These feet weren’t made for dancin’, but that’s just what they had to do…. as Nordic Games’ We Dance requires just that. So to meet these demands, ample dance-space was cleared, the dance-mat (or, ‘Star Mat’, in this case) was laid out, a Wii remote was strapped to each arm, and phasers were set to ‘Funky’. But does We Party induce Saturday night fever or is it more of a party-pooper?
Dance games have long been with us, first dominating the arcades with the likes of Dance Dance Revolution before migrating to living rooms across the world with the advent of the dance mat. In recent years, the massive popularity of the Nintendo Wii has given the genre a new lease of life, since the diminutive white console set up shop and beckoned every member of the family to get involved. Ubisoft’s Just Dance proved just how powerful combining a family friendly console with a bit of toe-tapping/moonwalking could be and has sold 4.3 million copies, becoming the publisher’s biggest selling Wii title to date.
While the Wii may well have become the home of party-based videogaming, the dance game genre has moved on, with the recent Kinect-focused Dance Central moving away from dance mats and Wiimote waggling to embrace full-body motion tracking; while Just Dance made good use of the Wiimotes it lacked any way of tracking your feet. We Dance’s decision to go back to the good old dance mat does seem slightly anachronistic, it makes sense given the Wii’s limitations and feels like a natural addition to the concepts laid down by Let’s Dance.
The Star Mat that comes supplied with the game doesn’t really contain any surprises. Mapped out on its surface are eight directional arrows as well as foot-pads for the a, b, + and – functions of the Wii remote. The device connects to the Wii via the Gamecube ports with a lead that will be more than long enough for most living rooms. Unfortunately, we found the underside of the mat a little slippery, which caused it to slide about somewhat on the laminate floor on which we were testing it. Overall though, it does what is required of it perfectly well and feels robust enough to take a pounding from the dancing feet that will inevitably grace it.
Similarly unsurprising is the game itself. Without technological gimmickry with which to wow the gamer, We Dance feels at once instantly familiar and, dare we say it, a little unexciting. Nordic Games have opted for clean and colourful presentation, with in-game dancers that are depicted as silhouettes and distinguishable only by their neon hot-pants, t-shirts, hoodies and leg warmers. The reasoning behind this may be sound – their anonymous nature does make it easier to project yourself onto them – they do also feel a little on the bland side. Dance games are all about the music, your moves and how they are interpreted, but We Dance could have benefitted from a little more visual flair and character.
It seems slightly ironic that in contrast to the game’s uncluttered presentation, its mechanics are a little clunky. At its simplest, players can just copy the on-screen movements of the dancer, paying little attention to the other cues that are thrown at you. To achieve the highest scores however, players opting to play the game on the hard mode – which utilises two Wiimotes (or one Wiimote and nun-chuck) and the dance mat – must keep track of on-screens prompts that instruct you where to put you feet and how to move your arms. For your feet, coloured arrows flash across a small box mirroring the layout of the dance mat. Scrolling across the centre of the screen are stick-figures illustrating how you should be waving your arms. Keeping track of these two feeds while also paying attention to the music and the moves of the dancer can be difficult, and quite unintuitive. It’s a ‘rub your belly while patting your head’ type of scenario. An easy mode (Wiimotes only) and Medium modes (feet only) are also available.
As well as being a little clunky, there is also something of a disconnect between your performance and how the game feeds-back on how well you are doing. Unlike something like Singstar – which awards perfect pitch performances with a shower of stars – We Dance makes do with a score innocuously situated down in the bottom right hand corner of the screen that gradually increases as you shake your rump. Again, this reflects the minimalism of the aesthetics, but it doesn’t do a very good job of connecting your moves with game. As you become more familiar with the set-up – and grasp the significance of the score (i.e. what is a good score!) – this is alleviated somewhat, but we can’t help but think that a little more attention should have been paid to an element that is so core to this type of game. At the end of each round, a grade is assigned to you, but this is a little too late.
Though We Dance does fall short in many aspects, it is a fairly impressive package in terms of the amount of music included, modes of play and additional functionality. As well as supporting four dancers at a time (with four Star Mats, should you wish to splash out on the required kit), you can also download new songs and new dance moves. This latter feature is something of a must in this day and age, and should help give the game longevity. Also included is ‘Dance TV’, which lets you watch the included music videos at your leisure. Dance School gives players a chance to brush up on their moves and learn the songs before entering the game proper.
The catalogue of music included in the game is nice and diverse, though it could have done with including a few more recent chart toppers. Forty tracks are featured in all, encompassing artists such as Basement Jaxx, Jive Bunny, Survivor, Village People, Donna Summer, Gypsy Kings, OutKast and more, and do a reasonable job of providing something for everybody. Younger players with a keen eye on the current pop-charts will be left disappointed however.
Despite its short-comings, We Dance is a nice enough little package, and one that is more than capable of standing shoulder to shoulder with it’s main competition – namely Just Dance. It’s far from ground breaking, but does just about enough to appeal to its target audience while offering plenty of scope for expansion. What is disappointing, however, is the lack of refinement seen in the on-screen action. Dancing is all about freedom of movement, letting go of your inhibitions and self-consciousness; it’s not about attempting to decipher clunky on-screen cues. So, while We Dance gets the job done and (with enough people in the room) is a lot of fun, it’s not quite the life and soul of the party.
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