What is with music video games? It seems that every major player in the genre is just repeating the same mistakes; multiple games, countless expansions and rapid fire sequels are just some of the burdens that fans of music and rhythm games must endure. Dance Dance Revolution did it, Guitar Hero did it (and then some) and now, on the eve of its first expansion track pack, the same questions that plagued those series are being asked of the Just Dance series. But some hope remains, as Just Dance 2 was actually a fun and well-received game (read our review here), so is Just Dance: Summer Party the dance-off of the year or should you come up with a lame excuse to avoid the party?
In case you are one of the (few) who has never played, or watched someone play a game in the Just Dance series, the basic idea of the game is to just… dance. You follow on-screen instructions and move the Wii Remote and your body accordingly, simple as that. The real fun here comes when you and friends decide to go head to head in a dance-off, as the results are often both hysterical and a real workout for the health-conscious gamers out there (I blame Wii Fit). Now the question here is not whether the series’ concept is sound - Just Dance 2 proved that Ubisoft really does have something special here - it’s whether or not you should give Summer Party a go when the hotly anticipated Just Dance 3 is only a few short months away.
Like any good expansion pack, Just Dance: Summer Party plays pretty much the same way as the game it's based on. You follow the on-screen instructions and the choreographer and shake your controller accordingly. The game will try to spice things up with special combo style moves that can deliver big points but 90% of the time all you will be doing is dancing. Returning from Just Dance 2 are the Dance Battle, Just Sweat and Duets modes that add both fun multiplayer modes and a workout regime that really stands out from some of the other fitness games on the Wii by making sweating off the pounds with family and friends actually fun; sometimes it seems like you’re not even working out.
Now Ubisoft must have been real busy (or maybe just lazy) between the launch of Just Dance 2 in October of 2010 and Summer Party as the controls have received absolutely no changes, meaning they're still as unresponsive as ever. Shaking the Wii Remote with all your might can still produce near perfect scores and moving it in any which way can oftentimes register as a ‘good’ or even ‘perfect’ movement. Now I understand that this lax attitude towards controller accuracy may be in part due to the fact that the game’s target audience is younger children and people who aren’t really gamers by definition but it’s been almost 10 months since Just Dance 2 released and some improvement would have been very much welcome.
Like the three Just Dance games that came before it, Just Dance: Summer Party features a very distinct art style. With glowing characters and trippy backgrounds these games are still some of the most visually attractive dance games on the market. Also returning from Just Dance 2 are context sensitive backgrounds for all the tracks, giving you a real sense of ‘experiencing’ a track rather than just playing it. Now here’s something that, while not a deal breaker, is a huge annoyance of mine - the game is titled Just Dance: Summer Party and yet nothing in it is related to summer. The game is still very club inspired, with some songs going in other directions, but never summer... in fact the closest this game gets to being related with the warmer months of the year is that it released in July.
The audio quality here is as good as ever, as all the songs come in crisp and clear (a major plus for any game with music being the central focus). My only gripe is that, once again, the actual music can drown out the lyrics from the songs. I know that Just Dance is not a karaoke game by any means (don’t get any funny ideas, Ubisoft), but some of the tracks are just plain catchy (Katy Perry’s Firework being the game’s standout hit) and it would be nice to actually hear what Katy Perry has to say about rockets with colorized gun powder exploding in the night sky.
Like any track pack the biggest focus here is the song selection but unfortunately the game’s selection doesn’t hold a candle to what was available in Just Dance or its sequel. It’s a combination of lack of quantity (only a tad more than 20 songs, compared to the over 40 from Just Dance 2), bad song selection (gospel music, really?), too many covers and not enough master tracks. Combine this with the fact that all of the songs found here are available for download on Just Dance 2 for 300 Wii Points a pop and it’s impossible for me to recommend getting this game. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the next big release in the series, Just Dance 3, is releasing in October, so instead of investing in a pretty pointless expansion I recommend you just pick and choose what you want now, purchase those tracks for Just Dance 2, and then wait for the next major installment.
While I really enjoyed Just Dance 2, Summer Party does absolutely nothing to justify its existence. The game’s 25 track line-up is just not up to snuff, nor is it fun to go through repeatedly. While there are some standouts, I recommend you simply download them as downloadable content for Just Dance 2 and save up your pennies for Just Dance 3. Now, while you could do much worse than Just Dance: Summer Party as far as dancing games on the Wii go, there are simply better options out there than investing in a glorified track pack, particularly when its songs are available elsewhere for less. I never did get that summer party that this game promised.