Just Dance 4
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3
A game like Just Dance should be all about simplicity. There should be no complex storylines or characters to worry about, and you shouldn't have to cope with a learning curve when it comes to the controls. In fact, you should be able to turn it on and – well – just dance. When it comes to the concept of a pick-up-and-play party game, Just Dance 4 is almost a perfect example.
The biggest impediment to the player's ability to get right into the game is the unfortunate evil of menus. With Kinect, any time you want to select something – a mode, a song, a player – you have to raise your arm, wave it around until the cursor is over the item you want, and then point forwards to 'click'. When so many other Kinect games just require you to hold your hand over an item for a couple of seconds (enough time to register that you're not doing it by accident), it's strange that Ubisoft has chosen to go in a different direction here. Perhaps it makes the game stand out, but it just doesn't work as well.
The navigation might be easier to deal with, too, if it weren't for the fact that every time you turn on the game you're presented with messages from Uplay, Ubisoft's multiplayer and communications service. Uplay does offer some additional features, like challenges that earn you Uplay units, but for those who aren't interested in signing up the advertising will continue to appear and might soon become an irritation, particularly given all the waving and pointing you'll have to do to get it to go away.
When it comes to the actual matter of dancing, Just Dance 4 asks far less of the player. Like in the previous games, you're faced with the outline of a dancer – generated from motion capture of a professional – and asked to act as if she is your mirror image. Kinect seems to do a good job of picking up the player's body movements, though it's difficult to tell because unlike in the Dance Central games errors aren't highlighted by body part. Though you do get judged 'okay' or 'excellent', and you build up points for doing particularly well, you get the feeling Just Dance 4 just doesn't care if you can dance or not. And for a party game, that's exactly what you want.
Another useful feature Just Dance 4 provides for the party situation is its multiplayer. The dance battles that are unlocked by levelling up are good for competitive players, but everyone else will enjoy the fact that for any song in the Just Dance mode four players can dance side by side. Again, if the Kinect tracking isn't perfect, there's not really any way of ever knowing, and it's unlikely to cause an argument.
There should be enough songs in there to keep everyone happy too, with fifty tracks ranging from golden oldies like Barry White to modern hits like Call Me Maybe. Ubisoft is obviously keeping an eye on current trends, too, as it was recently announced that Gangnam Style will be made available as downloadable content. Variety is important, and Just Dance 4 has a wide enough selection of music to stop it from getting too repetitive.
There's quite a range when it comes to the complexity of the choreography, too, so even though Just Dance 4 isn't as intent on teaching you how to dance 'properly' as the Dance Central games, there is still room for the player to pick up a few new moves. When you start to feel a bit more confident in your ability, and if you have a Uplay account, you can show the world your skills with Just Dance TV. The game records you as you play – though you can turn this off in the options – and combines brief sequences to make a 'video' that can then be shared. If you don't feel up to that, you can still view popular videos through the channel. It's a nice way to encourage a sense of community.
When the party's over, Just Dance 4 has its draw in the Just Sweat mode. There are four kinds of workout available to you from the start, and a fifth can be unlocked when you level up. Each uses a different kind of music and movement, from aerobics with 80s pop music to latin dance with world music. Within each, you can also pick a workout length: ten, twenty-five, or forty-five minutes. Dependent on the length of your workout, you'll dance your way through a number of sections, starting with a warm up and ending with a cool down. The game counts calories burned, too, and you can monitor your personal achievements on your 'dance card', which also tells you what workouts you've done and how long you've spent doing them. For a game with a focus on lighthearted fun, this comprehensive workout mode is a real bonus.
Playing through the workouts won't only benefit your well-being, either. Each one has a checklist with objectives, as do each of the dances in Just Dance mode, and each of these ticked off gains you extra points to your 'Mojo'. Build up enough mojo and you'll gain a level. Every time you do that, you get to spin a wheel of prizes, things like dance battles to be unlocked. It might be annoying to some players to find these prizes missing when they first play the game, but the drive to unlock them all works as an incentive to keep playing.
In fact, in keeping the player coming back for more Just Dance 4 does something that a lot of party games don't manage to achieve. With plenty of options for one player or as many as four (if you can fit them all in your sitting room - there’s no online multiplayer), a nice long track list, and a place to share and view what others have shared, Just Dance 4 has taken a simple premise and turned it into a fully-formed game.