There was one big question hanging over everyone’s head at the end of 2015 – “Will there be another Just Dance game?” Ok, so maybe it was not quite the “Who shot JR?” of this generation, but it was certainly a question circulating the interwebs. On the back of what felt like a Just Dance Unlimited demo disc/ new controller tester marketed as a game called Just Dance 2016, the consensus cum request to Ubisoft was “please, no.” That memo seemed to have been sent to the Assassin’s Creed division, as Ubisoft came out all songs blazing with a Just Dance 2017 announcement at E3 in June earlier this year. Actually, it was one song blazing – ironically titled, “Don’t Stop Me Now.” And true to their lyrics, the attempted hype train has not stopped since.
Just Dance is a dance game in which players earn points by correctly copying the choreography of the figure on the screen. The concept has enduring appeal (this is the 8th consecutive annual release for the franchise), and previous titles were well executed in terms of graphics, choreography, song selections, and additional features. However, Just Dance 2016 had a serious flaw. Ubisoft launched the game alongside an app that allowed players to use their phone as a controller. The app was appalling and rendered the game unplayable. So, for Just Dance 2017, let’s begin with an assessment of the controls.
When experienced gamers put on virtual reality headsets, most will immediately try to break the game by setting things on fire, assaulting NPCs or running in directions that the game does not encourage. With Just Dance, the only way to test the limits of the game (more specifically, the phone-as-a-controller sensitivity and accuracy) is by flailing aimlessly, moving in the opposite direction to requested or remaining perfectly still. In Just Dance 2016, I was scoring “perfect”s while my phone was sitting idly, recuperating on the floor after having its battery drained. By contrast, Just Dance 2017 doesn’t give out participation awards. The game responds to defiance of the set choreography with less than flattering assessments of the player’s dancing ability. I’d usually be distraught with a cross, but in this case, it was the equivalent of a big green tick. Though it is still MUCH quicker and easier to scroll through the game menus with the console controller, there are no longer issues with the phone-app-controller during dances.
In light of the fact that the game is playable, the quality of the track list should be the most significant factor driving anyone’s decision to play the game. The Just Dance 2017 base game features 39 playable songs and seems to have a greater emphasis on contemporary pop, than its predecessors (24 of the 39 songs are from 2015 or 2016). Recent hits on Just Dance 2017 include songs such as “Sorry” by Justin Bieber, “Cheap Thrills” by Sia ft Sean Paul, and “Don’t Wanna Know” by Maroon 5. Cleverly, Ubisoft have included songs with associated dances such as “Single Ladies” by Beyonce and “Watch Me (Whip/ Nae Nae)” by Silento. There are the usual bizarre international releases and other random songs to act as filler, but on the whole, the track list seems relatively strong in this addition of the game (especially if you can appreciate “Dragostea Din Tei” by O-Zone for its nostalgic value).
Like its recent predecessors, Just Dance 2017 encourages players to engage with these tracks in a variety of modes. Just Dance Machine is the “campaign mode” of Just Dance 2017. The premise is that aliens need the player’s help to refill the battery of their UFO… through dancing (what?). This mode sits alongside the much more conservative and sensical Just Sweat, World Dance Floor, World Video Challenge, Dance Mashup, and Dance Quest, which are all return gameplay features. To be honest, these modes just give you score targets to hit, make you dance to multiple songs in a row, or let you share your performances with people online. It’s still just dancing to the same songs (I guess the title of this game gives you a clear indication of what to expect).
We need to talk about Just Dance Unlimited. It is the feature that made the world question whether we would ever see the release of a new Just Dance game. This service gives players access to the available catalogue of previous Just Dance songs, as well as five songs that are exclusive to the service (to be honest, the only two that anyone would care about is Bieber’s “Let Me Love You” and Troye Sivan’s “Youth”). The PAL version of Just Dance 2017 includes a 90 day free trial of the Just Dance Unlimited service. Given that the service usually costs $14.99 for three months, the 90-day free trial mitigates the price tag of the core game slightly.
However, when you do subscribe to Just Dance Unlimited, not all the songs from previous Just Dance titles are there – notably, “Kiss You” by One Direction and “Troublemaker” by Olly Murs are among the missing. The omission of some songs is probably a licensing issue, but it doesn’t take the sting out of it (actually, Sting never appeared in any of the Just Dance games).
Further, given that this is a game that appeals more to casual gamers who may revisit it once a week, or once a month when friends come over, it would be better to offer an X number of plays subscription rather than time-sensitive ones. I also take issue with the fact that you cannot purchase individual songs and keep them in your library permanently – instead you essentially have “on-loan” DLC. You can buy previous Just Dance titles incredibly cheaply and often in packages, so if you have a Wii or Wii U, it may be better value to purchase the older titles in physical form or borrow them from friends, rather than to subscribe to Just Dance Unlimited and fork out an extra $6.99 per month, $14.99 every quarter or $39.99 per year.
As an interesting aside, even after the game had downloaded and installed to my PlayStation 4, it still took hours for all the songs and then features to install and be accessible. The songs seemed to install alphabetically, so if you’re holding a “songs starting with W” Just Dance party, I would recommend giving yourself plenty of preparation time. This installation issue may be related to my use of a download code rather than a physical copy of the game. Regardless, it was frustrating.
Just Dance 2017 is a multiplayer dance game that looks slick, is accessible to all ages, and is top tier in terms of functionality. However, outside of the social media aspect and the use of a phone as a controller, there is nothing significantly different about Just Dance 2017 when compared to Just Dance 2014 and previous editions. Ultimately, if you find the prospect of a dance game appealing, and want to know whether to purchase this game, it comes down to your judgement of the track list. I recommend that you decide whether enough of the songs on Just Dance 2017 pique your interest because once the 90-day Just Dance Unlimited free trial expires, you’ll be whipping out your credit card or settling for the core 39 songs. Is it weird that I danced to “Cheap Thrills” while realising that this game offers no cheap thrills? Is it too late to say sorry for that rhetorical statement?