycat as many onscreen poses as possible. Make Your Move is the most fun and can easily be defied as a HORSE-style dance-off as the Kinect detects your moves and assigns cute names to each. You then sit back and watch as your friends attempt to recreate your outlandish dance moves.
In the end, Dance Central 3 continues to proves Harmonix is one of few developers that understand how to properly utilize the Kinect into their tiles. They’ve polished the gameplay, added a ton of features, and diversified the playlists enough to make this a worthwhile purchase for veterans and newcomers alike.
Release Date: October 16, 2012 • Publisher: Microsoft • Developer: Harmonix • Genre: Music, Dance • Multiplayer: 1-8 players local • Achievements: Moderate • Cost: $49.99 • Replay Value: High