Monday, January 10, 2011

Just Dance & Just Dance 2 (Wii)

Just Dance: Total Play Time: ~10 hours?
Just Dance 2: Total Play Time: ~6-7 hours?

History with the Franchise/Genre:
Before I begin - Yes - although I definitely don't spend a ton of time gaming (see this blog's introduction if you don't follow) - I am definitely a HUGE fan of the music rhythm genre. I may have been among the first to pick up and play Guitar Hero (granted it's because a friend introduced me to it), I've spent entirely too many quarters and gotten too many pinched toes playing arcade DDR, I've played Taiko Drum Master and I bought DJ Hero 2 the day that it came out (which is visually AMAZING, by the way). I enjoy the rhythm/music genre!

That being said, I am NOT a dancer, in any way. I spent my whole life avoiding dancing at any cost, and the only reason I ever started playing DDR to begin with (which I honestly believe had been created expressly for the purpose of torturing me and making me feel awkward) was because my college friends were obsessed with it - and it was a choice between playing, or spending my Fridays and Saturdays alone. I wasn't really much of a 'mover' in general until the last couple of years - in which running has become one of my main hobbies - and at some point while I was becoming more fit, I realized how fascinating dance is, and wished I had some sort of user-friendly 'in,' which would teach me what to do with my awkward self, since arrows on the floor don't cut it. Enter: Just Dance! (I'll stop talking about myself now...)

(Image of Just Dance 2)

What Happened:
So I was going to just write about Just Dance 2, since I just played it for an hour and 15min, but I realized that I kept writing 'as compared to Just Dance' and figured I should just cover them both. They generally hit the same points.

Honestly I'm not sure how much time I've put into either of these games, but I think I've made a good approximation. Mainly I play them for an hour or so by myself when I don't feel like going to the gym (they're not as good as running, but they're better than doing nothing). I've also occasionally played them at work, for a quick break, and with friends.

Both games are fairly simple, if you haven't played them. You start up the game, click on the "Dance" mode, and pick a song. There are no difficulties to choose from, but songs show a 1-3 rating for intensity and complexity (I think that's thw wording? I stopped paying attention to them at some point). You hold the Wiimote in your right hand (no nunchuk required), and you follow along with the on-screen dancer as though they were your reflection in a mirror. You are also guided by icons representing upcoming dance moves, which appear on the bottom of the screen. Both games display your scores on-screen, and each move is rated with 'Boo's, 'X's, 'OK's, 'Yeah's or 'Perfect's as you play (like DDR).

Just Dance 1 has other gameplay modes, but I tried them once, decided they weren't very fun and promptly forgot about them. I'm honestly not sure what other modes Just Dance 2 has... since I always just immediately proceed to gameplay (I know what I want). I do know that Just Dance 2 has a "Just Sweat" mode - which you'd think I'd be interested in since I play to work out, but I don't imagine it would be very different from playing 'non-stop shuffle' - maybe it displays calories? I don't really put stock in video game calories. It has no idea how much effort I'm putting into playing.. since it's only tracking my right hand.

Before I go into specifics, I'd like to make one point that I usually make to people that are interested in trying this series - I'm not entirely sure if either of these games actually qualify as 'games' as opposed to 'toys'. Obviously, with all of my praise, this isn't a negative whatsoever, I just think it's interesting - I really don't play these games to reach any sort of in game goal. I have no idea what my scores are most of the time, if my saves were wiped out, nothing would happen, it's not like I'm trying to complete or 100% all of the songs - I simply play this game because I really enjoy dancing to the songs. :)

(Image of Just Dance 1)

What I Liked:
Choreography. This comes first because for both of these games, this is really all you're doing. In my opinion, they don't need anything else because it's just so much fun to do the actual dances. They manage to achieve the right balance of move simplicity and repetition - that even if I get frustrated by a complicated move, I know it will come up again and I can try and master it. That being said, I find that I like the choreography better in Just Dance 1, because it's generally simpler. There are less multi-part moves, and there is a lot less jumping (which works better for me, since I live in an apartment). It's just a little bit easier to pick up on the dance - which I find that I like (probably because I'm really really not a dancer). That being said, from the reception that Just Dance 1 got, I think it's understandable that they wanted to take the choreography up to the next level in the sequel - but I definitely enjoy 1 just a little bit more.

