Anyone that knows me knows that I love to dance. I'm not the best dancer out there, but I'd like to think that I bring an acceptable amount of enthusiasm to the art. It was natural, then, for me to review both Dance Central
and DanceMasters. The former was developed by the same folks that created Guitar Hero and Rock Band. DanceMasters, however, is from the same publisher as the legendary Dance Dance Revolution franchise, which started in Japan in 1998.
Both dance games are some of the first Kinect titles available, and it's interesting to see just how different they are. While Dance Central is a natural evolution of the dance genre, DanceMasters is more like the next step for the Dance Dance Revolution series specifically. It's fun, but it's designed for a very particular type of gamer.
In DanceMasters, you use your body to interact with a variety of visual cues that happen on screen during the song. The cues vary in time, and include steps, streams, poses, and ripples. Steps are the most obvious of the bunch. As the on-screen dancer goes through the choreography of the song, a green circle will close in around his or her feet. When it closes completely, you need to step in time with the beat to score points and keep your dance gauge filled (making mistakes will empty the gauge and, eventually, cost you the game).
Streams are gold arrows drawn on the screen that you'll need to trace with your hands. Poses are silhouettes that must be matched with your whole body, and ripples are small targets that must be touched in time with the beat. Not all of these actions are used on easier difficulty settings. While the actual choreography of the in-game dancer stays the same no matter what level you're playing on, the game adds more and more of these interactive elements with higher levels of play.
When playing on Light difficulty, you don't actually need to follow the choreography at all. You can dance around on your own and just interact with the cues when they come up. But when you tackle a song on Extreme, for example, there are so many cues at such specific points that it's almost like performing the choreography for real.
In this way, DanceMasters is a lot like Dance Dance Revolution. It's not so much about actual dancing as it is about following a bunch of instructions. The interactive elements of DanceMasters are like the recognizable arrows in DDR. I think this is a fine way to approach the dance genre, but it's definitely not for everybody.
DanceMaster's limited appeal is most obvious when you hear its soundtrack. These are the fast-paced, very
Japanese techno tunes that you'd expect in DDR. If you like that sort of music, you'll feel right at home here. But everyone else might be taken aback by the arguably cheesy tunes and effeminate choreography. I usually love Asian music, but even the DanceMasters soundtrack was a bit of a stretch.
DanceMasters is fun if you have a group of people that like the silly thrill of jumping around to Japanese pop. When I tackled a song on Extreme with fellow IGN editor Anthony Gallegos, we had a blast. But this game just isn't as well built as Dance Central. For starters, there's no way to learn the choreography for any of these dances. There's no practice mode where you can play a song without fear of failing, and there isn't even an option to go through the steps at half speed. This seems like a tremendous oversight, because trying to perfect a song that's blazing along at 160 BPM is a bit tricky.
Hardcore gamers will argue that this challenge is part of the fun, but with a game like this that requires full body motion, it's incredibly difficult to learn a song unless you tackle it in pieces -- which you can't do.
Another troubling issue is the actual motion recognition that's happening here. I was able to get through about half of a song on Extreme just by shaking my arms back and forth and stepping from side to side. Now, eventually I failed out and this isn't the right way to build combos and score points, but the ease at which I accidentally nailed some of the steps cheapens the experience for the dedicated gamers that want to master it. On the flip side, there are other moments where you'll execute a move perfectly but get a terrible rating on it.
DanceMasters can be played on your own or with a friend on one screen, but there's also an option to play multiplayer via Xbox Live. When playing with a pal locally there's no divider on the screen, which can be tricky when trying to differentiate between which cues are yours and which belong to the other player. And for those that want to play online, best of luck -- I wasn't able to find a match.
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