Just Dance 2014 – Review

Title   Just Dance 2014
Developer  Ubisoft
Publisher  Ubisoft
Platform  PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Genre  Rhythm
Release Date  October 4, 2013

Just Dance 2014 arrived a little early for its moniker but provides an interesting shift from numbered iterations to a yearly-based naming scheme.  Could it be a statement that this series is here to stay?  Or has the innovation dried up, calling for yearly updates of the latest chart hits to the same core game instead of the usual sequential numbering which, at the very least, suggests an attempt to evolve over time?

Just Dance 2014 ships with ‘47 hits’ that are exactly what you’d expect for this series.  Concentrating mainly on current chart pop songs while throwing a bone to the parents and older gamers so that everyone in the family has a chance of getting involved and embarrassing themselves in front of everyone instead of wheeling out the ‘I don’t know that one, sorry’ line.

Arguably, there is some scraping of the barrel when it comes to catering to the older generation.  Careless Whisper by George Michael doesn’t seem like much of an adrenaline-pumper and the Prince Ali song from Disney’s Aladdin is just random, but that is made up for by classic anthems such as the Ghostbusters theme, I Will Survive and YMCA.  There also appears to be a cover by Mick Jackson of Blame it on the Boogie.  At least the more pop-savvy crowd should be satiated with such treats (and I use that term with just a hint of sarcasm) from the likes of Justin Bieber, Lady GaGa, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Psy, among others.  Pretty much a who’s who of manufactured ‘Top 10′ tripe from the last couple of years, but that’s what the kids like, so you can’t accuse Ubisoft of not knowing its market. Just Dance 2014 doesn’t lack for songs and there is already DLC on the marketplace.

As with previous iterations, you have a Just Dance profile that tracks your progress throughout the game.  In addition to telling you how many stars and points you’ve earned on songs so far, it also allows you to accrue coins which can then be spent to unlock additional in-game content such as new songs and alternative versions of existing content.  This, of course, means that upon starting the game there is a lot of work to be done to unlock content for the various game modes.

In single player, the standard dance mode hasn’t really altered at all.  The aim is to dance in perfect synchronisation with the avatar on the screen and get five stars for the dance performance of a lifetime.  Hint cards are rolled along the bottom left to let you know what moves are coming up and Kinect will try its damnedest to track you.  As with all of these games, you need to ensure that your Kinect is well calibrated if you intend to go for serious scores. It struggles to pick up the more complex movements in the game (such as spinning or very quick flicks) and just flailing your arms at some points can fool it into awarding points.  Just Dance has always been more forgiving than, say, Dance Central, but a missed movement by Kinect still causes issues and highlights the immaturity of the current iteration.

Ubisoft have seen fit to add a karaoke feature too, so not only can you dance along but you can also sing along.  Doing this well will grant you extra coins, however doing this on the more energetic songs will leave you hilariously breathless and unable to do much dancing or singing… plus, unless you know the song, you’ll end up reading the words and not paying attention to the dance moves.  It’s a nice addition; it gives a potential second player who doesn’t fancy dancing a chance to join in and help you get more coins by singing along. I could see a drunken four-way Ghostbusters dance at a party with everyone else in the room singing along being awesome fun.

The karaoke mode is the only real addition to the single player experience but Just Dance 2014 has kept the previous modes available, such as battles, mash-ups and the tough-as-nails sweat mode.  Battles will see one song dance off against another, such as Kiss You vs Pound the Alarm.  Ubisoft have toned down the Street Fighter-esque look a little, but it still consists of ‘hitting’ your opponent by chaining together perfect moves and having a winner for each section of the song. The first song to win three sections is the winner of the round.  The mash-up rounds grab a whole bunch of moves from various songs and throw them together against a backing track, which makes for one of the more challenging modes.

Sweat mode makes a return as the ‘workout’ mode in the game.  Those who may be a little self-conscious at the gym could do a lot worse than spend twenty minutes a day on this as it is surprisingly tiring if you even put in the smallest amount of effort. There are four modes, a ten, twenty or forty-minute sessions and a ‘free mode’ allowing you to pick your song of choice.  Calorie burning is tracked in real time so if you have something like the MyFitnessPal app then you can easily tap away on your phone to add your exercise into it.  Calories come pretty easily; I averaged around 100 calories after every four or so songs.  Sadly, it seems that Just Dance 3 was the last of Ubisoft’s titles to support Kinect PlayFit on Xbox as this is now the second release that doesn’t hook into the free app.

