Confession time: I had about as much desire to play this game as I do the desire to nail my nuts to a table every morning at breakfast. As if Kinect games weren’t embarrassing enough, I was now tasked with reviewing one that centred on possibly my least favourite activity: dancing. Flipping through the track list in the start-up menu didn’t help the matter either: song after song of Japanese techno crud bombarded my auditory senses. It was a double-jolt that wrenched me from anything remotely resembling a comfort zone: a game in a genre so vastly separated from anything I’ve experienced before, and one laced with music so frenetic it could induce seizures in just about anyone. If ever you needed me to prove my love for you, Lazygamer readers, then this review surely does it (and yes, that’s even taking the House M.D. review into consideration).

Dance Evolution is Konami’s latest offering in the dance genre of videogames – a genre that is wildly popular in the east, but one that is only beginning to gain western appeal of late. While titles like Harmonix’s Dance Central are firmly rooted in western music, Dance Evolution’s track list is heavily influenced by Japanese takes on western music. In other words: it’s hyper-cheesy and sounds like the type of music you hear during intros and credits for anime series. Don’t even get me started on the para-para section – think line dancing only without the manly cowboys and with Japanese school girls instead. Actually, I can see how that would appeal to some.

After apprehensively fumbling my way through the game’s extensive lesson mode and enduring bouts of hysteria from my fiancée, I jumped into the most Jap-trashy pop track I could find. It then got worse: the game super-imposes you into the line-up of onscreen dancers, who all manage to glide their way effortlessly through the routines while you stumble about like the special kid in the back row… except you’re in the front row, and Kinect is judging your lack of skill with pop-up bubbles that say “Boo” whenever you miss a step.

I endured this abuse for about twenty minutes; I then decided that I hated this game and that Konami was run by a bunch of sadists. But then something amazing happened: I started getting stuff right and having a load of fun at the same time. It helped that by that stage I was alone in the house so was free to prance about without fear of ridicule. And I think that’s the crux of the problem that many people might have with this game: as soon as you get over the embarrassment of what you’re doing, there’s a really intricate game to be found that’s possibly the most fun I’ve had with my Kinect so far.

The good news for people with two left feet is that you don’t have to mimic every single move being done on screen, but rather you need to match particular poses, copy hand movements (called streams) or hit specific targets (called ripples) at the same time as your onscreen counterparts. Depending on your timing and the accuracy of your movements, the game grades them on-the-fly awarding you a “Perfect”, “Good” or “Boo”. Chain together enough Perfects and you’ll fill a dance gauge; missing too many onscreen prompts depletes the gauge and once it hits empty you fail the song.

There are different levels of difficulty that increase at a steady rate giving players of all skill enough leeway to get their groove on. The higher skill levels add more poses, streams and ripples as well but the actual dance routines are unaltered. Occasionally, however, you’ll get the feeling that you’re not actually hitting the moves but you’re still getting rewarded for them; this is possibly due to some body-tracking issues. At the end of each song you’re given a really detailed breakdown of how well you did at each point, so for the hyper-dedicated dancers amongst you you’ll be able to track your progress and spot where you need to tighten up your routine.

What struck me right from the start (apart from the music) was the level of animation in the onscreen characters; it is some of the best animation I’ve seen in a game for quite a while. The lead dancers (of which there are quite a few) are really well presented and some of the dance routines are very well done. Although, be warned, if you’re a bloke you’ll be pulling off some serious girly moves at times.

Sadly, there isn’t too much variety with regard to game modes; there’s local two player support (for dance offs) and there is Xbox Live multiplayer as well. Other than that you can really only dance your way through the track list at various levels. There is no career mode and, rather strangely, there is no practice mode either, which seems like a bit of an oversight.

Another negative aspect is the constant commentating throughout each routine. Exclamations like “You’re on fire!” and “Unbelievable!” are cringe-worthy, especially when spouted forth in a typically super high-pitched Japanese girl’s voice; it nearly gave me diabetes.

Scoring:

Gameplay: 8/10

Kinect tracking is not bad although has its issues at times. The actual gameplay is a lot of fun once you get over your initial, self-conscious insecurities. Or perhaps that’s just me?

Presentation: 8/10

The game is definitely polished. The dance locales and dance leaders are varied. The menu system takes some getting used to however.

Sound: 6/10

The music will not appeal to everyone but not all of it is bad. Dig a little deeper, however, and there are some pretty good tracks to get stuck into. Commentators’ voice overs are horrific however.

Value: 7/10

There’s a somewhat limited track list and not much DLC at present, but the varying difficulty levels add variety to the songs.

Overall: 6.8/10 (not an average)

I really loathed this game to begin with but it has a certain tongue-in-cheek charm about it that won me over in the end. It’s a lot of fun and if you’re in need of a kick out of your gaming comfort zones then this is one title worth looking into.

Last Updated: February 1, 2011

Dance Evolution
Summary
6.8

Miklós Szecsei

I'm a freelance writer who has somehow managed to convince people to pay me to play video games. By day I work a job, but by night and early hours of the morning, I write about video games. The one job provides a living for my family; the other provides a living for my soul. Dramatic, right?

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