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Just Dance: Disney Party - Wii Review

Game Info
Just Dance: Disney Party

Wii | Ubisoft / Disney Interactive Studios / Land Ho! | 1-4 Players (local multiplayer/co-operative play) | Out Now
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (pointer)
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5th December 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

Ubisoft's deciding to apply a Disney skin to the Just Dance formula is likely similar in thought to Konami's, when they and Bemani paired up with the same force to create Dance Dance Revolution: Disney Grooves a few years ago. Both titles are effectively skewed to kids almost exclusively by means of design direction, but that magical flavour could fairly easily extend and touch players of an older demographic if the development teams were so inclined. Since there's no desire to do that, what Just Dance: Disney Party offers will be of no further interest to older, longtime fans. Knowing what the series is capable of and where this road has taken Ubisoft in the past (The Smurfs: Dance Party being an example of sorts), I was half expecting this spin-off to flop, with laughably weak choreography. But the truth is, Just Dance: Disney Party will be seen by kids and parents alike as a pretty likeable starting point with an even playing field for penetration.

    To whom the foundations of Just Dance may be unfamiliar, the dancing component is carried out by copying coaches using a single Wii Remote in your right hand. Normally these instructors would be represented as silhouettes, but Disney Party specifically changes it up and adopts a more realistic environment where real people are juxtaposed against fictitious sets signature to the property the selected song is associated with. The best way to envision the visual composition is by viewing it as a theatrical performance with actors in costume. Before the choreography transitions to the next move, you're given a rough guide on what you'll be doing next by means of cartoony figures that move in from the bottom-right of the screen. Evaluations measure the accuracy of your movements and points are doled out as a reward for your proximity to what's shown on-screen. Also specific to this game is the use of the rumble feature, triggered as moves are executed perfectly to the game's standards. The only other thing to be aware of is the existence of Gold Moves that will have you performing a special action for more points than usual.

Just Dance: Disney Party
is a mix of old-school and new-school, touching on classics such as The Little Mermaid and more recent renditions like Bolt (yes, I'm just as surprised as you are that this was chosen). A considerable portion of the song list is taken up by Disney Channel properties, of which shows like Phineas and Ferb and Hannah Montana are a part. In all, there are 25 songs to choose from, with a fair amount being recognizable while the rest might be a bit more obscure if you're not an avid Disney fan -- or at least that your level of fandom does not extend to the current roster of shows.

    Right away, I can comment that because of the wide variety of songs that could've been selected, it's almost impossible to speak to every last need, but the developers have briefly touched upon a few niches here that have their own following, such as Camp Rock. But I will say that I can see some getting upset over films like Pocahontas and The Lion King not being featured at all in the game. It's also unfortunate that Pixar didn't have a helping hand in this creation, as that might've done more for the overall breadth of the content, which admittedly is lighter than even the original Just Dance. It's also worth expressing that some of the songs they've chosen last under two minutes in length, and that comparative shortness might just irritate some. But these points don't mean there isn't fun to be had regardless, nor is it impossible to make peace with the unapologetic omissions.

    From the Main Menu, you'll find two options: Dance, and...Parents? A strange association to be sure, but we'll discuss that a bit later on. For now, let's focus on the main game mode. Under this menu, you'll have access to three options that dictate how you'll go about playing. Songs is the free play option where you choose individual songs; Playlists involves playing to a set list of songs or even creating your own (something that strangely still hasn't been allowed in the main series); and Non-Stop Shuffle is the back-to-back option designed to minimize time spent navigating the menus and just concentrate on continuous dancing. Generally speaking, the process of selection is fairly accessible, but the interface definitely could've done with some more improvement. I say this especially because of two main reasons, with the first being the train of choices that follow as you pick an individual song. It's one of the strangest things to see that confirming your choice from the horizontally-arranged song selection will bring up a screen for...language selection, of all things. I understand they included foreign versions of each of the available songs, but there had to have been a better way to organize this. I also don't know whose idea it was to feature small text in a game for kids, but that's the second problem I have with the way everything has been laid out. 

Getting into the treatment of the routines themselves, aside from one that I felt was disconnected, I was genuinely surprised to discover that some of these are actually quite good -- and not just for kids either. Parents wanting to join in on the fun will feel comfortable pulling off some of the moves tasked of them, and that's very pleasing to see. Just as a few examples: Be Our Guest has a bunch of flowy arm movements that are in keeping with an appropriate style, while Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride requires quicker responses but feels balanced in its execution. Catering to more of a swing dance style, the routine for E'vrybody Wants to Be a Cat has an observable firmness to it, with one particular segment tasking players to quickly move an outstretched leg back and forth while also keeping their hands in motion, which young kids might find beyond their means in the immediate stages. Continuing on that thought, Hoedown Throwdown (one of the only two songs with a three-star routine) and Shake It Up are some of the better choreographed routines in the game, featuring great pacing that will be a challenge to even parents who may not have the reflexes to act on a dime as new moves are quickly introduced. And on a more general level, I also thought Calling All The Monsters, We're All In This Together, and This Is Me presented routines that were inviting (notwithstanding the atmosphere of the first pick) and will likely become quick favourites.

