Pros: Fun choreography, colorful visuals.
Cons: Exclusive Wii U features hard to get to.
“This is the worst game I have ever played,” my girlfriend Laurel exclaimed within minutes of starting the dance party game Just Dance 4. I was surprised. First off, I thought she would appreciate the clever choreography around which the game is centered. More than that, I was surprised at such a strong and definitive judgment from someone who has only played four video games in her life.
Developed and Published by: Ubisoft
For ages: 10 and up
Platform: Wii U/Wii (review based on Wii U)
Release Date: November 18, 2013
The History: Critical Dud, Non-Gamer Darling
Not that I couldn’t understand her feelings. I had quickly written off the original Just Dance, finding its huge success puzzling. Game critics have been consistently underwhelmed, due mainly to the game’s terrible scoring, in which one’s skill in following the onscreen indicator has little effect on one’s score. Still, casual gamers have flocked to the title.
I warmed to the series with Just Dance 2, whose entertaining choreography and goofy animations charmed me. Just Dance 3 was a step back, with uninspired dances and blah songs, but when I found Just Dance 4 comes close in spirit to the second game, offering a good mix of songs and entertaining dance numbers, including dance duets or dance quartets in which each player moves differently, sometimes switching places or making physical contact. One number in JD4 has one play put a hand on the other player’s back and then lift it while the other player jumps, making it appear that the latter player is being lifted into the air. Another involves holding hands and swaying.
The Game: What It Is, Why She Hates It
I had always wanted to show Laurel a JD game. It seemed like an ideal choice for her; she’s a non-gamer gamer who favors casual titles like SiNG Party and we met through swing dancing. Now and again I would suggest we play a little, and one night I asked when she was in a rare gaming mood and she assented.
The Just Dance games all have the same basic gameplay. There is an avatar dancing to a pop song. Little diagrams of the next move scroll along to let you know what you’re about to do, and your goal is to dance along as best you can. While playing, you hold the Wii remote in your hand, so all the game really knows is how your right hand is moving. In fact, when my friends Myrna and Kevin came over a while back to check out my Wii U, they started off playing the game by just sitting on the couch waving the remote, and I had to persuade them to stand up and dance the moves. They did, but they seemed underwhelmed by the game.
Laurel wasn’t just underwhelmed, she hated JD4 instantly. She said it was the worst game she’d ever played about a minute into the first song she tried.
She did acknowledge that some of the choreography was fun, but she was frustrated by how little it felt like actual dancing. She did not like holding the Wii remote, especially during the number where we held hands and swayed; she found it awkward.
She was also annoyed by the very thing that annoys game critics about the game; inept scoring that even the JD world champion cannot entirely overcome. In any of the JD games you can perform a move perfectly and be told you missed, or that your movement was only “OK,” while other times you will get a perfect score for doing something completely wrong. Even though Laurel is not a gamer, she still understands that the point of games is to win through skill, and even though she actually did slightly outscore me on every number, she found it aggravating to see her skill so egregiously misjudged. After three songs, she was done
The Wii U Extras: Well Hidden
The Wii U version of JD4 has an exclusive feature called “Puppet Master Mode” in which the player with the gamepad can change the choreography of a song on the fly. Unfortunately I never got a chance to check this feature out. This is because, in a rather idiotic move, the developers made this mode an unlockable. There are a few unlockable modes – “Just Sweat,” “Battle” – and you have to play a while to unlock a mode. When you have played enough, the game unlocks one mode randomly, and it refused to give me the one mode I was interested in.
Unlockable modes make sense in single player games, but no sense at all in party games like JD4. Party games are rarely played daily, so it’s possible to just play occasionally and fail to unlock all modes for months. And why make the unlocking random? And most of all, why prevent players from immediately accessing the single feature that differentiates the Wii U version from other versions?
I unlocked a couple of modes, but having run out of friends willing to play the game, there was no point in trying to unlock Puppet Master, so I can’t tell you if it’s worthwhile or not.
The Verdict: Kinda Cute, But No One Wants to Play It With Me
Overall, Just Dance 4 is a solid entry in the series that doesn’t improve or innovate but also doesn’t do much wrong. While I still prefer Just Dance 2, because the song selection is more varied and engaging, this is definitely the JD game to get if you’re interested in fun choreographed quartets; JD2 didn’t have them and JD3 didn’t make them as fun. No, it’s not a great game – I don’t feel I’m going out on a limb when I saw no Just Dance game will ever be labeled “great” – but it’s fun. Just don’t expect my girlfriend to play it with you.