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My mom seems intent on getting a new dance/party game for every Christmas season for all the family to enjoy, even if it is only two or three of us who play them after Christmas. Last year it was 'Michael Jackson: The Experience' 'The Hip-Hop Dance Experience' (which I've reviewed previously) and 'The Cube' to enjoy. This year, my mom bought us 'Just Dance 2014', the latest instalment in the successful series by Ubisoft. Although this is the first 'Just Dance' game I have played, the series' popularity means that I had some fairly high expectations. But does this game impress, or is it a sign of a cash cow franchise?
The gameplay and controls for 'Just Dance 2014' are presumably the same as in other instalments. Players hold the Wiimote in their right hand and, following the prompts running along the bottom of the screen and the dancer, mimic the dance moves as accurately as possible to a selected song. It is pretty easy to pick up and play as no buttons need to be pressed (unless navigating the menu)- every dance move is motion based. At the end of each song you are given a star rating out of five, a point score and earn a certain amount of coins (the purpose of which is explained later).
There are 47 songs available to play of varying difficulties (Easy, Medium, Hard and Hardest), and all of them can be played as above. Most also have special modes of the song which have different rules, which I have listed below:
*Sweat*: The choreography is focused on giving you a workout and burning calories. There is also a Sweat Mode that can be selected from the menu, where you can create a playlist of songs to dance through and see how many calories you've burned while playing.
*Extreme*: A harder version of the song, the choreography is a lot more complex.
*Battle*: You have two dancers, each with a health bar at the top of the screen, and alternate between two song routines. The aim is to get the most moves correct possible, as failing to do so depletes your life bar. Whoever has the most health at the end of 30 seconds wins the round, and then the next round with the alternate song starts playing. This mode is best played with human players on each side, as the choreography complements you dancing off against the other. Furthermore, playing against the computer AI is very difficult as they will rarely get any moves wrong!
*Mashup*: Choreography from other songs is included into one. A difficult mode as the random dance moves will have to keep you on your toes!
*On Stage*: One player performs as a lead routine, while the others are backup dancers.
Of the songs I have played, I find the choreography engaging and really makes you work hard to get the best score possible. Whilst, as with most Wii dancing games, it will only track your right hand from the Wiimote, it nevertheless isn't something that can be easily enjoyed playing from your sofa. Furthermore, the game tracks your movements well in all the songs I have practised and clearly indicates how to do each move. I haven't had problems with songs being out-of-sync with the choreography. However, there have been a few instances where the game has frozen for a split-second, but it still continued as normal without lag. There is also a problematic glitch where, in the middle of one battle song ('Kiss You' vs 'Pound the Alarm') the dancers and indicators disappeared off the screen! This makes the song completely unplayable, and the nature of the Wii hardware means that it cannot be fixed!
The presentation is decent for a Wii game. The dancers are brightly neon coloured and easily stand out from the average backgrounds (which range from plain-coloured dance floors to real life landscapes where the dancer has been green-screened onto). Overall it's eye-catching and does the job befitting a party game, but not spectacular from a gaming perspective.
As I mentioned before, the game has an initial tracklist of 47 pop songs. These songs range from the latest chart toppers (Psy's 'Gentleman', One Direction's 'Kiss You') to hits from previous decades ('Age of the Aquarius', a cover of Michael Jackson's 'Blame it on the Boogie) to Eurodance tracks. The full dance list for the Wii version can be found onto the 'Just Dance 2014' website.
The presence of the old school tracks is promising given that several of the 2012-13 songs already feel dated and these will appeal to older players. However, the ratio of new to old music is about 5:1, so it's obvious that the 'Just Dance' series still wants to aim its music at children and young adults.
'Just Dance 2014' has an Online Mode called 'World Dance Floor'. Basically it's an ongoing jukebox where a song is chosen and all players around the world have to dance to that song. Whilst dancing and at the end you can see your rank compared to the rest of the players of the world, and having a better ranking increases your online level. I'm not sure what having a high online level does for you, however, except for bragging rights. What is interesting is how the all the star ratings earned by all the players are added to a star meter. Once that meter fills up to maximum, then a new song or avatar is unlocked for everyone. I think this is an excellent concept, as it encourages more people to play online to get extra content while still having the element of competition against players worldwide. Perhaps the only drawback is that everybody has to dance to the same song with little to no choice in which to play. On the other hand, it is a great way of trying songs you would never choose in the Free Play Mode.
Also new to this instalment (for the Wii version at least) is the Shop. Here you can download new songs or alternate modes for tracks already available. The alternate tracks are purchased with in-game coins but the new songs need to paid for with Wii Points (bought either via credit/debit card or a Wii Points card through the Wii Shop Channel). In other words, it is paid downloadable content. The availability of new songs is promising, and seeing how Ubisoft seems to add new songs every month or so, it means that people are encouraged to play the game well into next year
'Just Dance 2014' is definitely my favourite Wii dance game and I now wish I had played the previous instalments to see how they compare. We've barely had this game for a week yet my sister and I have already put in several hours trying to perfect the routines of our favourite songs! The game is really fun, easy to get into and a great way of doing some exercise at home- I certainly plan to use it as an aid for weight loss in the New Year!
Perhaps my only concern is that the game's future longevity. Given that the game title has changed from a numbered one to a year, Ubisoft are clearly aiming to release a 'Just Dance 2015' 'Just Dance 2016' etc. etc, which means that this instalments will be out-of-date whenever the next one is released. Moreover, it seems that the Playstation 3, Playstation 4 and Wii U versions of the game have a lot more extra content.
Until then, however, I intend to enjoy this game and its extra content over the months to come. After all, what are the chances that I can dance along to my favourite summer jams of 2013 in the next game?
'Just Dance 2014' for the Wii is available for £16 from Amazon, and is similarly priced at other online retailers.