Dance Central: Spotlight Review

By Michelle Balsan, 2 years ago
When the Kinect was originally launched for the Xbox 360 in November 2011, there sadly was a lack of games that really showed off what the new hardware could do. Though Kinect Adventures was serviceable, and certainly a worthy pack-in, the game that really got everyone talking about the Kinect's potential was Harmonix's Dance Central. Featuring the best tracking witnessed on the product, the franchise only solidified its top-level status with bigger and better sequels that came out over the following two years.

Now, with a new Kinect, it's time for a new foray into the Dance Central universe. Is Dance Central: Spotlight the killer app the Xbox One Kinect needs? Or, at the very least, is its bundling with the stand-alone Kinect actually adding any value to the product?

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Right off the top, considering Dance Central: Spotlight based on its own merits is a little difficult in that, in terms of look and feel, it doesn't re-invent the wheel. The character models might look a little better, and the background dancers seem more engaged, but this is still Dance Central at its core. What really needs to be considered is not whether or not the graphics are up to par or things of that nature, but whether or not Spotlight carries its price worth of value.

With the purchase of Dance Central Spotlight, you get the ten songs bundled with the game. Including hits from artists such as Lorde and Jason Derulo, the game's soundtrack, though small, is full of songs that the player will likely have been completely unable to avoid hearing at some point or another. Ten songs does not seem like a lot of content on the surface, but there are several points to consider.

First of all, it is, for lack of better term to describe such things on Xbox One, an Arcade title. Ten songs for $10 is a good deal no matter how you choose to look at it.

Secondly, Dance Central: Spotlight also includes a distinct fitness mode. Within this mode, players can pick the amount of time they'd like to dance for, and Dance Central: Spotlight utilizes the available tracks and moves to build a routine for around that amount of time.

Finally, each song comes with eight routines. While the first four - beginner, standard, deluxe, and pro - each share some common moves, the remaining four feature almost entirely different choreography. This means each song really does offer you at least five completely distinct routines.

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That last point highlights much of what's new to Spotlight. When the game is started, only the beginner routine is available. Playing through the routine and earning "Flawless" on the moves therein will lead to that move's dance card being collected. In order to open up new routines, it is required to collect a certain number of moves. Generally, a Beginner track may only have four to seven moves, but mastering those will open not only the standard edition, which will also have those base moves as well as others, but one of the other routines. As noted above, while the first four routines will have commonality, the remaining feature different move sets all together, so playing those is the way to go for unlocking things quickly. Generally, in order to open up all the routines for a song, it will be required to do three or four of the different, available routines. This system of unlocking new choreography is a great way to keep the limited number of tracks fresh and to make the package feel much larger than it is.

Dance Central: Spotlight, unlike other games in the franchise, doesn't task the gamer with finishing a specific grouping of songs in order to advance through a 'campaign' mode of sorts. Instead, all ten songs that are included with the game are open and available right from the start and there's no sense of progression within the list. While having all songs readily available has been the common practice in rhythm and music games for some time now, the game would have benefited from some sense of difficulty ranking for the tracks so beginners can know where to jump in. It's not a big deal, as it's not possible to fail songs, and the upgraded practice mode helps a lot, but it's nice to have a way to know that you're about to play an easy routine versus a more difficult one.

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While on the topic of the game's practice mode, it's important to note that, at least in this reviewer's experience, the voice recognition was completely spot on. In order to pause a routine, you can just say, "Hey DJ, Pause!" and in every instance where I attempted that, the game recognized it with no trouble. It's also a whole lot easier than that "put your left arm out at a 45 degree angle" deal that the 360 Kinect used for pausing. The movement tracking is also solid, and it's a cool little touch that high-fiving your dance partner, when playing with someone, is an option to get a song started. The game saves everything server side, too, so if you go to a buddy's to play, all of your unlocked moves and routines will carry over and be easily visible on screen. Just as both players could pick different difficulties in earlier Dance Central games, both players can pick different routines, so one player isn't restricted to the same moves as the other in the event that both are looking to collect different dance cards.

While the tracking and voice recognition in the game are fantastic, the game is not without flaws. Most notably there were issues with crashing when playing with two players. Further, the ability to use your previously-purchased DLC is still not quite available as anyone who bought songs as part of packs will find that those songs will ask for payment-to-purchase should you attempt to re-download them. Harmonix is aware of the issues and they are working to sort them, but when the thinking is "Yes, I'll pay $10 for ten tracks, but it's really a lot more value for me because my previously downloaded stuff will be there, too", it's disappointing to be restricted to just the core game.

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We'd be remiss to get through this review and not mention achievements, so here's the achievement take: As far as Dance Central lists go, this is "easy", but that doesn't actually mean that it is easy. Most achievements will be earned with time though, as they boil down to collecting moves. Collecting moves is necessary for opening routines, so it's not possible to get routine specific achievements until those moves are yours. There are a couple of achievements that do require skill, notably one for getting gold stars with each character in the game, one for gold-starring a deluxe or pro routine, and another for collecting all the moves for a single song, but by utilizing the game's excellent practice feature, even novices should be able to get to those achievements with some time. The other achievement that is likely to trip people up is the one for playing seven days in a row (life happens and all), but it can be circumvented by date shifting if you really need to.

Dance Central: Spotlight is a fine entry into the series and hits most of the right notes. At its price, it's a steal for those who want something to do with their Kinect other than tell it what to do. The inclusion of different routines was also smart, and Harmonix promises, due to some streamlining on their end, that DLC and routines can come out more frequently than they did for past entries in the series. There are some bugs that need to be worked out, but that's almost to be expected nowadays. The biggest knock against the game, however, is that it almost plays it too safe - essentially offering more of the same and not really adding the next big innovation. Fans of the franchise will be happy for more content, but for a developer that typically surprises us with adding content to games we already thought had been topped out, there really isn't anything new or exciting to see here. Despite that, Dance Central: Spotlight still offers one of the best representations of the Kinect's vocal and movement tracking abilities and can still offer up hours of fun for players both casual and core, making it an easy recommendation.

The reviewer spent approximately five hours playing through the Dance Central: Spotlight's routines, popping 25 of the game's 35 achievements. This review copy was provided courtesy of the publisher
Michelle Balsan
Written by Michelle Balsan
Michelle is the Assistant Manager of the Newshounds at TrueAchievements and has been a member of staff since 2010. When not contributing to gaming websites, she makes her living as a mild-mannered librarian. She can be compelled to play just about anything if there's a co-op component, and has been playing games with friends and siblings since the Atari 2600. As it's reportedly healthy to have hobbies outside of gaming, she also roots for some of the most difficult sporting franchises to root for, the New York Mets and New York Jets, but offsets that by rooting for the New Jersey Devils. She's also seen pretty much none of the movies you have, but she's working on that.