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Dance Central Spotlight

Score: 91%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Harmonix
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Health and Exercise/ Family/ Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

This is the 4th Dance Central game, and the first for the Xbox One. Dance Central Spotlight has now joined the entertainment industryís unfortunate tradition of not giving sequels a number, rather, simply changing the name altogether.

This game may have a hard time wowing people with its graphics since it is such a focused point of view. Youíre always looking at the same character dancing on one background for the entire song. The background does change to more of a neon, shining club environment if you do well, but youíre still planted there. Since the game has to recreate the small dancing conditions of a typical living room, thereís not much that can be done with this limitation. I want to make the point, however, that there is some really nice stuff going on with the visuals in this game when you get a chance to look at them. Take a look at the folds that form in clothes when the dancers move. Thereís a ton of expression in their faces as well, making them feel more like real dancers. Harmonix really did their best to pack in as much visual detail as possible, and that is part of what makes Dance Central continue to stand out in a sea of mundane dancing games.

Thereís some screen tearing that was noticeable for me on the characters, but it seemed to be localized to only the characters. This probably says something about the way the game renders its content, but I canít speak much more to theories on that. Also, screen tearing tends to vary between monitors, and this might be limited to certain setups.

Of course, Dance Central Spotlight is about the music in a big way. Though it only starts you off with 10 songs, expect plenty of contemporary hits like "Happy" by Pharrell Williams, "Royals" by Lorde, and "#thatPOWER" by will.i.am ft. Justin Beiber. Honestly, I didnít care too much for the starter songs, but with a big library of DLC available from the get go, you can at least get a few more of your favorites in. For me, I had to go with "Turn Down For What" by DJ Snake and Lil Jon, "Take on Me" by A-Ha, and "Commander" by Kelly Rowland ft. David Guetta. Well, thatís a start, anyway.


Gameplay:

Dance Central Spotlight has some good things and bad things going with the way it throws you in. The good thing is that it throws you into the game, tutorial first. Thereís no setup, thereís no wading through menus. But thatís also the bad thing; You are put into the Tutorial Mode the first time you start the game with no options to skip over to your favorite songs until you complete it. The Tutorial Mode also skimps on telling you how to get out to the Pause Menu and other such mundane tasks. So the good thing is youíll start dancing as soon as you fire it up, but the bad thing is that you canít really get down until youíre done proving to the game that you donít need training wheels.

That being said, the tutorial is easy going and natural. The announcer reminds you several times that itís just like looking in a mirror, and to pay attention to those red outlines to find out where you messed up. It might seem like Iím building this part up a bit more than I need to, but you can really tell that effort was put in to streamline the dialogue and make it feel as natural as possible. Yes, that is something that takes work, as evidenced by plenty of awful tutorials. Remember Far Cry: Blood Dragonís satiric take on the classic tutorial? It wouldnít have been so funny if it werenít true.

Itís also a breeze to practice difficult moves later on in the game. You simply use a voice command of "Hey DJ" to access a number of options such as practicing a single move. This is nice, since itís kind of a pain to restart a routine just to learn one tricky move.

Thereís a rather large number of songs that youíll find immediately behind a paywall when you get to the song selection menu. This is also one of those good/bad things. The gameís marketing claims that this is a Dance Central thatís all about the dance. In this Dance Central for the first time, youíll find a severe lack of story, and thus, a lack of unlockable songs. You want to dance right now? Buy the songs. No need to fight through several levels to unlock them. I personally canít decide if this is more good than bad. I feel like Iím mostly paying for the songs I want if I budget my purchases up to the price of a normal game. That feels valuable, but then I also feel like I want a "full" game from a developer with a history like Harmonix. Some good news comes from the Dance Central Spotlight Wiki, which states, "DLC from the Xbox 360 Dance Central games will be released for Spotlight over time, and will not require you to purchase them again if you have already purchased them for the older games." If that is true, then the 10 song startup list doesnít seem so bad.

At least some favorite characters are returning such as Emilia, Brody, Taye, and Mo. Don't expect the Glitterati or other classic favorites to make a return, however. Win quotes are also all but gone, which is sad. I'm a person who always got a kick out of the tiny bit of character revealed in fighting games and similar games when a character would give a one liner win quote. And I fear my strange and slightly off-putting Oblio is lost to Dance Central history as well.

With the story and character elements taken out of the game, it seems as though Harmonix has very much focused on the dancing for this game. Not only can you unlock several routines for each song, but also several types of fitness routines. You can go for cardio or strength now, which is nice for people with different fitness goals. You can also unlock special routines for some songs like a "Manly" or "Goofy" routine for a song.

There are also some "Classified" extra unlockables which seem to take forever to unlock. Youíre only told you need to collect more moves, which you get from mastering new moves in the game as you come across them in songs. But it doesnít tell you how close you are to unlocking these items at all, but the internet says it takes 600 total moves to unlock them. Considering I was able to unlock 8 or 9 moves on a routine on a good run, this is going to take a lot of dancing to achieve.


Difficulty:

For some of us, the higher difficulty levels of Dance Central: Spotlight will be forever unattainable. If you lack the coordination and the speed, itís just not going to happen. Your attempts will be hilarious, but again, not gonna happen. Dance Central: Spotlight does have a great middle ground, which is difficult enough to require some practice, but not so out of reach to the non-dancer that it seems hopeless.

A big problem with this game, however, is that the Beginner routines are mind-numbingly boring. They feel much more repetitive than the easy routines in previous games. You have to play through them to unlock the harder, or at least, more interesting routines. That can be kind of a pain if youíre anywhere near a decent dancer, or even if youíve simply become proficient on other dances within Dance Central. This is probably the biggest ding I have for the game. I feel like they should have allowed you to start at least close to the top, and then work your way down the difficulty ladder if you feel like it.


Game Mechanics:

Hereís another thing that might seem silly to rave about, but I like the menu "button pressing" action in Dance Central: Spotlight better than any before it. Put your hand out, over a menu button, and then quickly push forward. Thereís no waiting on a timer before the button is depressed. You can now "grab" the screen in order to move it over as well. This is the improved Kinect sensor in action, now recognizing your tiny fingers. You can still use the old hand swiping mechanics from earlier games as well, if you like. An additional player can also step in and out of the dance seamlessly, making this an easy party game.

I wish I could tell you whether the overall body recognition is better, but alas, Iím too poor of a dancer to tell you more. It would have been interesting to see other features of the Kinect sensor such as the heart rate monitor in action, but that does not show up in this game.

I had several issues with the game freezing, but since they occurred mostly when I finished a song or right before it started, they didnít affect my game too much.

One gripe I had with previous games is that it seemed to ignore the popular dance routines for some of the add-on content songs. I admit, Iím not sure how they would handle the flying part, but the last game didnít seem to give any shout out at all to Christopher Walkenís amazing performance in the video for Fatboy Slimís "Weapon of Choice." Now, Iím not able to buy a ton of songs for this game, but it does seem like the choreography has improved. I had to pick up Kelly Rowlandís "Commander." Thatís a video I figured could be replicated in choreography, except for some parts like the "take charge" walk she had in the video. And indeed, many of the signature moves in the video show up in the Dance Central choreography, so Iíd say this is some proof that the routines have improved.

Dance Central Spotlight is, at its core, a true dance game. For better or worse, itís stripped away some of the peripheral elements and streamlined down to just a dance game. I miss the story, and I miss some of the character interactions, but it remains one of the best dance games out there. With the low price, itís easy to recommend taking a chance on downloading the latest in the Dance Central series.


-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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