22 September, 2014

Review - Breaking it Down in Dance Central Spotlight

I took a break from wizard hunting and hydra slaying and stepped up to a new challenge; mastering the art of dance. The road to throwing of my shackles of indignation and accepting what Dance Central Spotlight had to offer was a long one, but the reward was sweet (or perhaps sweat). I certainly did not use this as an excuse to listen to objectively awful pop songs for hours on end.

Dance Central Spotlight

Dance Central Spotlight is in many ways the next logical evolution of the Dance Central series, by moving away from a retail disc and a large price tag, Spotlight transcends further as platform for dance, and purchasing new songs. This may sound like an awful lot of business to surround a game, but ultimately Spotlight keeps the entry price low and stops you from purchasing a list of songs that you never want to dance to. Of course, at its core remains a fantastic dancing game, which can, if you let it, consume hours of your day and all of your energy.

As an Xbox One game, Dance Central Spotlight benefits from the refinements of the new Kinect motion sensor. Unlike its 360 cousin, the Xbox One Kinect can actually track a human being reliably, which is crucial for playing Dance Central. There is that always present fear when playing a Kinect game that it is the Kinect’s fault you are doing badly, that it is punishing the player for its own failings. However, Dance Central Spotlight had no problem tracking my somewhat boorish and sluggish attempts at dance. Feedback in Dance Central is minimal, the limb(s) that isn’t following the routine is highlighted with a red glow; in one sense it is unobtrusive, not obstructing the experience, on the other hand it is hard to pick out amongst the flaring lights and sparkling storms that can engulf the screen. It also fails to inform you what it is you are not doing, merely that you are doing something wrong.

To assist players, Spotlight does have a tutorial function of sorts, buy shouting ‘Hey DJ’ at the Kinect you’ll be pulled from the song and into a practice mode. The moves of the song can be cycled through, slowed down and practiced until you’re ready to put them all together and return to the real thing. Like the glowing limb feedback, the DJ tutorial system doesn’t necessarily tell you where you are going wrong, it is up to the player to contort the limb in question until it stops glowing red. It is by no means a perfect feedback system, but I found it very rewarding to practice a particularly sticky move until I had mastered it on my own.

Initially I struggled with following the dancer’s moves, if the dancer raised their right hand I raised my right hand, as if I were actually copying their moves – and of course everything start glowing red. If the dancer on the screen moves to their left, you follow him (to your right) as if you were a mirror image. Some more invasive feedback, perhaps the game telling you that you’re going the wrong way would have been extremely useful here, because all the while I was plagued by that niggling feeling that the Kinect’s previous shortcomings were to blame.

The dancers exude so much style they make even me feel old and dated.

Graphically Dance Central Spotlight has a stylish mix of cartoonish characters and glittery partical effects, looking better than it has any need to. Though as mentioned earlier, effects do sometimes obscure, or at the very least distract you from the red glow that indicates if you’re failing a move.

Dance Central Spotlight comes packed with ten tracks, mostly modern pop hits you’ve almost certainly heard played to death, such as, Pharrell Williams’ Happy and Will.i.ams’ #thatPOWER. The store’s selection is more varied, featuring some older ‘classics’, so naturally immediately purchased all of the Lady Gaga tracks available.

Unlike earlier entries in the series, Spotlight offers several different routines for each song; four difficulty settings, and four alternative routines. These eight routines are all quite different; the difficulty based routines add new moves to the mix and obviously get more complex and harder, while the alternative routines feature all new moves. The net result is a lot of very different ways to play each song, adding a lot of  replay value to the individual songs.

In the fitness mode you first enter your height and weight, so that it can deduce how many calories it thinks you are burning, of course this assumes you are actually performing the moves with the verve they demand. Spotlight will then take you through a series of moves appropriate to the type of workout you selected, for however long you set, multiple types of workouts can be selected and queued up in a single session. It is a really compelling feature – I always wanted to set a longer workout to reward myself with a larger of number calories burned. There is unfortunately no way to skip a song, or remove one entirely from the roster, which I suppose isn’t reasonable because the moves and routines depend so much upon the tempo of the music. Nevertheless, Lorde’s Royals had the impressive effect of making me switch modes almost every time it came up.

Dance Central Spotlight is a really compelling package, its service based nature keeps the price low and the value up. Making full use of the Kinect’s now functional motion tracking, Spotlight offers dancing that feels both, fair in its judgement of your performance, and extremely rewarding as you master first the moves, then the routines. Spotlight provides a ton of routines for each song, so whether you are driven by high scores or burned calories, Spotlight will keep you dancing ‘til your legs give out. 

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