Review: Just Dance 4

Back when Dance Dance Revolution was reigning supreme, who would have thought matless games would be the future — or even possible? Yet here we are, ten years later, with DDR a mere afterthought in a “Just Dance Central” world. While that game was primarily reserved for solo-exercises and hardcore teams, Just Dance exists for the mere purpose of starting a party. Hands-down the most trendy dancing franchise, all Just Dance has to do at this point is keep up socially and supply a solid Top 40 line-up. Lucky for aspiring virtual dancers everywhere, Just Dance 4 does just that.

Just Dance isn’t about accuracy and precision, but what the title itself promotes: just dancing. Players stand in front of their Kinect and mimic the on-screen moves of the dancers and pictograms. The system evaluates the precision of dance moves and awards stars based on how accurate the performance is. It’s a forgiving setup that encourages trying more than complete precision. While it’s possible to get away with a half-hearted performance, the game (and peer pressure) is strong enough to make you actually want to do as good as possible, leading to constant improvement of both moves and style.

Accuracy in a song is rewarded via stars (and a fun title based on how much energy was brought to the table), which translate into “Mojo” (groovy, baby- yeaaah!). The more Mojo you unlock, the the more you level-up. Leveling up lets you spin “The Wheel of Gifts”, unlocking things like alternative choreographies and new songs. While plenty of songs and modes are available at the outset, it acts as great encouragement to keep on dancin’. Besides how well the moves themselves are nailed, there are also side objectives like “5 starring” a song or pulling off a move at a certain time that unlocks even more Mojo.

Most songs work just as well solo as they do with friends, but some are truly designed to be played by 2-4 people. While these are technically playable by your lonesome, the coordinated moves make it pretty awkward. Playing these songs with others, however, is a guaranteed good time. Putting focus on coordination, those so inclined could practice together and have a bona fide dance routine with some of the tracks. A multiplayer highlight is Europe’s “The FInal Countdown”, which has you fake fighting with a partner as luchadores mimic the movements on-screen. It’d be right up the alley of two goofy guys and is refreshing that a rhythm game has finally acknowledged the inherent ridiculousness of “The Final Countdown”.

It’s worth nothing that some songs have movements that can be a tad dainty, such as putting your hands behind your head and slowly moving your pelvis or bending down with your hands clutching your heart. Suffice to say, as a warm-blooded American male, I felt pretty effeminate playing at some points. It may not be a game you’d want anyone spying on you playing solo, but any guys playing in the presence of women are sure to put a smile on their face — and likely their own.

Besides straight-up dancing, there are unlockable modes like Dance Mash-Ups and Battle Mode. In a Dance-Mash-Up, the style of dancing and avatar (you may notice dancers from past Just Dance games make an appearance) changes continuously to always keep players on their feet. In Battle Mode, new to Just Dance 4, two songs, each represented by their associated avatar, go up against each other. The screen looks like a fighting game, complete with health bars and all. Songs switch back and forth between each other, with each switch representing a round. “Battle Mode” isn’t just a gimmick; there’s actual (albeit, playful) fighting choreography in here. It’s a fun addition, especially great for those playing the game tandem. After all, what better way to resolve conflicts than with dancing?

The soundtrack features more than forty tracks, predominantly in the “Top 10” genre; Flo Rida, Carly Rae Jepsen, Rihanna and all make an appearance. Some classic favorites are also peppered throughout like “Jailhouse Rock” and “You’re the First, The Last, My Everything”. What could be described as “joke songs” are also included ( “Wild Wild West,” “Rock Lobster,” and “Never Gonna Give You Up”) and sure to serve well during the most ironic moments at a Just Dance party. While I’d always prefer some more electronic (Tiesto, Kaskade, Avicii, Martin Solveig) or indie (Sleigh Bells, Cut Copy, Holy Ghost!) selections, the need for a wide appeal makes the song selection understandable and as far as popular music goes, it’s a strong lineup.

Closing Comments:

Just Dance 4 is a hard game not to like. It’s completely unpretentious and simply exists to make you have fun, hopefully starting a party in the process. The soundtrack is strong and the Kinect tracks your movements with just the right precision — not strict enough to be frustrating, yet not loose enough to feel worthless. With Dance Central 3 just around the corner, it’s a mystery which game come out on top (although, we suspect Just Dance 4 will win the sales contest), but the low price point and high entertainment value here add up to forty dollars well spent.

Version Reviewed: Xbox 360 (Kinect)