This article originally appeared on The Oakland Press.
One of the hardest parts about transitioning to the new generation of consoles was giving up my beloved rhythm games, and Harmonix was king in that field. There’s no game that utilized the Microsoft Kinect better than Harmonix’s Dance Central series, and that tradition continues with the new “Dance Central Spotlight.” As someone who played the first three Dance Central titles for exercise purposes long after their release, I’m thrilled to finally have a way to dance on the new generation of consoles.
For the unfamiliar, games like Dance Central and Just Dance are rhythm-based games that let players use their body as a controller, swaying and bouncing in time with music. While Ubisoft’s similar Just Dance series offered a more casual party experience, Dance Central required specific dance moves to be precisely recreated to get the highest scores. Just Dance seemed to laud players for moving around at all.
The first three Dance Central games suffered from the sometimes spotty detection of the Kinect peripheral, something that’s greatly improved with the advent of the upgraded Xbox One Kinect. The new camera seems to be able to see players reliably, even in close quarters, if your living room happens to be more cozy than your average dance floor. You can bust a move with more confidence knowing that the Kinect is more likely to accurately read said moves. The improved hand gesture detection also makes navigating menus more responsive and satisfying.
However, compared to the first three entries in the Dance Central franchise, Spotlight is a stripped down experience, both in terms of features and price. In the new $10 downloadable entry, gone are the previous titles’ competitive dance battles, crew challenges, party mix mode, and the somewhat ill-advised story mode. Instead, you have three core options: choose a song, start a workout routine, or go to the online store to download additional songs.
Downloading additional songs is something you’ll almost certainly end up doing, as the base game comes with only ten songs, compared to 30 or more on other music games. This seems to be because Harmonix is positioning Spotlight as less of a standalone experience and more as a platform to continuously update by downloading new songs for as they come out. Upon its Spotlight’s release, over 50 additional songs were available to download at the cost of about two dollars each.
The continuous updates are also reflected in the variety of music; the great majority of routines available are for songs from the last five years. In fact, only a handful of songs from the ‘80s or ‘90s are currently downloadable. This means the selection will likely continue to be updated with the latest hit music. But it’s also disappointing to not see the breadth of tunes available in Dance Central 3. No disco jams this time around.
The initial song selection seems much more mellow than previously curated setlists in the series. Of course, you can dance and clap to the ubiquitous “Happy” by Pharrel Williams, but good luck getting into a groove while swaying to “Royals” by Lorde.
Remarkably, as a bonus for longtime fans of the series, songs downloaded for previous iterations can be redownloaded for Spotlight free of charge, so if you bought a Fatboy Slim song from Dance Central 3’s store, you will have an improved version of it already in your library. This is a fantastic incentive for fans to stay with the series, especially when we expected Spotlight to press reset on the downloadable catalogue. However, it’s worth noting that on-disc songs from previous entries are not transferrable.
Legacy songs are being improved not just with precise detection, but by adding new routines to perform. Every song in the game now has a total of eight unlockable routines, with some easy routines, some focused on strength or cardio training for workout sessions, and some humorous novelty routines with ample butt shaking included.
A few flashes of brilliance stand out among the new features. If you’re struggling with a particular move, rather than waiting to go into a separate practice mode after the songs ends, you can now simply say “Hey DJ, practice that!” out loud and go immediately into training. Most satisfying of all: When playing a two-player match, to begin the song players perform a high five. It just feels right.
Though it’s a bit of a bare bones outing in light of the series history, at a paltry $10, it’s easy to recommend, especially for people who already have an Xbox One with Kinect. For those with just an Xbox One, Dance Central Spotlight practically justifies buying the Kinect add-on on its own merits, and an available $150 dollar package includes the new device and Spotlight together.
Dance Central Spotlight is available to download for the Xbox One for $10 and utilizes the Kinect peripheral. Harmonix provided a review token for the purposes of this article.