With the review copy of Ubisofts’ Just Dance 2016 being passed around the n3 office faster than a lit stick of dynamite, the slow fizz and eventual cartoon-like explosion is mine and mine alone to bear. Bang. Honestly, I’m rather thankful for it, because – believe it or not – Just Dance 2016 is pretty damn good.
That’s not to say that I didn’t let out the same long exasperated sigh along with everyone else when it was revealed at E3 2015. No, no, no. I’m completely with you! Just Dance 2016 is just a regurgitated game from last year with a new track list and a bit of an aesthetic touch up, right? Well, no.
The rhythm dance goliath that is Just Dance as often been a family favourite, brought out over holiday periods and drunken dinner parties for a bit of fun. Often championed by teenage girls and those who don’t suffer from the same lack of rhythm as you and I. Yet, its not just sheer luck that keeps Just Dance the go-to choice of game to embarrass. No, Just Dance does a lot of things right.
The most anticipated change for Just Dance each year would be the track list and this year is no disappointment. It is rather a broad collection of songs from the ever popular to the just plain weird. With over forty songs coming with the game including the likes of Meghan Trainor, Calvin Harris and Mark Ronson, the standard set-list is rather well balanced. Ubisoft also offer Just Dance Unlimited a subscription based service that gives you access to a much wider library of songs including those used in previous titles and exclusive content. The amount of content Just Dance Unlimited unlocks is impressive, but then again so is the price tag that comes with it. A year subscription bieng similar in price to that of the game itself.
One thing that Just Dance 2016 does well is invite almost anyone in to play. The interface is slick, bright and well thought out. After choosing a song to dance along to you are greeted by a dance performer, who demonstrates the moves you must mirror. The performers are many and well varied, including a number of funky street dancers, a cheerleader and some panda bears amongst others. The animations are smooth and really do get you into the spirit of dance. The background are rather psychedelic, reminding me of an early-era windows media player audio visualizer. They blend seamlessly with the dancers and song, working in perfect harmony.
Along the bottom of the screen a silhouette in various dance positions will scroll along. The goal is to match the correlating dance positions at the right point in time, which will in turn give the illusion of dancing. I say illusion because I found the score system to be rather generous. It would often score me a perfect when I hadn’t quite understood the position of the dancer on-screen and was tangled up in a horrible mess nowhere near the right position. I began to wonder if I did in fact have an impressive sense of rhythm after all. Very flattering but not the case. So I have been told.
With the low entry level being one of the strongest points of Just Dance, Ubisoft have done something rather marvellous this year to reinforce that. Players can now control and play along with Just Dance 2016 using their smart phones and the Just Dance App. I tested this almost straight away and was blown away by ease of implementation and the seamless interaction. Navigation through the menu systems was a breeze with the phones onscreen display and guidance from the main display. The actual dancing part was very simple, involving holding the phone in the correct hand and just dancing. The accuracy of the phone versus the playstation camera seemed very similar at the time, however now that I think back, I wonder if it was Just Dance being super generous again.
There are a number of game modes available to players in Just Dance 2016. Dance Party involves dancing along to the music in hope of beating your dance partner or working together to attain a higher score. Sweat and Playlists mode lets you customise a workout to music. World Video Challenge gives players the ability to record video of themselves dancing along with their score and then share it to the community. JDTV gives you the opportunity to watch shared videos of players Just Dancing.
All in all there are a lot of game modes available to the player but the emphasis is most definitely on co-op play and community sharing.
My biggest bug bear with Just Dance 2016 is how hard it was for the camera to initially pick-up players. It often took close to ten minutes to be able to recognise that a player was stood in position and ready to play. It seemed to work fine once the initial pick-up was complete but often the frustration this caused was temptation enough to buy Guitar Hero instead.
Another major issue is how quickly you become over familiar with the initial 44 songs, which in turn leads the set list to feel underwhelming. This isn’t really an issue if you are prepared to pay for the expensive Just Dance Unlimited. If you’re not a hard-core Just Dancer though, the novelty will quickly wear off unless you invest in previously released content.
In these days of convenience, where everything is available instantly through on demand services, it is hard to get a family together in the same room. It is even harder to find a game to play together. Admittedly a rather small niche but a niche that Just Dance 2016 is perfectly placed to exploit. The entry level is nearly non-existent and the integration of smart phones as controllers is just pure genius. Just Dance allows you to pick up your smart phone or stand in front of a camera and do exactly that – Just Dance.