Pros: Fun choreography and visuals. Great exercise.
Cons: Scoring is broken.
While Just Dance was a huge hit for the Nintendo Wii, it would be stretching the truth to say that it was a game as the word is generally used. While games can be won by skill or luck, Just Dance could not really be won by either, owing to a scoring system that seemed almost oblivious to the player’s movements. Now, Just Dance 2 has come out. It is not much more of a game than the first one, but for what it is, it is fun.
The Basics: Dance, You Fool, Dance!
Just Dance 2, like its precursor, is a rhythm party game in which players must emulate the movements of onscreen avatars. The basic body stances are indicated at the bottom of the screen. While each song is fully choreographed, only the hand holding the Wii remote is monitored; any other movements you make are ignored.
The range of dance styles has been increased in the sequel. There is a Bollywood number, an African dance and something reminiscent of the 1920s-style Charleston, although I don’t know how authentic any of these dances are. Songs also range through the pop rock genres from James Brown to the Jackson Five to the unavoidable and always irritating Ke$ha.
The presentation is excellent. Dancers are white silhouettes dressed in elaborate costumes appropriate to the song. It’s Raining Men shows a girl in a miniskirt and rain boots dancing in a stormy city; lightning strikes her during the song’s thunder sound effect. Monster Mash is danced by Frankenstein’s monster in a laboratory while Viva Las Vegas is danced cowboy style by a guy in a Stetson.
The choreography is charming and witty, making the game remarkably fun just to watch. The dancing silhouettes are clearly motion-captured dancers, and they bring a lot of energy and skill to each number. If there were a video game award for best choreography, Just Dance 2 would easily win.
Modes: Dance a Duet or Just Plain Sweat
The choreography is at its most entertaining in the game’s best addition, duets. Some songs have two dancing avatars side by side performing different moves. In Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend, the dance avatars are two girls, one preppy, one punk, who dance in the style appropriate to each and towards the end make eye-scratching motions at one another. At one point in the Charleston number the girl dramatically points to the guy and freezes while he does some steps. Dancers will change places or move around each other.
Up to 4 dancers can play at once, or up to 8 if divided into teams. There are a few different multiplayer modes; for example, in medley mode you dance through snippets of several songs.
There is also a sweating mode that tells you how many calories you burn during a particular dance and a warm up mode for those who want to stretch a little before dancing, which any serious dancer would advise.
JD2 scores your dancing by judging whether your remote is where the dancer’s hand is, and therein lies the problem. The way the scoring works is rather odd; as you dance, the game tells you your score, then for some reason at the end it recalculates your score to give you the same number you already know. But that’s a minor annoyance. The major problem is your score is just plain wrong.
I took certain songs and danced them over and over, trying to perfect the choreography, but my score would always fluctuate wildly. Sometimes I would purposely dance sloppily, missing moves or going off time, and get better scores than when I had danced full out (at times this is actually a strategy, as JD2 sometimes wants a looser movement). Certain sections would never give me a high score regardless of what I did, and there was simply no way to figure out what the game wanted from me. It’s a shame JD2 doesn’t support MotionPlus controls, which would allow it to read movement more accurately.
I won’t say Just Dance 2 fails completely in gauging how you are dancing – repeated practice allowed me to get pretty consistent high scores in certain areas – but it simply isn’t reliable enough throughout the choreography to make you feel you have much control over the final score. Thus, it fails to be a skill-based game, like Dance Dance Revolution, but it’s not really a luck-based game like roulette either, because it is never entirely up to chance. Instead, it is a weird skill-luck hybrid that makes any sort of competition against your friends a joke.
Verdict: Fun Activity, But Still Not a Game
Ultimately, it’s hard to judge Just Dance 2 against other Wii games. As an activity to share with friends it’s actually a lot of fun; the presentation is excellent, and you’ll get a really good workout if you play it for a while. But because the scoring is hopelessly broken, it cannot be considered a game in any real sense of the word. If you actually care about winning and losing, JD2 will irritate you endlessly, but if you just want to do some really fun dancing in your living room, the game – or whatever you’d call it – is an absolute joy.