At E3 I was able to have some "hands-on" with Harmonix Music Systems' upcoming Dance Central for the XBox 360. Or maybe it was some "hands-off" time because the game uses the Kinect camera and I didn't actually touch anything. All I know was it was the ultimate dance-off. This game has the goods.
To get started, you stand in front of the Kinect, and it uses its magic to scan your skeleton. It's probably measuring your dance chakra or something. Anyway, you move your arm up or down to scroll through options, modes, or songs, and then swipe across the air to "push" the selection across the screen. If you need to go back you can swipe across the air with your left arm. The full soundtrack has yet to be anounced, but the E3 demo included "Funkytown" by Lipps, Inc., the Fatboy Slim remix of "Body Movin'" by Beastie Boys, "Poison" by Bell Biv Devoe, "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga, "Galang '05" by M.I.A., and "Hella Good" by No Doubt.
Once you're ready, a second player can step into Kinect's view, and then you're ready to dance. Any amount of people can dance, and they can all be shown on the screen, but only the first two players' will get all their bumps and grinds measured and scored. That definitely didn't stop us from getting five or more people on the stage at once and really getting down. As they say, it was on.
The coolest feature that really sets this game apart (other than the 90 dance routines put together from over 600 different dance moves by professional choreographers) was the Break It Down Mode. This mode lets the dance beginners out there learn each individual dance move, one at a time, in slow-motion. Once you have the moves down, or if you're already up for an intense dance challenge like I was, you can hop right into the game with the Perform It mode.
Once you pick a jam, you just start copying every dance move on the screen, like it's a mirror image. On the right side of the screen there's a small HUD that shows you the current dance move's icon and title, as well as the next two dance moves, the way Tetris keeps you updated with the upcoming Tetriminoes. Many of the dance moves immediately identify themselves with names like "The Chest Pump" or "The Hitch Hike," while you'll have to get used to others like "The Smush." Unfortunately I was unable to find "The Herky Jerky" or "The White Tornado."
The Break It Down Mode really helps you learn the individual moves, but just hopping into a song isn't so bad either since many of the moves will repeat a few times in a row. Some of the funkier moves might only happen once per chorus, but you'll probably get used to those by the end of the song anyway. It's the kind of game that makes you want to do a song twice in a row, because you know you can do better each time as you master the motions.
Each song also has a freestyle breakdown section in the middle, that encourages everybody in the room to go wild. It's too bad the game doesn't come with the MTV Games dance crew, because they were the perfect team to get jiggy with. During your freestyle you can do any moves you want, and they will be perfectly reproduced on the screen. The dance crew and the HUD disappear, and the character on the screen is replaced by your own body. However, everything turns into crazy rainbow colors and you look like you're actually in an iPod commercial. The freestyle ends with a fast recap, which shows the actual footage of your body, but in fast-motion. The fast-motion helps even the lamest of dance moves look like they had the ultimate game.
I saw a few people who were almost too shy to dance at all during the regular game, but they set the dance floor on fire during the freestyle section. You can bust any moves you got, from the Charleston to the Carlton. Then you usually have another verse, another chorus, and then your photo-op of an ending pose.
Even with limited time at E3, Dance Central was one of the few games I kept coming back to. You should definitely keep it on your radar if you're into dance games or you're looking for a great Kinect party game. If you want to see it in action, be sure to check this video of Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison," featuring yours truly. Dance Central will be serving it up hot on November 4th.