Also on: PS4, PS3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360
Developer: Ubisoft Milan
Medium: Blu-ray Disc/Digital
ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10+
My brother and I used to play sock puppets when we were younger. I'm told that this isn't a normal past-time so I'll explain: we would put on sock puppet shows for our friends. That's it. Most of them involved a husband and wife who would fight about paying the bills and would always end with one each being pummeled in alternating fashion with a twig or something. As we got older, we had more sophisticated fun aping Shakespeare, and eventually exchanged beating with sticks for verbal abuse. At some point there wasn't even an audience anymore and the whole thing became a weird memory from my childhood.
Not that this has anything to do with Just Dance 2014. I just felt like sharing a little about myself.
Then again, if a story about how obnoxious my childhood was is anything to go by, that's coincidentally a good entry point for the new Just Dance thing from Ubisoft. We reviewed it on the Xbox One, which should be the high watermark for motion-controlled dance games in 2013, and presumably the pinnacle of this series' evolution. After all, the new Kinect has a lot to offer in regards to understanding a physical space and interpreting human movement within that confine.
I'm not sure I understand the appeal here. Even from a perspective of dancing in front of a TV in the living room, there's not a lot to be impressed with when it comes to the sloppy choreography that Just Dance seems to hinge on. At least that's what I'm lead to believe, considering how uninspired the tracklist is. Has this series always been like this? Was it ever anything more than just goofing off in front of the Wii back in the day?
I feel like at some point I reviewed the Michael Jackson Just Dance game and figured there wasn't a future for this series, but incredibly, it seems that its reputation for being a party game has superseded the playability or point of putting any more effort into playing the game than the studio seems to have committed when building it. This is doubly confounding when considering that the most sophisticated piece of console hardware available for tracking real-world body movement is available to return some integrity to a dance game.
Maybe having the year in the title isn't helping, but everything about Just Dance 2014 feels like a game rushed to market to meet a console launch and simultaneous multiplatform release. Sure, it has some variety with a fitness thing, but don't we expect that? Maybe we're just supposed to expect that titular Lady Gaga song to be in this game again so that nobody could ever be disappointed over it being left out for reason of fatigue or timeliness. You could lead me to believe that as long as that one song was included, and a group of people were goofing off in some live-action captured footage, that there's not really anything else needed to release a game in this series.
It's almost insulting to the Xbox One that around half of the players' moves are incorrectly read, and maybe some credit can be given to the onscreen shitshow confusing players, but the camera shouldn't be confused by those who are able to keep up with the more standard routines. The game not only cuts a lot of slack in performing areas of complexity that deserve a reward for accurately imitating, but manages to confuse simple moves like waving your arms up and down with probably sitting down or something. I'm not even sure how reliable the karaoke bonus points thing was at the end of the day– extra points for singing along to the music.
The Just Dance TV feature is interesting if only to serve as a window for the kind of people who were tricked into playing this game, and the other online feature is hardly realized. I think it's the online multiplayer, which they call the World Dance Floor. If the game was more transparent, or at least used a more direct interface, then it might be clear what modes serve what purpose. The World Dance Floor is disappointingly no more than a realtime leaderboard, lacking a visual representation of other players, and with absolutely no sense of interaction outside of being instantly ranked against each other at the end of a section. Try to imagine a racing game where the only online mode was a time trial, and featured no player ghosts, and seemed to jump aimlessly between tracks like some messy best-of mix. Maybe you're into that, though.
The only good time to be had is in the befuddled laughter at yourself as you bumble between other players in a scrambled attempt to mirror whatever is happening onscreen. Once the song is over, there's no motivation to continue playing, and it's almost implied that this game is meant to be played with as little motor skill as required, by virtue of being a toddler or drunk enough that this seems like a good time. Its virtuous moments are too far and few between, and the technical flaws string it up as a marionette imposter of some other more formidable franchise it wishes it could be.
Tune in for Just Dance 2015 and I'll tell you about the time my dad and I had to drive a state away for a carburetor.