Ubisoft has upped the ante with their Just Dance series by bringing their newest title, Just Dance 3, to the Kinect. While at first I thought it was a great idea, an overall poor execution has left me wishing I'd gotten a copy for any other platform instead.
As soon as the disc is in place and the main screen loads up, it's evident JD3 took some cues from Dance Central in menu navigation. Unfortunately, they didn't take notes on how to make it work. While merely breathing, with no limb movement, the selections on-screen twitch as though asking, "Is- is this what you want? Yes? Maybe? Not sure?" and would then pick something for me. Similar issues happened while choosing my song difficulty. It got even better when the system would read my head as my hand, requiring me to shake my head around to get to where I wanted to go. It's like dealing with an overeager puppy in menu form; eager to please, yet has no clue what to do and ends up leaving a mess in its wake.
Sure you can use an Xbox controller to get around the game, but by having to do so it defeats the purpose of having a Kinect title.
The game assumes you know the routine, so to speak, from the moment you start. The song selection screen is alphabetized, with small pictures of gears and water droplets shown beside each title signifying, what you can only assume to be, difficulty level, and possibly energy (sweat) level of that song. If you're trying to find the easier songs, you have to go one-by-one through the list as there's no option to sort the songs by difficulty. When you choose your tune, there is no practice option available to learn the moves and you are simply thrown right into the dance.
If you wish to learn the choreography, your only option is in another area of the menu where you still play at the same tempo. However, you're shown as an avatar "blob" on-screen overlapping the actual avatar, and your learning experience is to mimic the avatar as best you can, all while it records your efforts. Not very newcomer-friendly. With that said, however, "easy" mode has the same key moves repeat often enough that you do eventually catch on by the end of the song, provided you come to terms with knowing nothing about the dance and trying it anyway. It's the equivalent of watching a music video and mimicking the moves, except with the odd stick-figure "flash card" giving you a "heads-up" of what's coming up. Even so, once you get used to it, it really is fun and is a great diversion from the twitchy glitches you had to endure to get there.
Luckily, the song selection is very impressive, ranging from familiar titles such as "No Limit," to obscure inside-joke style songs including How I Met Your Mother's mock-music video, "Let's Go to the Mall." There's a song for everyone in the track list. Some of the more surprising ones include an unexpected "This is Hallowe'en" from Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," and the current Japanese Power Rangers theme song, "Synchronizer."
Always themed, with "Synchronizer" having the avatars morph into the Power Rangers, and Mika's "Lollipop" showing muppets singing with rolling hills of candies in the background, the visuals really add to the dance experience. Not only does this make the dancing that much more fun, it also gives friends something fun to watch as you play.
If you want to play with friends, there are multiple options for you. Either you can pick a song that has more than one dance routine, where you can have two or four players play the same song yet have different difficulties and interacting dance moves, or you can play a one-player song where you all do the exact same moves. You can choose who dances as what character, both with friends and when you're by yourself.
Two-player play was okay in my slightly-larger-than-average living room, but having four-players would be impossible. Even while using the Kinect's lense-range reductor that enables optimum play in smaller rooms, the Kinect could barely see me as I danced a character's routine to the furthest left or right of the screen. Unless you have a very large room with an expanse of free space available to dance in, even with the game's suggestion of standing in a zig-zag form, you won't be able to take full advantage of the four-player mode.
As it is you lose out on some of the features if you don't have a giant living-space to play on the Kinect. As one player you can choose which of the two or four characters to play, however, if you choose the ones to the furthest left or right you will never get the points or recognition due to limited visibility.
Even if you start with a character who requires you to dance right in line with the Kinect, the game will sometimes get confused if you move into another character's "section." Numerous times while playing solo, the game thought another person jumped in to play if I strayed from my designated "square" and would start counting a score for two players instead of just me. There's no way to go back to the character you started with once this happens, so if you're trying to get a high score, you're stuck. While playing with two players, the same thing happened, resulting with three player scores on-screen and our earning the rest of our scores as different players.
For each song you complete, you earn points that go toward unlock-able extras in the game. You can earn a new song or mash-up, or you can acquire special games like "Simon Says," which is integrated into the dances. A very satisfactory, well-earned achievement if you can deal with the aforementioned issues.
JD3s new addition of Just Create is an exclusive feature on the Kinect. Simply put, you pick any song available to you, including any un-lockables you achieve, and you dance your own made-up routine. The game records your dance, creates a JD3esque avatar to represent you, then becomes a routine for you or your friends to replay as much as you like. It brings the concept of "dance off" to a whole new level. You can even choose to save your routine and share it on Xbox Live for the world to play.
Freestyle is another option available, and is self-explanatory. You are also recorded in this case, though there is no routine and it's just for fun.
A workout mode called Just Sweat allows you to play any song and earn "sweat points" as you go. These points are like an alternate way to score your dancing, though it focuses more on how much energy you put in instead of how well you do the moves.
This is one of those games where you'll want to love it, yet can't help but hate it at times. The song selection is great, the dance moves you learn are really fun, and the themed visuals for the songs really add to the experience. But the constant glitches, along with the inability to fully take advantage of the game for promised features like four-player mode, really kill the likeability of the whole package. If a patch were made for the navigation alone it would greatly improve the experience, however, a game shouldn't ship out with glitches in something as basic as the menu screen, letalone as many as this one has. Those who don't have Xbox Live and have no access to a possible future patch for the game, you've been warned.
Just Dance 3 is available for the Kinect, PlayStation 3, and the Wii, but this review only applies to the Kinect version.