Someone wise once said that ‘dancing with the feet is one thing, but dancing with the heart is another’, but regrettably Dance Paradise dances with neither fancy footwork nor any heart. Instead it hopes you, the player, will be too drunk to notice its underwhelming gameplay.
It doesn’t help that it’s directly up against arguably the strongest title in Kinect’s line-up, Dance Central, a game developed by the music game maestros Harmonix, nor that it’s up against king of dancing Konami and its DanceMasters title.
Or at least it wouldn’t help if Dance Paradise was actually a dancing game. No matter what it says or looks like from the box, you won’t be popping, locking or even moving around much for the vast majority of the 40-strong video playlist.
The idea sounds fairly dance-y. As the chosen song plays, an animation of a transparent body scrolls down four Guitar Hero-esque vertical tracks. The player then performs the move depicted when it reaches the bottom of the track, repeating it for as long as a trailing bar remains behind the move.
Warning bells should be ringing from the very first moment one of these aforementioned moves arrives on screen.
For the majority of the first few songs, the game asked us to do such incredibly taxing dance moves as ‘moving the shoulders a bit’, ‘clapping’ and ‘doing the chicken’, moves more commonly associated with a drink-fuelled wedding disco than the sunlit beach dance parties that the game’s locations suggest.
Chalking this down to the difficulty and the fact we were playing Kool and the Gang’s Celebration, we jumped out of Career mode – a set sequence of challenges set to different songs – and moved into Free play, turned up the difficulty to ‘Hard’ (there’s only two settings), and chose the final song, which turned out to be the Brit-pop classic Alright by Supergrass. The ‘hard’ moves thrown at us in this final challenge? Miming hammering a piano and playing air guitar.
The track system also doesn’t help matters. To Dance Paradise's credit, the way it handles shifting tracks is really well done for those with limited room – even the slightest nudge will set it jumping across to the next track – and the game does ‘lock in’ the correct position once you reach it, meaning you can scarper into the centre of the room to perform the move without having to worry about it suddenly jerking across with you. Yet this shift-pause-lean-pause motion ends up feeling more like an extended version of the Kinect identification calibration software, rather than dancing.
Talking of calibrating, Dance Paradise rarely ever misses a move, which either suggests Mindscape has managed to do the impossible and make a Kinect game that’s 100% perfect, or that they’ve cheated a bit.
As you can probably guess – it’s the latter. In fact, the game doesn’t even bother with the lower half of the body, meaning you can remain perfectly still and mindlessly wave your arms about, and you’ll still be given a ‘perfect’ rating as your avatar somehow makes the correct moves despite your best efforts.
If you’re wondering what that noise is, it’s the second warning bell ringing. While it would be unfair to say that ‘all avatar games are rubbish’, especially with Kinect Sports looking at us menacingly from across the room, they often don’t improve matters when the rest of the game feels so cheap.
From the comic sans style fonts and the overly-sensitive menus to the way the menu song repeats itself every single loading screen unless you let it run through to its completion, Dance Paradise feels like an Xbox Live Arcade title dressed as a boxed game, and an average one at that.
Add a few friends (and a few more alcoholic beverages) into the mix however, and suddenly Dance Paradise starts to show its true colours.
The non-reliance on moving around makes Paradise one of the easiest games to get going with two players (no elbows at dawn here) and the fact that the moves are so simple, and the game so lenient, means none of the songs have much of a barrier to entry for newcomers. Indeed, take it as purely a game that’s whipped out at parties and the design choices make sense.
The three multiplayer modes on offer range from the fairly standard Versus and Synchro (co-op), to the raucous Attack mode, the latter featuring power-ups that range from freezing the opponent’s tracks to randomly jumbling up the moves as they fall.
Paradise even comes with a video DJ section where you can select the best music videos from the 40 tracks and play them (presumably while you all chat on the sofa). It’s a neat idea, especially as there are some cracking music videos from the likes of Lady Gaga and Gwen Stefani, but it does also hammer home the point that the game is less about dancing and more about being too drunk to care.
Dance Paradise feels cheap and plays like a slightly more advanced version of the Kinect identification system. The multiplayer modes have the potential to be a good one-off hit at a party due to the simplicity of the moves and lenient tracking, but this lack of depth and quality ultimately consigns it to dancing mediocrity.