The real addition to Just Dance 2014 is the multiplayer mode. Not present in Just Dance 4, this new play mode enables you to dance off against other people in a non-stop rolling list of songs.  The aim is simple – be the best dancer in the group.  As with single player, you will be rated out of five stars for your performance and a score associated with your moves  - you also earn coins towards the unlockable content.  Due to the audience and obvious potential issues that could arise from having a random person’s avatar gesturing to you on-screen you do not see any of the other players in action.  Instead, a leaderboard sits to the side of your screen showing your position in the pack and updates on how successful they are at pulling off the moves.  Whilst a no-brainer for Ubisoft to stop people having to worry about parental controls, it feels kind of lonely and not at all like a usual multiplayer game.  Unfortunately I had no friends with this game so was unable to test if people in your party and friends list do show up on screen.

To try and fight the inevitable grinding nature of playing the same track list over and over, Ubisoft have introduced some twists to the online playlists.  One instance was a Young vs Old dance off; before the round begins you pick your side and then your team has to cumulatively outperform the other while another time it allowed you to vote for the next song.  In addition, Just Dance 2014 has community unlocks, presumably a trial before the next-gen consoles arrive, but should the community hit its targets, then new content is unlocked.  Whilst in the online mode the game constantly feeds you information snippets about your score, the number of players online, number of players from your country, etc.  All minor distractions but it does convey a sense of community.

One interesting method to add longevity to the game is calendar-related unlocks.  Playing a particular song on a certain date will unlock in-game content.  A nice idea, but how many people will really put a date in the calendar months in advance (there is one for February, for instance)?

Just Dance TV also makes a comeback with the auto-dance remix at the end of each single-player song (provided you have a hard disk in your Xbox, otherwise this is disabled) so that you get to watch your pathetic attempt at dancing played back at Benny Hill speed.  Just Dance 2014 also offers a range of new effects to apply to your efforts, which you can save and upload for all of the world to see… the horror!  The main reason I like it is that it usually takes around a minute to render so you get a nice breather while it faffs around.

  • Still fun. Exhausting, sweaty fun.
  • 47 tracks is a decent selection, there is bound to be at least one song that someone in the room will know
  • Forgiving enough for kids to enjoy and older, less agile people to get involved without failing every move
  • Core game remains as it always has with differing levels of difficulty depending on song
  • Game modes add an extra replayability factor
  • Sweat mode could replace a duller form of exercise
  • Multiplayer mode brings a new element to the game
  • Nothing new (apart from singing along) to the single-player experience
  • Unlocks make the starting line-up of content a little on the slim side of things
  • Getting the feeling that they are starting to scrape the barrel for popular older tracks

Just Dance 2014 is more like Just Dance 4.5 than a new iteration in the series. Multiplayer is a fine addition, however, unless there is way to see other avatars (via friend list or party), then it really isn’t all that different from single player and the karaoke will likely drive parents insane as their kid sings along to Starships for the fifteenth time in a row. It isn’t a bad release, but it ultimately doesn’t deliver anything not seen before in previous dance games, making it distinctly average. Perhaps further innovation has to be held back for next-gen or maybe this genre has reached its limit and is now doomed to go the way of Guitar Hero with rehashed releases every year before interest dies out completely. Perhaps if there were some sort of backward compatibility that allowed imports from previous Just Dance releases or if they upped the online catalogue. If there were a release that focused on late 1990s' and early 2000s' dance then I’d pounce on it in seconds. While Ghostbusters and YMCA are all good fun, I’d kill for some proper dance tracks instead of pop trash to groove to - some Underworld, Tomcraft, Fragma, Moloko or Fatboy Slim wouldn’t go amiss. Even the dubstep element provided by Skrillex in Just Dance 4 was replaced by more chart pop in 2014.

This is a solid purchase if you want more of the same and have a keen interest in current chart music. If, however, you are looking for something new or a wider selection of non-chart songs then move along... this isn’t the dance game you are looking for.

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