Dance Central 2 (Xbox 360)
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Microsoft
Release: October 25, 2011
Price: $49.99

Dance Central was an impressive motion game that was released last year exclusively for the Kinect on Xbox 360. Although the Kinect technology was hopeful and may have even dropped a few jaws, most of the software coming out was less than so, until we stumbled on the gem that only Harmonix could produce.

Harmonix is known for their music games. They made the Guitar Hero titles you loved, and the Rock Band games you can’t host parties without. Dance Central was just the title for Harmonix to develop for the Kinect, and it was a welcomed additional to the otherwise paltry Kinect titles on the market.

But then Harmonix went and did something crazy. They made an even better dancing title that’s releasing next week, October 25.

For this iteration, you’ll be introduced to more fleshed out characters and dance crews than you remember from the first title, each with their own unique personalities. By performing songs effectively, you can earn the rights to represent a crew and build your way up to the boss levels.

FANTASTIC CHOREOGRAPHY MATCHING FANTASTIC MUSIC SELECTIONS

The number one priority for a dancing game should absolutely be its choreography, and Harmonix wasted no resource in ensuring their team of dancers were up to the challenge. The dances are varied (to complement the variety in music, of course), complicated to the point of being challenging but not ridiculously overwhelming (don’t worry, they won’t force you to do break-dancing and spin on your neck or anything crazy), and they’re fun.

You can choose from hip-hop tracks to electronic music, all varied for difficulty and matched to crews that best represent them. There is no shortage of music (or good music for that matter) in Dance Central 2, and you’ll certainly be able to find something that not only matches your taste in songs but your taste in a dance style, too.

Some of the moves may make you feel silly while performing them, but you’ll feel like so in the most light-hearted of ways. Once you get over the nagging discomfort of shaking your hips like you never thought they could have, you’ll soon be trading in the jackass feelings for the badass ones.

Take it from someone with roughly 7 years of multiple dancing styles under her belt: the dancing in this game is the absolute best you’ll see. Having met and conversed with the choreographers, it’s clear that their expertise is only surpassed by their passion for both dancing and the game itself.

We witnessed the enthusiasm and skill on the dance floor - or, er, the motion capture floor because that’s how these moves were perofmred - and it’s impressive how much detail was retained in the translation over to the game.

DON’T WORRY IF YOU’RE NOT A PRO

While having a knack for dancing will certainly help your progression through a game like Dance Central 2, not being a pro won’t be a hindrance. Gameplay modes like “Break It Down” are there to help you practice specific moves that you just can’t lock down. Voice commands have been integrated into this particular mode, as well, so you can tell Boomie the Boombox to slow things down, or speed them up when you’re ready for a real practice.

Harmonix has taken what was a fantastically tuned UI system in Dance Central 1, and brought that over with even more control and options in Dance Central 2. The development team included features and options that we didn’t even know we wanted in the original game. Probably because we were too busy throwing down like we were fancy enough to come up with those dance moves on our own.

You can even have your moves recorded during practice sessions to watch over later. No, not to have your little brother or sister point and laugh. This is actually quite a useful addition when you want to observe your moves to pinpoint where you may be going wrong. Professional dancer or not, Dance Central 2 is certainly equipped to turn you into one.

A SEAMLESS PLAY EXPERIENCE

UI and feature improvements aside, Harmonix clearly understood what was missing in Dance Central 1. Whereas the original title had you going back and forth between menus, Dance Central 2 allows for a more seamless play style that won’t have you starting and stopping repeatedly. This was really a necessity for the franchise, as you can imagine loads of people are undoubtedly transitioning between practicing moves and jumping right back into the campaign. Kudos to Harmonix for so accurately recognizing their users’ needs.

Rather than just a fun game to dance to, Dance Central 2 upped the ante by providing a more effective dancing tutorial for people who might want to experience both. One of the few software updates to the Kinect that made us excited to use the peripheral was Netflix, and it’s with open arms that we welcome a game that can actually make best use of the Kinect’s capabilities.

Multiplayer is significantly improved from the original dancing title, as well. It’s no competition when comparing the current side-by-side multiplayer with seamless drop in/drop out mechanics of the franchise’s successor to the old school method of taking turns. Who wants to wait for their turn these days? There has been clear thought put into making the entire game’s experience more fluid than the original title. While Dance Central 1 was a phenomenal dance title on an innovative piece of hardware, Dance Central 2 is the polished version and everything Dance Central 1 could have been. Being that the first title was, flaws and all, still such an incredibly well-done game, that speaks a lot to just how fantastic Dance Central 2 is.

NEW GAMEPLAY MODES TO SPICE UP THE DANCING

There are a few new modes and features in place to buff the multiplayer up, as well. “Dance Battle” lets you go head to head with other players representing their crew of choice. Besides having a larger emphasis on connecting you with the crew members - as is evident by the more inviting, but still quite evidently filler intros and storylines given by the crew members in the campaign - this feature will throw the spotlight on a player to allow them to get twice as many points for performing moves flawlessly. Harmonix integrated these features into the multiplayer modes to ensure freshness in the dancing, as well as the gameplay mode itself. Although a small gift, it’s definitely thoughtful enough to have us thanking them for the break in any monotony you may inevitably experience.

Heck, there’s even a new fitness counter mode to help you exercise. Dance Central 2 is a dance learning experience, a competitive experience, and even an exercise experience. The way you prefer to play the game is up to you, but it is always fun.

The best information yet? Every song and DLC from Dance Central 1 can be imported over, and is upgraded to work with these new features. There will be roughly 100 songs available on launch. That’s a lot of dancing. And a lot of calorie burning.

WHY GO TO A CLUB WHEN YOU CAN DANCE IN THE COMFORT OF YOUR HOME?

We get it. Dancing can be an uncomfortable experience. But with Dance Central 2, you can let loose in the comfort of your own home. Hell, you can even go ahead and prance around naked if your heart so desires (just be careful that those freestyle images don’t get uploaded online - no one wants to see that).

Whether you’re looking for a well-designed Kinect game, a fun dancing experience that doubles as a party favor, or an exercise game, Dance Central 2’s fantastic choreography and gameplay will suit your needs. Bravo, Harmonix. Now excuse us while we go back to dancing.

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Score: 10/10