Among the fluffy animals and sporty avatars of Kinect’s launch line-up, Harmonix’s Dance Central gave Microsoft’s motion-tracking system something it sorely needed: a heady dose of sex appeal mixed with a dash of cool. And more importantly, this achingly self-conscious hipness was tied to a use of Kinect which felt like a genuine breakthrough. Before Dance Central, dance games were based on pressure-sensitive mats or Wii Remotes, but this was a title that could see your body and teach you how to move it.
Except it didn’t. Not quite. What Dance Central did, in reality, was show you how to dance and then rate your ability to mimic it. When it worked, it worked, but DC’s problems were the moves you couldn’t master, the frustrating moments when you were certain your hips were swinging and your arm was raised as asked, yet the game insisted otherwise. The most significant upgrades here, then, are the ones that make it a better teacher.
Break It Down mode is where the tuition happens. This mode chops songs into their constituent parts, letting you master them piece by piece before stringing them together in the Perform It mode. It’s easier than before to perfect moves that are troubling you, due to the game remembering the steps you’ve been struggling with and letting you focus on them one at a time. Even more helpful is a replay function that records your dancing and lets you see exactly where you’ve been going wrong. Be warned, however, that the fragile illusion that you look anything like the dancer onscreen is unlikely to survive even a few seconds of playback.
As welcome as these improvements are, and as much as they minimise the frustrations of DC2, they’re not the headline upgrade. Simultaneous twoplayer modes are the major draw, and assuming you can rearrange your living room to allow for a dance hall’s worth of space, it works even better than you’d have thought.
This is mainly because Harmonix understands that dancing is, above all, a chance to show off. Twoplayer Perform It is a straight-up competition to see who can match the most moves, but Dance Battles encourage showboating and fiercer competition – the former by alternating solos amongst the shared steps, the latter by introducing into routines the Free-4-All minigame, a hectic, freeform rush to nail moves floating up in batches of four before your opponent does the same.
The seamless integration of voice commands into a polished, thoughtful upgrade is Harmonix’s slick finishing move. Dance Central 2 is a typical music game sequel – it works better, offers more, yet feels fundamentally the same – but it’s a practised improvement to an already eye-catching routine.