For a while, music games were involved in something of an arms race. Activision released Guitar Hero, so EA partnered with original Guitar Hero developers Harmonix to release Rock Band. EA released Rock Band, so Activision released Guitar Hero: World Tour. Activision released Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, so Harmonix and EA released The Beatles: Rock Band. It was a game of continual one-upmanship, with each developer/publisher trying to outdo the other with more tracks, bigger bands, and as many instruments and as much DLC as possible. Before long, the rhythm genre had become a cultural phenomenon. But it wouldn’t last.
The constant releases and resulting oversaturation of the industry led to the death of that kind of game. Activision eventually stopped making Guitar Hero, and Band Hero, and DJ Hero, and Harmonix quietly ceased production on DLC for the critically acclaimed (and commercially successful) Rock Band series in 2013 after producing over 4,000 songs by more than 1,200 different artists, when all was said and done.
If Rock Band and Guitar Hero were marked by excess, Dance Central Spotlight is notable for its restraint. The newest game in Harmonix’s other long-running rhythm franchise ditches the time-traveling story mode of its predecessor and sets its sights solely on the dance routines. This reduced focus is evident in the game’s price tag: $10 gets you the core game, plus ten songs to get down with, in the hopes that you’ll like things so much that you’ll want to drop some cash on new tunes via the in-game storefront. It’s a leaner game, certainly, but a more focused one, too.
"The ten songs that ship with the game are quality tunes, an assorted collection of hits from OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” to Lorde’s “Royals.” Each song comes with its own (excellent) choreography, with fun and unique dance routines that are performed with you via the on-screen characters, who are superbly animated.
Spotlight may be more of a starter pack than a full product, but don’t let its downloadable nature fool you: there’s a lot of quality to be found here. The ten songs that ship with the game are quality tunes, an assorted collection of hits from OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” to Lorde’s “Royals.” Each song comes with its own (excellent) choreography, with fun and unique dance routines that are performed with you via the on-screen characters, who are superbly animated.
Before we go any further, let me make something clear: I’m not a huge fan of games that require you to be on your feet, performing complex motions. I’ve got no rhythm. White boy can’t dance. But I had a lot of fun with Dance Central Spotlight , mostly because of how different each of the songs felt. The routines change depending on which of the four difficulties you choose, which is a staple of previous entries in the series and does keep things interesting, but Harmonix takes their dance floor mojo a little further in Spotlight.
Not only does each song feature the four difficulties found in previous games, each song also comes with two unique alternative routines, as well as the more taxing routines that emphasize strength and cardio. These are completely different from the regular routines, and provide a reason to jump back into the song right after you finish it: to give the new routines a shot, and try to unlock more moves.
"A quick voice command will allow you to jump into practice mode and repeat the move over and over again until you nail it. You can even slow the move down, if you prefer. Once its second nature, you can jump right back into the song, no jumping back to the main menu required.
Gameplay is more or less the same as you’ve come to expect from the series. You’ll follow the cue cards that scroll up the screen as you try to imitate the dancers who are shaking it in the coolest way possible. Performing a move perfectly “unlocks” it, and unlocking new moves grants access to new routines. No matter how well you do, though, you’ll probably be having fun. I was, and I was getting two and three stars scores on most songs. The groove of the tunes, and the dances that go with them, are just infectious. Add in the productions values, which are great all around, from the characters on screen, to the animations and the lighting, and you’ve got a game that will win over even the most rhythm-challenged among us.
If there’s one thing I have an issue with (aside from the fact that Kinect takes a lot of space to accurately track your movements), it’s the way Spotlight handles feedback. If you’re doing well, you’ll see brightly colored lights under your character’s feet, plus crazy backgrounds, score combos, and star ratings that go out of their way to emphasize how impressive your footwork is. Do poorly, though, and all you get is a red outline covering the limbs in question. It’s not entirely terrible: the lack of in your face feedback means you can still have a lot of fun even when you’re botching moves left, right, and center but it’s not really helpful when you’re flubbing moves and you’re not sure why.
The game does its best to assuage this by making it easy to practice a move mid-song. A quick voice command will allow you to jump into practice mode and repeat the move over and over again until you nail it. You can even slow the move down, if you prefer. Once it’s second nature, you can jump right back into the song, no jumping back to the main menu required.
"This is good, because beyond the dancing, there just isn’t a whole lot to do. There’s a fitness mode that allows you to design a custom playlist full of different routines and see how many calories you burn according to your height and weight (which Kinect can calculate with surprising, and somewhat terrifying, accuracy), but beyond that, the dance is all.
This is good, because beyond the dancing, there just isn’t a whole lot to do. There’s a fitness mode that allows you to design a custom playlist full of different routines and see how many calories you burn according to your height and weight (which Kinect can calculate with surprising, and somewhat terrifying, accuracy), but beyond that, the dance is all.
Still, Dance Central Spotlight isn’t a bad deal. For ten bucks, you get ten songs with eight routines to learn, as well as a game that will play all of your previous Dance Central DLC songs (all of which have been upgraded to include eight routines), to boot. And of course, all of the new DLC songs, which run for about two dollars, have eight routines as well, which means you’re getting a lot of content even if you don’t stock up on a ton of DLC.
In a lot of ways, Dance Central Spotlight represents a change in philosophy from Harmonix. Rather than throw as much content into the game as possible and try to please everyone, all of the time, as they did (very well) with the Rock Band series, and to an extent, previous Dance Central games, Harmonix has taken the opposite approach. Instead of a four course meal, they’re offering a low priced appetizer that’ll leave you wanting more. It may be something of a safety dance considering Microsoft’s recent handling of Kinect, but if you’re looking for a way to leave your friends behind for a few hours and just dance, Harmonix’s latest has you covered, even if you don’t have any rhythm.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
The game only costs $10, comes with ten songs, and works with your previous DLC. Each song comes with a lot of dance routines to master. Excellent choreography. The presentation aspects are top notch. Alternate, cardio, and strength routines add a lot to each track. The ability to create custom sets. Jumping from track to practice mode and back again is quick and easy.
There isn’t a whole lot of feedback when you flub a move. Kinect requires a good chunk of space to accurate track your movements.
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