Playfulness. This is an overall quality, but I wanted to call it out. I like games that don't take themselves too seriously, and I think that's why I enjoy this game so, so much. Most of the choreography is downright (and I don't like this word, but it's necessary) silly. In every song - be it goofy, serious, or 'sexy' - you will find yourself giggling (another, completely necessary word - none other will do!) I think this is at the root of this game's widespread appeal - it seems to be the perfect, tasteful blend of taking itself seriously enough, but not too much. It is a gem in this way. :)

Songs! Obviously, for a music/rhythm game, this is one of the most important things! I love the songs in both games, but for Just Dance 2, I find that even if there are a couple of songs I don't particularly enjoy, the fun of the dance makes up for it - so I can just play on shuffle and have a blast. Just Dance 1 however does have a couple of songs that I really do avoid. I love the mix between songs that everyone would know, like Tik Tok, or Viva Las Vegas and songs I've never heard before like Rasputin or Acceptable in the 80s. Song lengths are good, all around - no song feels too long (so that in the cases where I do feel frustrated, I don't feel trapped). I also think the number of songs is good for both - I know that this genre tends to be a little song list numbers oriented, but all of the songs are catchy and fun, so the is a high level of replayability. Also there is DLC available for Just Dance 2 (which I haven't purchased yet, but I might do it because they look fun -- not because I'm sick of my current list).

Menu Simplicity. Both games have simple menus! All I want to do when I play this game, is get to the music and dance, and they let me do this quickly. I think there may be even less steps in Just Dance 2? 2 allows me to set up player profiles, which is helpful - and when I pick up the game it chooses my profile by default, so I don't have to spend any time there. I believe there is also a chosen profile for default, so I don't even have to worry about it if I don't want to.

Visuals. I love the visual style! It's fun and simple. Also I think it was a great decision to use live dancers, as opposed to animation. Dancing is one of the harder things to animate, and looks terrible when done incorrectly - also this is something that real people can do, and doesn't require animation.

Icons! This is sort of dumb, but in Just Dance one, you can choose an icon before the start of every song - which is surprisingly enjoyable. Would I like to be the cat, the hot dog, or the diamond ring? It makes for a sort of random bit of fun when you're playing with your friends. :) I miss them in JD2.

(Image of Just Dance 2)

What I Didn't Like:
Scoring! I suspect that it's mainly because of the poor scoring of the first Just Dance that I regard these games as toys instead of games. Scoring is basically random in JD1 - sometimes it seems to work well, but if you pay attention to it, you end up getting frustrated when you'd swear you'd done something perfectly and it didn't register, or you get pounded by your friend's score when you know you were moving about the same. It is better in JD2, but it's definitely still not perfect. Thankfully - this game is super fun, and I don't care about my score at all. That being said, if I were to pay attention to that sort of thing, I dislike the score HUD in JD2 - they shrank it into a little circle instead of a big bar, which is much harder to keep track of while you're playing. It's not like they really needed the screen real estate for anything else, and visually, I thought the bars were cool.

Score comparing. Again, it doesn't really matter - but if I were to pay attention to the score, or want a goal in this game, I would want them to make score comparing a lot easier. It's a little easier in JD1, where 100% is 1000 points (although you can get more than 100%, so that's confusing), but in JD2 it goes at least a digit higher. I can't remember abstract numbers! Give me letter grades like DDR! :) I don't think either game allows you to see your high score on a song (maybe it's hidden somewhere?) - but you get a 'high score beat' when you beat it. Because of this, there is no way to track your progress (which, in this case, is OK with me).

Next move icons. If I were to nitpick, I do think that the icons, at least in JD2 are occasionally confusing. The icon might show a pose where the left hand is close to the body, so I assume that is my first pose - but then I've struck the pose in reverse and I'm off. It doesn't happen a lot, but just every once in awhile.

3:07 in Rasputin! You can't do that with a Wiimote in your hand!! It would be crushed! On that note, sometimes I hit buttons on my Wiimote when I'm playing.. it's sort of awkward during some moves.

Loading times. They're definitely a little long. I think this mostly bothers me since I generally play for exercise.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
You can probably tell from the rest of the article. I'm not tired of these games yet, and I don't imagine I'll ever really get sick of them (unless they go the way of DDR and the song selection gets bad. :) )

Also - here's a Just Dance 1 pumpkin I carved last Halloween!

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