If you’ve played one Just Dance title, you’ve kind of played them all. That’s the vibe I got from Just Dance 2016, despite its many attempts to keep the formula fresh with new modes and a suite of new songs. For the faithful, that may be enough. For everyone else, it may be a different story.
Among the new modes present in Just Dance 2016 are Dance Quest, which is a three-track face-off with an AI dancer, Sweat, which is all about getting your cardio in for the day with high-BPM tracks and Showtime, which lets you record a given dance routine and then share it online (though why you would ever want anyone, much less the internet, to see you dancing like a weirdo in front of your television is beyond me). Chances are you’ll give all of these modes a go, find nothing especially wrong with them and then head back to Party Mode anyway.
Your dancing is tracked through a few different methods – the PlayStation Camera on the PS4 version, and the Kinect on the Xbox One version (which we used for this review). The thing is, the newest method for dance tracking – that of using your iOS or Android smartphone – is actually the simplest way to play the game by a wide margin. True, it’s only really tracking the hand holding the phone, but it’s a fun feature nevertheless.
When using the Kinect, I had no problems with movement detection – it picked me up immediately and rarely failed to register a movement. Even with four people leaping embarassingly about in front of the TV, the little guy never once let us down and for that the oft-maligned little Kinect must be given a bit of praise. We’ve heard attempting the same with a PlayStation Camera results in a number of detection problems but we haven’t been able to test that for this review.
There’s 44 songs crammed onto the disc, from artists like Meghan Trainor, Mark Ronson and Charlie XCX, but it’s not afraid to get weird with a few European EDM artists like Darius Dante Van Dijk and the hilariously named Wanko Ni Mero Mero. There’s also a techno remix of the Angry Birds theme(???!?!). Most of the songs on offer are the master recordings but there’s a few covers slipped in here and there, possibly to keep a bit of cash leftover for DLC licensing, and they stick out like sore thumbs. I didn’t think it was possible to make “Copacabana” sound any trashier but well done, Ubisoft, man did you prove me wrong on that one. (I say that with love, by the way, I genuinely want that cover put in the Museum of Modern Art.)
One thing that really caused me to stumble early on is the complete and total lack of any tutorial or training mode. I think at this point, Ubi knows that the only people who are buying this game have bought every single one of them to date and they already know how to play it so why mess around, right? As a newcomer (and a verified non-dancer), it was really quite difficult to leap into a song, be presented with a repertoire of moves I’d never seen before and spend between a quarter and half of the song trying to figure out how to do them. This also makes it a hard sell as a party game – my roommates, newcomers all, were reluctant to play the game in the first place and when they discovered it did nothing to teach them how to play it, they swore it off entirely.
Just Dance 2016 approaches DLC in the same way that Guitar Hero Live approaches DLC, which is to say there isn’t any. What you have instead is a subscription service for which you pay a monthly fee like Spotify, or give them around AU$70 for a full year’s access. You’ll get a free month’s sub in the game box, which is nice, and the game is set at a cheaper price point than most which might help keep your back pocket from stinging too badly.
If you’ve ever seen a Just Dance game running then you know what to expect visually from this one – lots of colours, carefully mo-capped dancers in wild costumes (the pandas were my favourite) and some truly psychedelic backgrounds. Movement indicators appear in the bottom right and give you an idea of what your next move should look like. There’s also the option to sing along with each song via any USB mic you care to attach which should help some of your shyer friends find a way to join in.
While newcomers to the series may get a few laughs out of it while having a drink or two, there isn’t much to keep them coming back after that. For series regulars and fans of dancing games in general, it will be an automatic purchase, I’m sure. The subscription-based DLC makes it feel like Ubi should consider moving the entire apparatus online and offering it as a service because right now it feels like it’s trapped in the weird space between being a full game and an ad for the paid model.
Review Score: 6.5 out of 10
Highlights: On-disc songs are solid; Kinect worked a treat
Lowlights: Subscription model may turn some off; No tutorial is brutal on beginners
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Released: October 20, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii
Reviewed on Xbox One