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Just Dance 4 - Wii Review

Game Info
Just Dance 4

Wii | Ubisoft | 1-4 Players (local multiplayer/co-operative play) | Nintendo Wi-fi Connection Pay & Play DLC available | Out Now
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (pointer)
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21st November 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

At the rate Ubisoft is going, some might view it as a feat in itself that Just Dance has yet to reach a thawing point, and even more of a blessing that the series hasn't shown radical signs of floundering. I'll add to this preface and say to anyone who has dismissed the franchise out of skepticism that there are sound reasons for the game's upstanding success and impressive attach rate. However, Just Dance 4 shows a side that, if not corrected, could spell trouble for the spirit of the next iteration. While this is a good effort and still serves as a strong party game, the team's slight indiscretion has given rise to a few concerns that consequently put the fourth entry below the last two members of its line.

    Just Dance 4 is the same as it's ever been, both gameplay-wise and in designated appeal. Whether armed with a desire to strut their stuff, pick up on a few moves, or simply shed some pounds, gamers and non-gamers alike are encouraged to follow bright-faced dance instructors as they walk players through choreography unique to each of the included songs, which consist of both licensed and cover material. A variety of music styles are present, with the greatest emphasis on pop, and country being the one left to fend for itself. When not under the direction of a singular coach that up to four players must emulate, all other choreography will be defined under the category of Duet or Dance Crew, in which case you'll have two or four different coaches to choose from. This does not mean that the songs that cater to these modes of play have all individuals following exactly the same motions. Rather, these routines are special in that they have synchronized portions to distribute to all those involved, which may include having everyone form a line and doing a special pose as their turn hits. They don't have to be played with the ideal number of people, but if you're on your own and would like to simulate the presence of another person, you could always do as Jailhouse Rock suggests and grab a chair as a partner.

With each new installment that arrives, there always seems to be a revised interface, a means of educing a fresh atmosphere and weeding out reusable yet stale aesthetics that may have otherwise carried over from the entry that came directly before it. Speaking from my own experience, this renewal doesn't always mean that "new" equals "better." Part of this stems from the fact that fans can become wired to a particular menu arrangement, but on a broader scale this has to do with accessibility, feel, and ensuring that the look retains traits that connect back to the overall brand. Changing all that up can be an adjustment for the player, as I found for myself going from Just Dance 2 to Just Dance 3. But here, it seems as though they've gone a bit backwards.

    While the overall menu layout is cleaner, some elements pertaining to the interface are definitely missed. For one, you don't have the Song Collection option anymore, a great feature that debuted in Just Dance 3 and displayed all available songs in a wall format, with different transparency levels indicating if you tried a song at all or even reached the five-star requirement. Additionally, the scoring displays provided visual feedback (i.e., by means of a flame) to evaluate the consistency with which you nailed down the required movements, but they've chosen to dispense with that this time around. It may be that they removed this thin multiplier altogether, which wouldn't surprise me as it would help explain why five-star requirements are easier to come by in Just Dance 4. At least they kept the aspect of being able to see how close you are to the next star rating as the songs are being streamed. The only other about the interface that bugged me has to do with how easy it is to accidentally assign your high-score to someone else on the results screen, simply by pressing a button on the D-Pad. Due to that fact, I can see how that could become a liability.

I was pleased to see the Mojo system return once again, as the presence of unlockables was something I appreciated about Just Dance 3. This has been expanded even further with the all-new Dance Quests -- five optional, achievement-like missions to affect the way you play, assuming you pay attention to them. Some of them are silly, like getting a Good rating on a specific lyric, but I can at least commend the team for the thought behind it. Although I do think the changes to the interface are somewhat for the worse, one thing the developers haven't lost their grip on is the highlight of having song-specific backgrounds and visualization effects. As with previous entries, I continue to find myself enjoying the creative, costume-y, or even true-to-form takes that transmit an extra layer of flair and sometimes even tell a short story. But even when it's just a matter of simply having something to look at, the graphical styles are often entertaining and very rarely are ever boring depictions.

    When trying to determine the strength of song selection, it can be difficult to cast personal taste and genre biases aside. There is, however, a heavy pop focus to this iteration, with the likes of such songs as On the Floor, Beauty and the Beat, Disturbia, Call Me Maybe and What Makes You Beautiful taking center stage. In connection with that, I will also say that compared to previous entries, Just Dance 4's song list doesn't have as much diversity to it. There's also less of a middle ground that reluctant players who couldn't connect with the more recognizable inclusions could still gravitate to. Further to that, obscurity is something the series has seemed to move further and further away from in the songs they select; same goes for throwback picks, but just looking at the evidence (e.g., Rock Lobster), this is to a lesser extent.

