Developer Harmonix’s Dance Central 3 is a great example of the Kinect’s potential, and the Kinect as a platform doesn’t have many flagship titles. Most games are either a travesty or better played with a controller. There aren’t very many games that feel like a truly unique experience that only a peripheral like Kinect could bring to life. The Dance Central series is the rare exception in the Xbox 360 library that truly is an experience only the Kinect can bring to your home. The first game proved this to a skeptical public when the Kinect was released, the second improved upon the winning game play, and Dance Central 3 further polishes an already great formula making for the best Kinect game on the market.
While getting your groove on alone or with friends is the main focus of the game, there’s actually a Story mode in Dance Central 3. This mode finds you invited after a test to join Dance Central Intelligence, the last line of defense against dance crimes. You find out that the organization has sent other dance crews to various time periods to decipher the era’s dance craze, which hold special power that can be used to defeat the evil Dr. Tan and his secret “Project Lockstep”. Seeing as the crews haven’t reported back, you’re sent through time to visit the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s and bring the crews home. To do this, you use “Boomy”, a star energy-powered boom box that facilitates time-travel, to visit the eras, decipher the 4 “power moves” that make up the Craze, and then master the dance before Dr. Tan does. Now, this all sounds very goofy, but it does the job and carries the game play along. It’s all good fun.
The real meat of the game is the dancing and it’s a fantastic formula. Using on-screen prompts and a crew member, the game shows you dance moves to hit songs as you follow along, mimicking the dancer as if you’re looking in a mirror. You gain a rating based on how well you can copy each dance move and earn points, slowly filling up the star meter which acts as your overall rating for the song. If you’re doing something wrong (such as an arm or leg out of place) the game will helpfully highlight that body part of the on-screen dancer to let you know where to correct yourself. This works well to allow you to tweak your technique during the song to up your score before the song ends. There are also 3 difficulties to each dance (easy, medium, and hard) and a fourth one that is new to Dance Central 3, Beginner, which further simplifies the routines for newbies or maybe if you have some friends over and they haven’t played the game before so they don’t get too overwhelmed right off the bat, making for an even better party game. The song library is massive and there’s a nice mix from the last 40-some years of pop music, not only featuring the new songs this game brings but also allowing for the import of all the songs on the Dance Central and Dance Central 2 discs as well as any DLC from those games, with more on the way.
The game boasts a varied amount of modes in which to get your groove on. Perform mode is the basic mode that allows you and one other person to dance in tandem for co-op scores from either a single song or a playlist. If you find your moves are a bit rusty, you can jump into Rehearse mode, where Usher’s voice will guide you through a routine move-by-move. You can even slow down the moves or playback a clip of you performing them so you can view what you may be doing wrong, which is a nice touch. If you’re feeling a bit more competitive, you can jump into Battle mode, where instead of a co-op performance you and another player compete to see who has the better moves. Dance Central 3 adds a second competitive mode, Crew Throwdown, which sees two teams of up to four players compete in one-on-one dance offs, which is pretty much just 4-on-4 Battle mode. The biggest addition to the game modes is Party mode, which is like a Dance Central DJ. You choose the settings, including the default difficulty for each song, the songs included, and the game modes present and the game goes into auto. The game will slowly begin cycling through the songs and modes you’ve chosen, and once one or two people step up, the game will play that song. It’s a great way to jump right into the action and I could see it being a fun addition to any party. The game will also track your calories burnt and you can even set calorie goals for yourself in the Fitness menu. There’s also a Challenge menu, where you can either take-on challenges sent to you via friends after they finish a song or community challenges.
The visuals are not that important in a dance game, but nonetheless Dance Central 3 uses them to enhance the experience with the game presented in a somewhat cell-shaded style, with vibrant colors, and bold outlines. The best part about the visuals is the venues or more precisely what they do during a song. If during a song you nail a chain of moves, elements of the background will drop out, and the screen lights up. It’s a little thing, but it visually really lets you know that you’re nailing it, pumping you up. If you miss a move, the background falls back into place and everything returns to normal, which almost feels like a punishment. Overall, the game is pretty but really isn’t anything to write home about. The menus can cause some issues now and then because of Kinect not reading your movements correctly (or reading movement as gestures when they’re not). But, these are standard issues with any Kinect game.
Dance Central 3 is an awesome game. Whether with friends or alone, the game really is entertaining and makes you feel cool in the same way rocking out on a plastic guitar made you feel like a rock star in Rock Band. There are a lot of modes to keep you busy, with the new Party mode being the real standout. The Story mode seems a bit unnecessary, but it’s still silly fun. In the end, this entry continues the series’ strong tradition of improving on the dance game genre and still reigns on the top of the heap. Dance Central 3 grooves to a funky 4.5 / 5.