Once upon a time, if one wanted to play a dancing game, it was a case of heading down to the arcade to show your expertise (or flail about hopelessly) on a Dance Dance Revolution machine in full view of the general public. Playing at home meant fastening a plastic dance mat to the floor with increasing quantities of Velcro, lest some over enthusiastic shape throwing led to a banana skin type slip and a trip to A&E. Things have changed however and in recent times we have been blessed with rhythm games of all shapes and sizes, from Rock Band's full band kit to Dance Central's controller-less dance party. Just Dance hit the scene in 2009 on the Wii and has been a popping up at New Year's Eve and Christmas parties ever since to varying levels of excitement from the guests (often dependent on age and state of inebriation – occasionally both). So with so many players in the rhythm action genre – does Just Dance 2016 offer its audience anything new?
From the outset, it's clear that Just Dance is about letting go of your inhibitions and doing what the title tells you to. There's a focus on accessibility and the game can accommodate up to six players using Kinect or the new smartphone app (more on this later), allowing people to jump in and out during a performance without interrupting the song. Players follow the choreography on screen and are scored based on their ability to match the moves of the brightly coloured characters they are trying to mirror. It's not limited to single player dances either, as there are routines which include up to four dancers, each moving independently or in time with one another with some rather optimistic lifts, twirls and jumps thrown in for the more adventurous among us. Kinect tracks your moves and will occasionally record your dances, presenting you with a montage at the end of the song which you can choose to upload and share on social media and UPlay. Kinect is by far the easiest way to play, as you will be unencumbered by a controller whilst strutting your stuff, but for some reason there are no Kinect menu controls. This means that between each song, players have to pick up a controller to pick the next track or game mode. This feels unnecessarily clumsy, although Kinect menu controls in general are never as fluid as we'd like, it would be preferable to awkwardly messing around with a pad at regular intervals.
The track selection is certainly varied, including the likes of Meghan Trainor's 'All About That Bass' and Mark Ronson's 'Uptown Funk' alongside Rossini's 'William Tell Overture' and 'Under The Sea' from Disney's The Little Mermaid. The playlist runs from pop, through classics and show tunes, to synthesised performer Hatsune Miku. It's not that the song selection is bad, it's just a bit of a mish mash and nothing really stands out. As Ubisoft have now launched their Just Dance Unlimited subscription service, those who are willing to pay will have access to over 150 extra songs, with more coming in future. A month's trial is included with the game so it's certainly worthwhile taking advantage of this to enhance the experience but some will find it hard to justify the extra outlay when the choice of tracks on the disk is so lacklustre.
Most players will begin their dancing careers in "Dance Party" mode, a basic scored dance session in which players dance alone or collaboratively to score points which unlock new avatars and song remixes. Dance Quests see the player take on sets of songs against AI players and work their way to the top of the leaderboard within each play through to win. A win rewards the player with a new avatar item and anyone with Just Dance Unlimited will have access to further dance quests included within their subscription. The enticingly named "Sweat & Playlists" mode allows players to put together their own workout playlists which offer a non-stop dance sessions to those looking to improve their fitness levels or to burn a few calories. The accuracy of the calorie counter is debateable but for those who want an extra activity to add to their workout or those who are stepping into fitness for the first time, it's a fun and easy way to get thirty minutes of exercise in the privacy of your own home. It seems as though the random recordings have been switched off during this mode as well, which is a relief.
For the most exhibitionist among you, "World Video Challenge" allows players to send their friends videos of their performances and challenge the Just Dance community to beat their score, while "Showtime" takes it a step further, tasking players with creating their very own music videos using a cut-down selection of songs. There's also some random singing thrown in for good measure but, although this can boost your scores, it feels awkward to add a microphone to the proceedings as it's yet another item that needs to be picked up and put down regularly. The main thing to take away is that there isn't much to differentiate the modes from one another, with each one offering only small tweaks on the last, but each mode is fun in its own right. Perhaps there just isn't that much that can be done to refresh a franchise that is about dancing around your living room with your friends and family, and maybe that's okay, as it does an excellent job of making that dancing fun and accessible.
The biggest innovation on offer is the smartphone app available on iTunes and Google Play. This takes over the duties of both the controller and Kinect, allowing users to control the game from their phones with ease and using the phone's accelerometer to replicate the functions of a Wiimote. The app is well-themed and it takes only seconds to sync it up to the Xbox One, removing the requirement for Kinect and further expanding the potential player base. As Just Dance only tracks the movements of one hand, this is a clever move by Ubisoft, but there is a noticeable difference in the effectiveness of the app when registering dance steps compared to using Kinect. However, using the app removes the restriction of the Kinect field of view, which will make the title more accessible to larger numbers of players, but if you're playing for scores, Kinect is definitely the way to go. Finally, in a world where Nintendo had to rush to distribute wristbands to the masses following multiple televisions, windows and other household objects being smashed by overzealous dancers and bowlers, the idea of asking people to dance, wave and cheerlead with their expensive phones seems like a potential nightmare.
Just Dance 2016 is a fun party game but its movement tracking does not offer enough precision to appeal to more competitive players. The track selection on the disk is a little lacking; with only a handful of big hitters available unless you are willing to pay for Just Dance Unlimited. The addition of the app makes it easier than ever to play with your friends and the ability for up to six players to dance at the same time provides lots of opportunity for choreographed hijinks.