The original Just Dance was a game that rocketed to popularity by letting you do precisely what the title promises: you just dance. But with Ubisoft’s fourth installment of the dance game franchise, they’ve thrown in a handful of new features and dance modes. Will fans of the first three see these these new additions as a way to have more fun, or will they “just” get in the way?
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Paris
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360, PS3, Wii
GENRE(S): Rhythm / Dance
RELEASE DATE(S): October 9, 2012
Full disclosure: I didn’t review this game alone. Deaf to my insistence that “Daddy’s working,” my 15- and 10-year old daughters insisted on testing the game with me. My youngest was truly interested in testing things out and comparing them to the previous versions. I suspect my eldest, however, merely wanted to hear the One Direction track included in Just Dance 4, being their self-proclaimed “biggest fan.” Regardless, I was glad for the help, and considered their feedback when writing my review. As it turns out, I needed their help to test out Dance Battle mode. And, as it also turns out, this gave them a chance to school their father at a video game, which really doesn’t happen that often.
Ubisoft was smart not to stray too far from the formula that’s worked for them so far: grab a pile of top-selling dance songs from the previous year, throw in some old classics, choreograph some signature moves, throw in some new backgrounds, motion cap professional dancers and put them in outlandish outfits with erased faces, and… “just profit!” Ok, so maybe it’s not quite that simple, but fans of the series will be glad to know that everything they know and love about the previous versions is still intact in Just Dance 4; basically, none of the new stuff detracts from the old stuff.
One aspect that’s clearly superior in JD4 when compared to the previous version is the song selection. Yes, of course, the late Dick Clark would proclaim they’ve all got a great beat and you can dance to them, but Ubisoft manged to cover a decent variety of songs this time around. Predictable dance tracks like Flo Rida’s Good Feeling, Maroon 5′s Moves like Jagger, and Alexandra Stan’s Mr. Saxobeat are in the mix, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Stevie Wonder’s Superstition available (so much so that I danced to it first), and downright shocked to find Europe’s The Final Countdown, which was a hair band mega-hit when I was in high school in the ’80s. Glaringly absent, however, was a track from Just Dance mainstay Katie Perry — an oversight Ubisoft corrected right away by making Part of Me their first DLC download. Still, even without any DLC, I can safely proclaim that this is Just Dance‘s best initial playlist to date. As trite as it sounds, there really is something for everyone.
After a slightly longer than I would have expected initial load (I reviewed on the Wii, so maybe it’s better on the other consoles), the game presents a choice between “Just Dance” mode and “Just Sweat” mode. Guessing that I’d be sweating plenty in standard mode, I chose “Just Dance.” If you’re familiar with the previous titles, the interface is recognizable, but also hints at the additional features: when hovering over a song choice, you can display the “Dance Quests” available to unlock in each song (more on thost later), or see the top scores for the song. As I mentioned above, I started with Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, not only because I like the song, but because it’s marked as one of the easier tracks to dance. A few minutes later, I was huffing, puffing, and smiling… the moves were fun, well matched to the song, fun, easy to follow, and… did I mention it’s fun? That’s really what a dance party game should be all about. Even without the additional modes, this game would still be fun.
But, since there are new modes, I employed the help of my daughters to try them out. First up was Dance Battle mode (which my girls now refer to as “versus” mode). It’s dancer against dancer, but it’s also song against song. We started out with Rock N’ Roll (Will Take You To the Mountain) vs. Livin’ La Vida Loca, my daughter assigned to the Skrillex track and me to Ricky Martin’s. Each battle is 6 rounds, where each dancer has their own choreography. The game picks one track at random to start, and both dancers follow the on-screen dance moves for their respective player. Dancer “health” (representing who is ahead in the round) is displayed at the top of the screen, as in a traditional 2D fighter game, and was a fun touch. At the end of each round, whoever won the round gets their song played in the next round, until all the rounds are over and the winner is crowned. The moves have a lot of interplay between the dancers (we shot pretend guns at each other and played bull and matador), and a large play area is advised. My daughter giggled even though she was losing the battle, and I had so much fun I didn’t even care that I was winning. I predict this will be the most popular mode in most households.
The controls were… well, exactly like Just Dance 3. And while some may thing that’s a good thing for consistency’s sake, it’s actually a negative, because the controls in JD3 needed improvement. Of course, it’s an age-old excuse to blame the controller if you’re not getting the score you think you deserve, but in this case the complaint is legitimate. The Wii Remote is capable of capturing sensitive changes in movement, but it didn’t feel like Ubisoft took full advantage of it in previous versions of the game, and my hopes that they’d fix that in Just Dance 4 were dashed after just a few songs. It’s not enough to make me not want to play the game, but it can be frustrating at times.
Just Dance 4 also incorporates a new reward system called “Dance Quests,” which provides six goals for each song, such as “One player earns 4 stars” or “Score GOOD when the song says (some specific lyric).” Completing quests adds points to your overall “Mojo” level, and when you earn enough mojo to “level up,” you get to spin a virtual prize-wheel to unlock new SWAG. I wasn’t crazy about it, but my girls like it, so clearly there’s an audience out there for that game within the game. Prizes include alternate (read: generally harder) dance routines or new avatars for their Dancer Card (also a new feature).
My bottom line is that Just Dance 4 lives up to the reputation of its predecessors, and if you’re into the dance/rhythm game genre, there’s no reason you shouldn’t pick it up. The controls need slight improvement, but solid gameplay, an excellent sountrack, dazzling visuals, and the new Dance Battle mode will convince you that with the Just Dance series, the 4th time’s the charm.