If you’ve ever wanted to dance like a 12 year-old Michael Jackson, or slide across the dance floor Jamiroquai-style, or even strut your stuff like pretty boy Jordan Knight from New Kids On The Block, then SingStar Dance may be right up your street. Those three artists and more combine to create a spin-off to the incredibly popular karaoke series, only this time, as well as being able to warble like a song bird, you get the opportunity to wiggle that booty more vigorously than a pumped-up crowd at a Beyoncé gig.
SingStar Dance offers everything that we’ve come to expect from the series - slick presentation, a scoring system that encourages competitiveness, and a speech recognition system that demonstrates great rhythm and pitch detection. But alongside its well-established singing component, it throws down some hip-wiggling, hand-over-your-heads and down-to your-knees dance moves, courtesy of PlayStation Move and its motion-sensing technology.
If you’re a fan of the series, the bad news is that you can’t just jump into the SingStore and start downloading a huge selection of favorite songs and start dancing to them. Well you could, but you won’t get any points for it; you might as well stick the Move controller down your pants for what’s it worth. That means you’ll have to be content with what you get on the disc, and for now, SingStar Dance boasts a slightly disappointing 30 Move-compatible songs, with the promise of more to come via the SingStore at a later date. And, on paper, the soundtrack is quite a bizarre mix.
The track-list transcends the generations, taking you from golden oldies such as Blondie and Kool And The Gang, to young and trendies including Lady Gaga and The Pussy Cat Dolls. Scan your eyes across the track list and it’s those instantly recognizable tunes, or those that you immediately associate with cool or over-the-top dance moves, such as Michael Jackson’s “I Want You Back,” or MC Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This” that jump out of the page. And it’s these tunes that we were keen to try out first long before the likes of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper or “That's the Way (I Like It)" by KC & The Sunshine Band.
There’s a real mix of artists and music genres that offer a variety of tempos from slow to fast paced tunes, so you should find something to your taste. Nevertheless, the track list could definitely have been stronger. There’s a hundred-and-one dance-related tunes that we’d put before “Celebration” by Kool And The Gang, even if our mothers do love it. At least that’s a recognizable tune, though; there are some we’ve never heard of, such as "Crank That" by Soulja Boy Tell 'Em. At least there aren't any line-dancing tracks.
The dancing part of SingStar runs alongside the typical karaoke gameplay, and the whole package impressively comes complete with all the familiar competitive and online game modes that we’re used to seeing from the franchise. You can also play the game in a number of ways. You can have one player singing and the other one dancing, or you can have the same player singing and dancing (which we suspect will take a long time to master). Alternatively, you can play two vs. two in a combination of singing/dancing. As the official video plays in the background and the lyrics scroll across screen on the left hand side, a smaller portion of the right hand side is given up for a boxed shadowy character, a professional dancer that carries out the moves that you have to mimic.
Below that, there’s a small box where you can see what the PlayStation Eye sees, namely you and whoever dares to join you waving your arms in the air like you just don’t care. As with all SingStar games, there’s a clear and simple-to-follow user interface. It’s easy to see how well or how badly you're doing at any point in the song, but it feels like the dance component is tacked onto the usual SingStar format. That’s largely because it’s been given a much smaller part of the screen squashed into about a quarter of the real estate on the right hand side. When you’re playing two versus two, the space on screen for four sets of boxes down the right hand side gets even more cramped and it becomes quite hard to take in all the detail.
As you follow the professional dancer on screen, whose moves are exaggerated and therefore fairly easy to follow, you grasp the Move controller in your hand and have to carry out the exact moves. Like SingStar you’re rated for your efforts with words such as “Cool” or “Awful” and awarded a final score. In all honesty, we have no idea how well SingStar Dance tracks your actual dance movements, but it’s clear to see that it does at least track the Move Controller effectively. The scores and one word signals detailing how well you’ve done after completing each move seem to correspond with your movements correctly, but it’s also very clear that you can just get away with just moving the controller and keeping perfectly still, which doesn't really make it a true dance game.
Despite that fact, SingStar Dance is most definitely a party game to be enjoyed with others and we have had a lot of fun playing it, trying to master some tricky moves and more often than not ending up in a tangle. It’s also much more challenging than we expected. When you choose the up tempo numbers, for instance, it’s a real work-out. We were aching all over after trying to keep up with Outkast’s "Hey Ya!," though we enjoyed the slower, more sensual movements of Shaggy and "Boombastic" – Sony certainly has a sense of humor putting that track in.
What surprised us and impresses us most about SingStar Dance is how some of the dance routines are based on the performance of the artists. So, for example, “I Want You Back” takes you through The Jackson Five’s exact routine, which is great when you nail it but quite tough to master. Trying to master such a recognizable tune is very enjoyable, especially when there’s someone else around to share the experience with. As a result of the fairly in-depth choreography on a lot of the tracks, it’s easy to see how people could really get into SingStar Dance, especially if you’re a perfectionist or someone who enjoys dance routines. SingStar Dance is a challenging game if you play it properly, and it's going to help if you're quite fit.
For all the fun it brings, however, SingStar Dance isn’t quite the complete package and other established dance brands and standalone dance titles may well do a better job than Sony to make the whole experience a bit tighter and streamlined toward the dance experience. Still, with the established Singstar karaoke gameplay still playing it’s part very well indeed, the dancing does bring something new to an already successful format and delivers a viable alternative to just singing. Weighing things up then, we can’t see many of you being disappointed in what SingStar Dance has to offer if you're already SingStar fans. People expecting a complete dance package, however, may be quite dissatisfied with the incomplete dance component.
-The Final Word-
Great fun, but dancing feels tacked onto the established SingStar experience rather than a complete standalone dance package.