Dance Central: Spotlight Review
Kinect has made a lot of unfulfilled promises since its reveal, and continues to do so into the next generation of Xbox, but one of the few games consistently delivering on the promises of the body-tracking controller has been Harmonix’s Dance Central series. It’s a game that would not be fun without the Kinect, and also one of the only Kinect titles that feels like it works as intended. For the latest entry in the series, Spotlight, the fun dancing mechanic delivers, but so much has been stripped from the game that it no longer has any personality or character. It feels more like a platform for song delivery than a game.
Dancing still feels great with Spotlight. I may look like an idiot flailing my arms around and pretending to be coordinated, but I would never know. Dance Central has a way of making dancing enjoyable to just about anyone, and that gameplay comes through with Spotlight. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel drastically improved with the new hardware. I didn’t feel like the tracking was any better or worse than it has been in the past, and even though I got an achievement for having my biometrics tracked, I didn’t see it change the core gameplay in any way.
With the $9.99 download, you get 10 songs – few of them exciting or interesting. I enjoyed Cher Lloyd's upbeat “I Wish,” and I was happy to see Lorde's “Royals” because it’s not a track I would have expected to see in Dance Central. I also liked Pharrell Williams' “Happy,” despite its excessive media exposure. The other seven tracks fell totally flat for me, since their slower rhythms lack energy – something necessary for fun dancing. It forces you to turn to the marketplace to find the good stuff, which makes the base game feel like a minimum effort designed to extract more money via DLC.
The stated idea behind Spotlight is to showcase new music and frequently update its roster with modern songs, but doing this means you don’t see the era-spanning tracks that appeared in Dance Central 3, which I miss. I enjoy performing retro dances to classic songs, but only a few older songs are in the store. Otherwise, the DLC selection is good, and each new track costs $2. You see a lot of recent pop hits, but there are also unexpected songs like Of Monsters and Men's “Little Talks” and A-Ha's “Take On Me” – which I wouldn’t expect to appear in a dance video game.
One of the biggest disappointing cuts from previous Dance Central games to Spotlight are the diverse multiplayer modes. You can still dance with a partner at any time, but one of my favorite modes from Dance Central 3, which basically amounted to competitors playing a version of HORSE with dancing, is completely gone. Also cut are the photographs taken by the Kinect during your routine to show off how cool (or embarrassing) you look while dancing. It was always hilarious and fun to see the pictures at the end of a dance, and I miss them now that they’re gone.
Spotlight is prone to freezing, even following a patch a few days after launch, and I could never quite figure out what triggered it. I had a few occasions where it locked up when a partner decided to join my game, but I also saw a freeze when I was sitting on floor taking a breather not even interacting with the menus. It made for an unpredictable experience, as I would cautiously navigate the menus, unsure of what I could do to create an uninterrupted dance party. The game froze at least once during each of my extended play sessions, which was especially frustrating when I spent time stretching and preparing myself for physical rhythmic exertion.
Dance Central: Spotlight’s dancing is enjoyable, but overall it feels like a big step back for the series. With a mediocre soundtrack and scaled-back multiplayer, the fun personality of Dance Central has been excised in favor of a feature-lite experience that doesn’t offer incentive to keep playing. When you’re dancing Spotlight is fun, but it is easily the weakest game in the Dance Central series.