Dance Central 2 review: Takes two to tango

Despite what various montages from Flashdance, Footloose and other rhythmic movement-based 80s films may have told us, dancing by yourself just isn't very much fun. The same can't be said for Harmonix's experimental Kinect launch title Dance Central, however, since the game never allowed more than one player to shake tail feathers simultaneously. Well, actually, your friends could join in, but they wouldn't be evaluated and awarded points -- really, what's the point of that?

Rhythm games -- particularly those developed by Harmonix -- have an extremely logical approach to iteration. Gameplay getting stale? Add new modes. Instruments growing tiresome? Make new instruments. In the case of Dance Central 2, the biggest addition is so glaringly obvious, it almost makes you frustrated that it wasn't incorporated the first time around: Dancing alongside a partner is infinitely more fun than taking turns.
%Gallery-125472% The ability to dance cooperatively is joined by a new (for lack of a better word) filing system for the game's unceasingly enthusiastic dancers. Returning characters from Dance Central join up with a few new movers and shakers, then pair off into two-person crews. When choosing a song, you choose a crew, then -- either before a song begins or right in the middle -- a second player can step in, filling the shoes of your crew member's designated accomplice.

The Kinect can track two players with pinpoint precision; never did I feel like the movement recognition suffered when I was joined by a partner. The only downfall is, naturally, that you have half as much room to dance around in. Unless you're a very expressive dancer, this also won't serve as much of an impediment -- though your toes might get stepped on, or stomped on, or (depending on the impact of the song in question) fully Kris Kross-hopped upon.

Apart from the returning, instructional Break it Down mode, duo dancing is available across every gametype, and that includes the new, vaguely story-driven campaign. Players must prove their mettle to earn the respect of each individual dance crew, each with their own cache of songs which players must earn a certain star rating on to progress. It works, though Harmonix clearly wasn't out to reinvent the wheel here.

As silly as the Crews may be, my Dance Central-knowledgeable friends quickly became attached to the respective pairs which, for some reason or another, just clicked for them. I admit that this phenomenon overtook me, as well: Any time I was forced to dance as anyone other than Flash4ward (a crew that contains DC1's Taye and "Lil' T," which I can only assume stands for "Lil' Taye," a time-travelling version of Taye from the past), I was left thoroughly unsatisfied.

The revamped multiplayer really shines in the game's competitive Dance Battle mode, which has been bolstered by two major additions. First, players have their own solo segments during each song, during which time point values are doubled. These segments are decidedly more intense than the rest of the match, particularly since your competitor has nothing else to do but leer, judging your every step and misstep.

The other addition is a showdown, during which four rows of flashcards continuously appear, which each player is free to choose from. Trying to guess which move your foe will choose and then performing said maneuver with greater dexterity adds a whole new layer of depth to the mode. The scramble is particularly hectic when gold flashcards (which are worth four times as many points) appear, pitting the players against one another in some sort of dance race.
Not only are these two elements injected into every song in Dance Central 2, they've been retroactively added to downloadable songs, making them approximately ten times as much fun to play. (Now that's valuation!)

Harmonix has also expanded the Fitness mode from the original game; in addition to a series of lengthy setlists designed for different kinds of workouts (a 10-minute cardio sprint, or a 48-minute endurance run, for instance), players can also turn out a counter which stays active across all modes. All the dances that player performs are logged in the Fitness menu, which shows how long they've been at it, and how many calories they've burned.

If you're having a hard time mastering a particular bit of choreography, the Break it Down mode has been expanded, too. Players can now slow down particular segments of a song, or record themselves as they try out a move, which they can then compare against the in-game character's routine. It's as shockingly helpful as it is utterly humiliating.

The game's tracklist doesn't outshine the highly danceable tunes from the franchise's first iteration, but just barely. It's still got it's fair share of standouts -- Daft Punk's "Technologic," Gnarls Barkley's "Run (I'm a Natural Disaster) and Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks" being chief among them -- but it's got a few clunkers, too. However, the ability to import the songs from the first game completely assuages my concerns about the soundtrack's sustainability.

Also, the UI still isn't the easiest thing to navigate -- my slender-armed friends seemed to have more trouble swiping their way through the song selection menu than I did, with my thick, trunk-like appendages. The new voice commands make choosing a song and mode a breeze, but you have to know what song you want to perform ahead of time, since you won't have a list to choose from when selecting through the voice menu. Still, the ability to go swipe-free is a huge step in the right direction.

The same can be said for each of the decisions Harmonix has made for the sequel to the Kinect's strongest title. Sure, some decisions, like doubling the number of simultaneous dancers, were obvious improvements -- but that shouldn't diminish Harmonix's achievement. This team of rhythm game veterans have proven once again that they are, as they always have been, masters of progressive iteration.


This review is based on a retail copy of Dance Central 2, provided by Harmonix.

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