One Night Stand: Just Dance 2014

by Matt Helgeson on Mar 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Me. Kinect. Just Dance 2014. Is this a recipe for total disaster?

If I'm known for anything, it's for my coordination and physical grace. I'm basically a combination of Fred Astaire and Beyoncé, all in the body of an out-of-shape video game editor. The world's been waiting for me to test my considerable dancing skills at Ubisoft's Just Dance 2014. Who am I to say no?

This is the third One Night Stand that I've done (check out my previous entries on Mistwalker's Lost Odyssey and Madden NFL 25). The idea is to force myself out of my usual gaming habits for one day to tackle a title in a genre or style that I don't usually play. Well, Just Dance 2014 certainly fits the bill - there are few things more outside my wheelhouse than a Kinect-powered dance game. I had a feeling this might be a One Night Stand that made it difficult to respect myself in the morning.

As a gaming journalist, I am aware of Just Dance. I know that it's been tremendously successful for Ubisoft, selling millions of copies across all home console platforms. I can't say I've ever been interested in it other than the hope that some of the money Ubisoft makes on it gets routed into franchises like Assassin's Creed and Watch Dogs. But, in the spirit of One Night Stand, I tried to check my preconceptions at the door of this digital disco.

First off, I wasn't crazy about the basic menus and user interface. The Kinect navigation works well enough; you hover your hand over the arrow or button you want to select until a circular meter fills up. That said, I've never understood Microsoft's insistence that Kinect menu navigation is easier or faster than a conventional remote or controller. Kinect aside, I feel like this game has an extremely poorly designed interface and front end. You see a bunch of moveable menu windows on a horizontal feed which you can scroll through, but it comes off as a hodgepodge of individual songs and modes that aren't really explained. I wish there were some sort of unified career mode that explained what was going on. Also, there didn't seem to be any tutorial mode, which would have come in pretty handy for someone like me. It seems like a dancing game should at least help you learn the basics. I was pretty confused by the whole thing; there's something humiliating about the realization that you may be too dumb to play Just Dance.

That said, this game is aptly named. You just...dance. I started off with the romantic '80s standard "Careless Whisper" by Wham!. That sultry saxophone gets me every time. The action is pretty self-explanatory: There's an onscreen dancer who goes through the routine you're supposed to mimic. Since I couldn't find a tutorial, I was thrown to the wolves, flailing around in a manner that recalls OctoDad more than Michael Jackson. Each move is graded - I got a lot of "Okay" marks, and a few "Crazy" and "Perfect" grades. I was never quite sure if "Crazy" was better than "Perfect" - it's an existential debate philosophers have had for centuries. I could see this being fun with a few people and a lot of beer; playing alone, I just felt like a dork.

This brings me to my main observation about the game: Dancing is hard. Which brings me to my second observation about the game: I'm really bad at dancing. As noted, with no real instruction, you're likely to just flop around the dance floor like an idiot. If anything, I think the grading system was too inexact and forgiving. As I said, I got a few "Perfect" grades here and there, and I can assure you none of my dance-floor moves are remotely perfect. My favorite part was the fact that the game cuts a brief highlight video of your performance that displays at the end of the song, effectively turning you into a goofy animated .gif.

In general, I get the feeling that there wasn't much effort put into this installment of Just Dance. There are some different modes, including one where I was part of an international "crew" on Xbox Live where all of our accumulated scores were matched against a rival dance gang. You also get to see the overall best score on each song from the 40 or so dancers who were competing. This is cool in theory, but in practice doesn't seem to really convey much other than that there is some person in England named Kamikaze Priest who is a really good dancer. I also couldn't figure out how to get out of this mode - which automatically goes from song to song - meaning I had to completely shut down my Xbox One and restart.

There are a few other modes, but it's all just a way of repackaging the same basic gameplay. You can use a Wii U GamePad or SmartGlass to "DJ" the dance party while your friends dance. I might have tried that if I had any friends or any interest in SmartGlass. Just Sweat is an exercise mode that lets you pick a duration of time to dance non-stop. I will say that the game is a viable cardio workout. I worked up a sweat pretty quickly. I really need to go the gym more often.

In the end, I suspect this will end up being the least satisfying of my One Night Stands. With Madden and Lost Odyssey, I genuinely felt like I was learning to appreciate a genre that I hadn't given enough attention. With Just Dance, it feels more like a product - a product that's definitely not aimed at me. I'm sure that it's fun at parties with a group of people who like to dance, but even within the small confines of the dance game genre this doesn't feel particularly ambitious. I've read that Harmonix's Dance Central (which I haven't played) accomplishes a bit more in terms of accuracy and presentation.

But, let's be honest, you didn't click on this story to read my stunning insights into Just Dance 2014. You want to see videos of me making an ass out of myself. Dear reader, who am I to deny you?