Review – Dance Central Spotlight

Platform: Xbox One

Developer: Harmonix

Publisher: Microsoft

Genre: Dance game

ESRB Rating: T – Teen

 

When Microsoft launched the Kinect for the Xbox 360 in 2010, they teamed up with Harmonix to create Dance Central, and the game quickly became a big hit for the new hardware.  Its success was enough to spawn two additional entries on the 360, Dance Central 2 and 3.  Harmonix has continued the franchise on Xbox One with Dance Central Spotlight, a digital-only title that strips out some of the extra modes in favor of focusing on what has made this series shine over the years…the dancing.

Gameplay

Dancing in Spotlight is the same as it has been throughout the Dance Central series.  Cue cards scroll up the side of the screen showing which moves will be coming up next, and the onscreen dancer shows you how to perform those moves.  If you make a mistake the character’s limbs will be highlighted in red to show you where you need to improve, and at any point during the dance you can use voice commands to enter a practice mode which will allow you to repeat moves until you are comfortable and ready to proceed.  A second player can jump in at any time during a song, which is a great feature when playing the game with a group of people.

When you play a song for the first time, you are required to dance the Beginner routine, but mastering dance moves (called “Collecting” a move in the game) unlocks seven additional routines of higher difficulty.  The Alternate, Strength, and Cardio routines for each song introduce a lot of new dance moves that aren’t in some of the other routines, and that variety goes a long way in keeping the experience fresh and interesting.

While the multitude of routines provides plenty of variety for each song, the game unfortunately only comes with ten songs.  This, to me, is the biggest concession that Harmonix had to make in order to release Spotlight for just ten dollars.  Thankfully, the store has plenty of additional songs available for purchase, but each song will cost an additional two dollars.   There is a silver lining for long-time fans of the franchise, however; anyone who has purchased DLC for previous Dance Central games will able to re-download those songs for free in Spotlight, once those songs are made available in the Store.

Spotlight also has a Fitness mode, which challenges you to dance to multiple songs in a row for a set amount of time, and tracks the number of calories you burn in the process.  You can choose how long each session lasts (between 10 and 90 minutes), as well as the difficulty of the routines you will be required to dance.  All the strength and cardio routines are immediately available in this mode, but any other routines will be unavailable here as well until they are unlocked in standard mode.  This is perhaps where the lack of songs in the game hurts the most, as anyone powering through a long fitness session will have to dance to the same song multiple times if they have not purchased any additional songs from the store.

Everything I’ve covered so far, though, only matters if the Kinect is able to accurately read your movements, and I’m happy to report that the Microsoft’s camera proves is up to the task.  When dancing, I almost always felt that my successful moves (and my mistakes) were recorded correctly onscreen, and using voice and gesture to navigate the game’s menus is very smooth and intuitive.  Moments of frustration with the hardware were few and far between, and never derailed any of my dancing sessions.

Presentation

Dance Central Spotlight’s soundtrack features a good variety of recent Pop and R&B hits from current artists, both among the ten songs that come with the game and the dozens of others in the store.  With artists ranging from Rihanna to Maroon 5 to OneRepublic and plenty more, most people will find something that brings them to the dance floor.  The biggest weakness of the game’s soundtrack is the lack of older hits.  The ten included songs are all contemporary, and the store is mostly the same; a few classics like “Get Up” by James Brown and “Love Shack” by the B-52s can be purchased, but they are the exception, not the rule.

Spotlight retains the bright, colorful, and cartoony art style of previous Dance Central games.  Background dancers fade in and out during the song, and the scenery behind the dancers (which can range from ambient flashing lights to more realistic locations, like a gymnasium) will shift periodically as well.  While the scenery provides nice ambiance, I was a bit disappointed that the game lacks some of the interesting locations found in previous Dance Central titles, such as the 90’s style house party and the 70’s era disco.

Conclusion

Overall, Dance Central Spotlight is an excellent dance game with great contemporary songs and plenty of dance moves to learn.  Xbox One owners looking for a game that makes good use of the Kinect, or who want something that will be fun with a group of friends and family, should definitely pick this up.  Just be aware that you’ll be hearing the same few songs over and over unless you’re willing to pay a little extra.

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