Think what you will of the song choices but the choreography is really what makes or breaks the experience. I personally found Just Dance 3 had a share of ungraceful or ditzy routines where technique was not the order of the day, so this aspect was of special interest to me. But really from the standpoint of anyone who has been following the series, this is especially worth discussing in light of the series' expansion to the Kinect platform, and the side-effects that could arise from having routines that shine favor upon full-body tracking. To be truthful, this is, in fact, something that has affected the routines in this game -- as in the case of The Time of My Life and Wild Wild West -- but there are other characteristics more concerning than this.

    Before that, though, I want to point out that there are some gems in here. To me, Rock N' Roll by Skrillex is to Just Dance 4, as Move Your Feet and Idealistic were to the second game. There's a great jerkiness to it and the visualizers really aid in the entertainment level. Can't Take My Eyes Off You is another one that has a great routine coupled with a neat background simulation, and it is one that I can see the older female crowd really enjoying. Despite being on the repetitive side, the routine for Superstition has a nice set of moves akin to swing dances; the one for Good Feeling has at least one technique-focused segment in there that makes it a fun one to play; and when not taken too seriously, You're The First, The Last, My Everything can be hilarious fun as well (particularly if someone in the group happens to have a deep voice and can repeat the words in the song intro). I can't say the same works for Istanbul, which is just plain idiotic in my opinion, but perhaps this, like So What, was supposed to be the kid-friendly one in the pack.

Super Bass is one that should have been fun to play -- if only to justify its inclusion in a game rated E10+ -- but aside from some quick, downward thrusts of the arm, almost everything else about the choreography is weak and lacks the boom you'd expect from a routine for a song like this. It appears to me that in choosing hit pop songs, the team seemed to be less effective at rounding them out with sharp routines that are well in-tune with the nature of some of these songs. That's not to say there are bad ones, necessarily; just that they could be better and less...anticlimactic, for lack of a better word.

    If I were to pinpoint what it is about Just Dance 4 that I find disappointing, I'd break it down to the one main recurring issue I have with the choreography. Of course there are one or two other things I can point to, like the continued use of soft, touchy-feely movements (e.g., gliding one arm along the other), but it's much more important that I make this point. The truth is, Just Dance 4 rehashes some chunks from routines seen in earlier games and even the ones in this game. And if you played the previous entries extensively, you might even be able to identify which ones they come from, though they aren't blatant. Either way, it's an unfortunate sign of running out of steam somewhat, and it's something I hope doesn't become more common in the future.

    Seeing how much of a strength looseness can be to the choreography, it's great that they came up with idea to include alternate versions of songs in Just Dance 3. This has once again continued in Just Dance 4, with not only dance mash-ups that bring back coaches and fitting segments from previous titles (just to be clear, this isn't what I was referring to in the preceding paragraph), but also Extreme Versions that attempt to leverage a more organic, less manufactured feel that experienced players can study and feel challenged by. So that's great to see. 

The Just Dance games have never been fixated on developing secondary inclusions, so when I first saw that a Battle Mode was integrated into Just Dance 4, I didn't expect much. Just tack on a few extra gauges for health and there you have it. That said, the songs that fall under this bracket aren't a copy-paste job as I initially expected. Basically, two routines (e.g., Super Bass and Love You Like a Love Song) are fused together for a single showdown. Each player chooses a character extracted from the sourced songs and each round will see both engaging in a duel that takes cuts from the full routine and, on occasion, includes a few minor switches as well. Honestly speaking, I found some of these were childish, and for the ones that weren't, the execution just isn't all there. Your best bet is really to stick to the usual method of appealing to your competitive side, which is through the local leaderboards. Looks like I wasn't wrong after all because these routines don't do enough to meet their intended goals.

    In my mind, while there is still life left in this series, the creativity has been demonstrated in areas less connected to the routines as it has been in the past, and seeing as that's where the heart of the experience lies, one can feel as though the groove is starting to fade a tad, or that they're running out of ideas for choreography. I know for myself, that continuous desire to probe has been somewhat muted, and it's not because I'm personally losing interest in the genre or the franchise; simply that the changes that are or aren't being made are giving room for me to disengage sooner, or stick to only what's familiar. I see Just Dance 4 as an obvious addition to your library if you already own the other titles, trying especially hard to cater to teens through its song choices. But if you're thinking about getting into this for the first time, know that the ones that have come before it are superior in certain respects.

23/30 - Good

Gameplay 7/10 - Some well-choreographed routines, others feel rehashed or weak, some moves are used too often or are better suited for the Kinect
Presentation 8/10 - Song-specific props and scenes are creative and engaging as always, interface changes aren't always for the better 
Enjoyment 4/5 - Heavy pop emphasis that will be a hit with teens mostly, still tons of fun to be had but perhaps doesn't last as long as it did before
Extra Content 4/5 - Unlockables tied to the Mojo system, alternate versions are worth striving after, DLC, Battle songs are mixed, silly Dance Quests

Equivalent to a score of 77% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Just Dance 4
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