My first experience with Dance Paradise was at a demo booth in a Best Buy several months ago. At the time, it was almost enough to convince my partner and I not to even bother getting a Kinect. Thankfully, my experience with many other Kinect games has proven it to be a good investment since then, but Dance Paradise is still not one of those games.
The basic idea behind the game seems simple enough. Dance moves come down 4 colored runways much like the notes in band games. Players sidestep to switch runways to match the dancer, and when moves hit the dance floor at the bottom of the screen you mirror the move the dancer is doing. The game requires significantly more space to play than others in the genre due to this need to sidestep, and it's very possible that some people won't have a living room large enough to play easily. Kinect watches you perform the move and scores each move much like Dance Dance Revolution with "missed," "almost," "good," "great," and "perfect." Players' 360 avatars dance with you when you get a move right, and encourage you to do better when you miss one. Moves in the "great" and "perfect" category boost your combo bonus, and vitality gauge (which ends the game if it runs out), and "missed" and "almost" moves take away from it. There are silver moves that boost your Dance Power, which when activated by jumping, doubles your current multiplier till it runs out, much like Star Power in band games.
Players progress through the career mode, which is single player only, by completing specific challenges on each song. Every song is different, and only a few are based on score. They range from completing a song at a specific rank ("amateur," "apprentice," "pro," or "star," based on score and move completion), to not missing more than a certain number of moves during the song. Some challenges involve surviving a song while the computer throws attacks at you such as blinking or transparent dancers or being stuck on one runway for a time.
These are good preparation for the only multiplayer mode worth playing: Attack Mode. In this mode, players can earn and deploy attacks on the other player. This is fun, lending a bit of competition that's more than just score bragging to multiplayer, but honestly it often just makes an already frustrating game even more so, especially if you are not extremely familiar with the fairly limited set of dance moves in the game. Other multiplayer modes include Synchro Mode, where both players get score bonuses for doing moves together, and Versus Mode, where players are competing for the higher score, both of which are fairly bland. All three multiplayer modes have one player on the left two runways, and the other on the right two.
The tutorial is severely inadequate, covering only in the simplest of terms the absolute basics of the game. All of the advanced features of the gameplay are learned "on the fly." There is no practice or break it down mode to let you slow the game down to make sure you're performing the moves correctly. Actually, there is no feedback of any kind to let you know when you are performing a move incorrectly other than the rating that pops up after the move, making it extremely difficult to get better at moves that you might have trouble with.
Right off the bat, the execution of the game is mediocre at best, and downright shoddy at worst. The menu system of the game is mystery meat navigation with almost none of the buttons labeled with what they do. I found myself stumbling back and forth through the menu system for quite some time before I figured out what all the symbols meant. The menus also make very poor use of the Kinect's possibility of gestural control found in other Kinect games such as Dance Central. Buttons are used exclusively, which means that you must wait for the button to "fill up" to register a selection, making things like scrolling through song lists laborious, especially since there are several more levels of menu to get through than the game really needs, including pressing a "Go" button after selecting and loading a song to actually start playing.
Load times are also laboriously long. Installing the game cuts them from nearly a minute and a half down to 30 or 40 seconds per song. The game also does no passive loading while you are on menu screens or on the wrap up and score screen after a song is over, so you get to stand and wait another 30 or 40 seconds after each song to get back to the menu. These load times wouldn't have angered me so much if any of the songs in the game were more than the first 2 to 3 minutes of the song, after which it just fades out. Every single song in the game does this. The entire song plays in the video jukebox, so why not while I'm dancing? So with song selection and load times, only about half of the time you're playing the game is actually spent dancing.
Motion capture for the silhouettes that show the upcoming moves isn't always the best, and the people I played through the game with and myself all found the more complex moves hard to follow due to their somewhat "noodley" motion and apparently being modeled after Gumby. The game is less choreographed than some dance games, with a fairly limited set of dance moves, so there are no song-specific moves. Dance moves do get a bit more complex as well as closer together in hard mode and as the game progresses. There is little to no flow to what moves come when, and a move will often stop in the middle of the move, making the game seem more like a rhythm game of "Go here and do this, then there and do that" than real dancing. The somewhat limited set of moves, non-sexy gumby dancers, non-explicit song set, and use of players' 360 avatars in the game all make Dance Paradise a good game for families playing with younger children.
Dance Paradise has by far the worst sensitivity with the Kinect of any game I have played with it. Kinect Adventures, even with its serious lag never lost me completely to the point I had to wave at the sensor. Dance Paradise lost track of me and other players on average once or twice a song for as long as 10 seconds, leading to missed moves, which is something I never had happen with any other dance game. The game lost me completely in the menu every 5 songs or so. No amount of Kinect calibration and fine-tuning was able to fix the issue.
The real saving grace of Dance Paradise is the song list which at 40 songs is the longest of any of the Kinect dance games and it is much more varied and "Top 40" than that of other dance games I have played. Though this would be far more of an asset if the game let you dance to entire songs, and the large song list looses something when you look at the complete lack of downloadable content.
Dance Paradise has some great music, and some great features for parents wanting a dance game to play with their kids. The game is generally less formal and more party-flavored than other dance games. The unique and engaging runway-style gameplay is pretty good for parties, especially the Attack Mode, but its bugs just make it less compelling to play compared to other games in the genre.