Just Dance 2016 is a party game for party people, but at this shindig the vol-au-vents are a little stale and Auntie Val is sitting in the corner with her hands on her head because she simply can’t take any more of the flashing disco lights and loud, trashy pop music. With more than 16 games in the music series (spin-offs included) launching since 2009, it’s fair to say that the Just Dance franchise’s knees are creaking under the weight of far too much jigging around too frequently, but somehow the Assassin’s Creed of rhythm games still manages to keep the masses coming back for more. I think I know why.
You see, Just Dance 2016 is fun. It’s a giggle with mates and a hoot with the family. It’s a great social game for the young uns to twist and gyrate to and lose their inhibitions. I can imagine whacking this on at a Christmas party and everyone having a fun time either watching others flinging their arms and legs around wildly, or joining in. With tracks like ‘Uptown Funk’, Meghan Trainor’s ‘All About The Bass’, and The Black Eyes Peas ‘I Gotta Feeling’, there’s some familiar, albeit slightly dated tunes stacked up in the DJ booth alongside some songs that I’ve frankly never heard of, such as ‘Kaboom Pow’ by Nikki Yanofsky and ‘I’m An Albatraoz’ by AronChupa. Then there’s some golden oldies, such as Grease’s ‘You’re The One That I Want’, and Charles Percy’s ‘Hit the Road Jack’, so there’s no excuse for granddad to sit on the sofa moaning that the music’s too loud. There’s a few annoying tunes too, like the strangely addictive, can’t-get-it-out-my-head-but-hate-it, ‘Balkan Blast Remix’ by The Angry Birds. Overall, it makes for an odd mix of tracks, but there’s certainly a little something for everyone.
Just like its bizarre (never-heard-of-them/overly familiar/token gestures for the oldies) track listing, and selection of surreal on-screen dancing characters that you have to mimic (hippos, squirrels and Angry Birds, you name it), Just Dance 2016 doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you. Just dance and you’ll have fun, but take it too serious and its flaws will stand out like Britney Spears dressed as a schoolgirl in a church. The disappointing lack of a feature that slows down dance moves, or a tutorial to help you master them, means that only the best dancers are going to be able to pull off all the moves with the rhythm and style of its on-screen dancers. What’s worse, however, is that it actually turns out that your dance moves probably don’t matter that much anyway because I’m not convinced that the game even picks up your movements that accurately.*
Just Dance 2016 can be played via three different control methods: the PlayStation Camera, the official app, or PlayStation Move controllers. The PlayStation Camera doesn’t work particularly well (For the record, I did not play Just Dance 2016 with the PlayStation Move controller). The issue is that it doesn’t really seem to matter whether you follow the dance steps on screen or jump around like Bez from The Happy Mondays; regardless of what tune is playing the scoring system is inconsistent, sometimes rewarding you for doing your own thing, and then informing you that you’re dancing ‘okay’ when you’re certain you’ve nailed it. The camera also struggled to pick up more than two people on the screen.
Ultimately, this proves to be frustrating because progression in the game relies on the scoring system being accurate, especially when you’re competing against others. This also applies to the base game where you win jewels by accurately mimicking the moves of the on-screen dancers. And with these jewels you can unlock further tracks. A workman should never blame his tools, but Ubisoft may have a case with the PlayStation Camera, which has never quite managed to do the job it’s supposed to in picking up player’s movements accurately unless you happen to have exactly the right lighting settings in your home. Still, seeing ourselves on the screen dancing away is entertaining, and it certainly hasn’t lost its appeal to my seven-year old daughter who has been in fits of giggles at her (and my) performances.
The smartphone app on the other hand, which was introduced in Just Dance 2015, works a little better in terms of scoring, and does a great job getting you and up to six other players into the game without the hassle of having to own a camera or Move controllers. Though it means other aspects of the game suffer when using this method (you won’t see yourself dancing around on screen, for example, in some modes), it does mean Just Dance is an inclusive game that anyone can join in.
Attempting to hide the obvious flaw in the technology/scoring system, are some decent features aimed to up the fun-factor and social interactivity. One of my favourite modes is a new addition called Showtime, which allows players to dance, sing and pose to a selection of songs, creating a music video that it stylishly pieces together. This can then be shared on Facebook or JDTV to the community, though it’s worth noting that it’s only 20 second sections of your dance. Once again, it’s something that will more likely appeal to younger players (my daughter loved it), but admittedly I also enjoyed slicking my hair back and appearing in my own Grease video. It’s a nice addition which is fun to play and entertaining to watch back.
Then there’s Dance Party, where you can play solo or co-operatively, picking and choosing from any of the available tracks. The backdrops and characters on-screen are vibrant and my seven-year old enjoying dancing with a panda along to ‘I Gotta Feeling’, while the family had a blast trying to copy the Angry Birds dance which requires interaction, such as bumping into each other and doing the conga around the room. The Sweat and Playlists mode is a decent feature too, allowing you to customise workouts, and work up a sweat dancing to your chosen songs.
Other game modes don’t quite have the same attraction, with Dance Quest seemingly being something to just pad out the game. In Dance Quest, you’re essentially competing against pretend AI opponents but being forced to dance three tracks at a time which are chosen by the game. There seems no point to it when the scoring system is unfair, and you can simply just head to the Dance Party to choose the tracks that you actually want to dance to.
The whole social aspect of the Just Dance community doesn’t quite have the appeal it could have had. There’s a World Video Challenge mode where you can send your clips to the community and challenge them to beat it, but with the dodgy scoring system it seems like it’s merely just an opportunity to watch others pulling off fantastic dance moves or acting like an utter James Blunt on-screen. I don’t see the appeal in watching others dance because the highlight of Just Dance 2016 lies in the social interactivity in your home, and having fun with your family and friends.
Outside of the available tracks in Just Dance 2016, there’s the option to purchase more songs, at a price, and it’s here that you’ll probably find a fair few tracks that you’d like to add to your collection (be prepared for all little girls to want ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen). There’s a one month free trial with each game disc which gives you access to 150 songs, and the ability to sign up at the eyebrow-raising price of £32.99 for a year, or in one month or three month segments. The problem is that you’re paying to stream these additional tracks and, in my case, buffering issues, ensured that gameplay wasn’t as smooth as it should be.
Still, there’s no denying that Just Dance 2016 is fun – just check out the video I recorded with my daughter that I uploaded to JDTV. Fundamentally though, it just doesn’t work as well as it should. With a scoring system that’s so inconsistent there’s no point in challenging anyone to dance, while its colourful visuals, wacky characters and childish avatar unlockables feel like it’s catering for a much younger audience than its track list suggests. And then, that track list could be a lot better. However, if you were to ask me whether I’ll be popping the disc in my PS4 this Christmas when the family are around, I’d be lying if I didn’t say ‘yes’.
* The comment about the accuracy of player tracking is based on our experience in the conditions that we played the game using the PlayStation Camera. Follow the guidelines for PlayStation Camera set-up to ensure optimal results.