    On a less positive note, I did observe throughout that the motion recognition wasn't always up to par, and interestingly enough, the control issues aren't limited to the fast or more extensive routines. Even while performing the more simple tasks, like in Following the Leader, where it's largely about marching in place, the game doesn't always do a good job of picking up your movements. This is similarly the case when making short jerks to the sides, as required in Calling All the Monsters. I also recall in one routine there was a part where you could accomplish what was asked of you simply by positioning the Wii Remote in the end position and holding it there for a few seconds and you'd still get high marks. It's a shame that the inconsistency with the controls spreads to many of the routines, even the better ones in the package, as it is something that could potentially impact confidence levels. 

Stemming from that, feeling like you're getting somewhere is an important goal for the game to assist with as per the genre of game that it belongs to. However, this is an area where Just Dance: Disney Party drops the ball, especially in light of how the main releases in the series operate. To simplify matters, the development team decided to greatly downplay the importance of personal progression by removing any kind of profile creation or name entry screen for high scores and simply having each player choose a dance icon for basic identification purposes. To now bring the discussion to the Parents menu I referenced earlier, it is under this section that you can find information such as an approximation of how many calories were burned in a session, how long it lasted, and see the top score for each song. It's so strange to see this not relayed on the main song selection screen and instead tucked away in some dinky progress menu.

    They've wrongly dismissed this as being something that kids wouldn't be interested in, meanwhile this is one of the key reasons why the Just Dance games on a general scope are engaging in that the witnessing of personal progression moves someone (shy or otherwise) to continue on a certain path and perhaps develop confidence in the process -- something that would be especially true in this case, seeing as co-ordination isn't heavily emphasized in the way the routines are designed. Kids love to see progress, and there was certainly potential to facilitate this, perhaps with a personalized character icon and a kid-friendly stat tracker with simple bars and large text, that sort of deal. It's a possibility this was done to minimize competition amongst friends, but for kids who would like to play on their own and feel like they're accomplishing something and getting better, that's one area where Just Dance: Disney Party certainly falters, and does so over simple omissions.

    To try and add variety, there are three other gameplay modes that apply new terms to the rules. The first of these is a team co-operation exercise, where everyone contributes to the same total at the end of the round, and that's not bad. The other two are more throwaway inclusions than anything else. Freeze and Shake is a bit senseless in that it occasionally locks your score bar without any real prompt to indicate such, requiring you to shake your Wii Remote to begin earning points once again. I think I understand where they were going with this, but in all honesty, it's not executed well and ends up being a worthless addition. The third mode is entitled Balloon Pop, and in it, a balloon at the bottom of the screen will explode from time to time, revealing stars that can be collected by shaking the controller. This is somewhat similar in design to Freeze and Shake, and again, it ends up being that this doesn't bring an added layer of hustle and awareness as was likely intended.

To touch a little more on the presentation, the visuals, as I said before, are a mix of fantasy and reality, and on your television screen this can appear a tad grainy in how it all comes together. The coaches are often re-used (with new outfits) across the different routines, some of which may not be the spitting image of the Disney Channel stars they're representing but still look close enough to the real thing that young fans of the show won't mind. The aesthetics behind each song's setting are usually nice to look at, even if some are a bit static for my personal liking. Some actually have characters popping up in the corner or off to the sides of the screen to give it a sing-along approach, which is kind of nice. And when Gold Moves are executed, the surrounding effects often relate to the property being referenced (e.g., spoons dancing around your coach in Be Our Guest). So overall, I do think there's quite a bit that kids will see as engaging even if these various touches are not the best that can be.

As easy as it would've been to slap something together on a whim and rely on brand value to further the excitability of kids, Just Dance: Disney Party reciprocates the appeal of its represented properties with what it feels is a collection of deserving routines that effectively tap into these same worlds. I beg to differ, but only on a relatively short scale. The fun factor may not be as electrifying, due to the inconsistent tracking of the motion controls and some silly choices surrounding the high score systems and visual arrangements. But at least the lacklustre routines do not outweigh the good, and parents have effectively been provided with a fair amount of entry points so they too can join in and derive some fun of their own. The limited song selection may cause interest levels to subside quicker than otherwise would be the case, but this need not deaden them completely. While Disney Party won't be exalted in the same breath as the main releases, Just Dance: Disney Party is a decent adaptation with enough suitable choreography that parents in search of a family-friendly title both they and their kids can get involved in will want to get on board with.

20/30 - Good

Gameplay 7/10 - Moments of good choreography, rumble used to identify accurate delivery, inconsistencies and control recognition issues
Presentation 6/10 - Song direction could've used work, organization isn't particularly good, small text, friendly backgrounds with inviting effects
Enjoyment 4/5 - Kids will have fun and might even feel challenged, parents will feel comfortable joining in, minimal attention paid to progression
Extra Content 3/5 - Feels limited as far as content, ability to create your own playlists, additional modes aren't particularly successful

Equivalent to a score of 67% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Just Dance: Disney Party
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