In 2008, one year before the original Just Dance video game boot-scooted its way onto shelves everywhere, Lady Gaga released her debut single- a song by the same name. Conspiracy? Freemasons? Illuminati? Perhaps. You see, Lady Gaga is a psychic. Her song was prophetic. Hidden within the lyrics of Gaga’s dance track was a one-liner that would aptly summarise Just Dance 2016:
‘Just Dance. Gonna be okay.’ I guess the words two-thousand-sixteen didn’t really fit with the highly syncopated vocal theatrics.
Full disclosure. I own and have enjoyed every one of the past six Just Dance titles in the main series. While some criticise the games for being carbon copies of each other, I have always been of the view that every new release was a slight improvement on the previous one. Unfortunately, the buck stops with this one… but not for a lack of trying.
At the heart of every Just Dance game is the track list. While song ‘likability factor’ is a highly subjective topic, most players would agree that the track list should comprise of recent releases with a good beat. It appears that Ubisoft did not receive that memo, as the readily available track list on Just Dance 2016 features a grand total of 15 songs from 2015 and 29 songs that would be better suited to a previous game. But at least you can dance to all your favourite 2015 hits, like ’Drop the Mambo’ (Diva Carmina), ‘Kool Kontact’ (Glorious Black Belts) and ‘Stadium Flow’ (Imposs)… yeah, I have never heard of any of those songs either. What’s more, the other 29 tracks on this installment of Just Dance include songs you hoped you’d never have to hear again, like ‘I Gotta Feeling’ (The Black Eyed Peas), ‘Born This Way’ (Lady Gaga), and ‘Circus’ (Britney Spears), as well as the usual weird filler that you’d never actually dance to unless it appeared randomly while shuffling through songs.
Fear not, there are more songs available through a subscription-based service called Just Dance Unlimited. Only available on eighth-generation consoles (a moment of silence for original Wii users, please), this service gives players access to a library of songs from previous Just Dance games, in addition to some exclusive new songs. Hold your proverbial horses (Fun fact: You actually do in ‘William Tell Overture’)- they expect me to pay a monthly subscription fee on top of the hefty RRP for Just Dance 2016, just to gain access to some decent songs? Lame. Further, for someone who owns all the previous games, this dancing video-game version of Spotify currently offers very little that is new.
Well, what else IS new? With each Just Dance game, Ubisoft tries to bring something fundamentally different to the turntable, and this installment sees an emphasis on co-operative party play and sharing.
To that end, the typical dance party (which now has co-operative, not just versus play) and Just Sweat (which allows you to customize your workout playlist) options are joined by a host of new modes.
Dance Quest is a Mario Kart Grand Prix-style dance battle in which the player earns a staggered number of points depending on how many of the AI’s fictitious scores are defeated, with the overall points leader after three pre-determined dances earning the title of champion and unlocking the next dance quest.
We also have the World Video Challenge (replacing world dance floor) mode, which allows players to upload their recorded dance videos and scores onto the internet and challenge the whole Just Dance community. Why? Because it’s important to have more videos on the internet that no-one will watch, and even more important to make sure you’re scoring better than someone you don’t even know rather than aiming for self-mastery. With previous additions, my sister and her friends have filmed each other to laugh at their ridiculous dancing once or twice, but this was definitely a novelty and not something that needed to be invested in with a legitimate game mode.
Cynicism aside, the competitive scoring aspect and worldwide competition between members of the Just Dance community may have some merit. At EB Expo this year, I watched on as Denzal Van Uitregt defended his title as Australian National Just Dance Champion and earned himself a repeat trip to the Just Dance World Cup in Paris. While Denzal’s status as defending Australian champion had secured his invite to the EB Expo event, a number of his competitors had earned their place via the Just Dance 2015 online leader boards. The annual world cup in Paris sees players from around the world compete for the title of World Champion, and has seen this humble party game turn into an unlikely eSport of sorts.
Another huge focus on the gaming expo circuit this year for the Ubisoft PR folks was the ability to use a smartphone as a controller, with the free Just Dance Now app. This means that players who do not have Xbox Kinect, or a PlayStation Move controller or camera (i.e. most people) are able to get involved with the game. This feature also means that six people can play comfortably at once, something that the Kinect and PS Camera previously struggled with. The use of a smartphone, a device that a majority of people would have access to, as a controller is a great idea, but so was the Titanic. Unfortunately, I found the smartphone to PS4 connectivity to be very poor – nothing kills the buzz or flow of the game more than having your controller drop out mid-song or mid-sweat session. And it happened frequently. Worst of all was that when the two devices were connected, the scoring was highly inaccurate. I put my phone on the floor at one point and started scoring perfect results despite the fact that I wasn’t even playing. The PlayStation Camera and Xbox Kinect are only mildly better in this regard. This is really unfortunate because the poor connectivity and inability to accurately register movements serves to undermine the entire game and moves the vibe from fun to frustrating.
Just Dance clearly has a worldwide fanbase, the game is (usually) a fun, positive party title that is accessible to all and encourages physical activity (which speaks to the exercise physiologist within me); however, there are too many hiccups in this latest installment, rendering it almost unplayable. Borrowing lyrics from Carly Rae Jepsen’s latest fan favourite- one of the 2015 U.S. Summer hits that is mysteriously absent from this game- Just Dance series ‘I really, really like you’ but this addition, I certainly do not. And I’m quite disappointed about it. Don’t be surprised if this is the last annual Just Dance release.