Dance Central Spotlight Review: It's your stage
Much like the original Dance Central was the best Kinect game, both in terms of functionality and fun, Dance Central Spotlight continues that trend on Xbox One's Kinect 2.0. Out of all the Kinect-based games I've played this year, Spotlight steals the show as the most responsive one of them all.
Forgoing a retail release, Spotlight is instead a digital offering, priced at a reasonable $9.99. With that, you get 10 songs that actually have quite a powerful variety in terms of songs you can dance to. With tracks like "Wake Me Up" by Avicii, "Talk Dirty" by Jason Derulo and "Royals" by Lorde, there's a nice selection to choose from.
Having such a low price point and 10 tracks to start out with comes with the benefit of catering Spotlight to your musical tastes. No longer are you bound by the 30 or so pre-picked tracks, 10 of them which you might actually like. Spotlight instead lets you build your track list by offering a healthy selection of songs right out the gate for $1.99 each or $3.49 for a bundle of two songs. This a la carte solution is a genius move by Harmonix. Get gamers hooked by the cheap price point, and keep them hooked by offering a slew of songs to customize their playlist according to their taste.
But there are quite a few notable differences in Spotlight aside from its digital release structure. Each song boasts eight different dance routines, each with varying difficulty, as well as ones that focus on strength and cardio fitness routines. The game's issue regarding these dance routines is that you're always stuck with playing the game's easy one first. You then progress by mastering moves and collecting the Dance Cards that appear while you're performing. The premise is simple: execute a Flawless dance move, and the card is yours. The game then tracks how many cards you've unlocked per song, and through this progression, more routines will be available.
So why is this an issue? For players coming into Spotlight from previous dance games, they might find the starting routine to be a little too easy, not providing enough challenge. That's sort of like telling a Rock Band pro that he has to play each song on the easiest level in order to unlock the next difficulty level. It's certainly not ideal. The harder routines unlock pretty much immediately, assuming you master each song's basic routine, and that's great, but the fact that I was still required to play the easy routine was a little redundant.
I do have to give props to Harmonix for adding progression in a game that's completely devoid of any sort of story line this time around. Not that I think Dance Central needs one, as Dance Central 3's time travel storyline was completely outrageous, though for all the good reasons. But giving players a sense of progression does add a certain sense of accomplishment. And when you finally master that tough dance move and collect that Dance Card by turning it gold, you'll feel accomplished enough to keep pushing yourself to do better on the next song.
If you're a Dance Central first timer, you might think the basic routines don't look much like dances. Trust me, once you unlock the Deluxe or Serious routines, you'll be sweating your butt off with just how authentic the dance routines are. For those that like the sweat, the game includes a dedicated Fitness Mode where you can set the time (anywhere from 10 to 90 minutes), the routines you want to include, as well as your weight and height. As you progress through each song, the game will calculate calories lost based on your weight and height, as well as how well you're pulling off each move. For people like me, who welcome alternatives to the gym, the Fitness mode was right up my alley.
Spotlight includes an integrated practice feature into each song by simply saying “Hey DJ, Practice That!” This command immediately jumps into a practice mode that lets you master dance moves you might be having problems with. You'll be whisked away into a virtual room separate from your stage, and here you'll be able to practice just that single move ad infinitum. Or you can go through each dance move consecutively. It's great since this time it's integrated straight into the core game and not required to go to a completely separate mode for.
That's not to say that the infamous red fail outlines aren't as frustrating as ever, though. When you're not 100% mirroring your on-screen persona, you'll get a notification on their body part that shows where you're not exactly matching up. Sometimes I would swear that I'm doing exactly what's on screen, and still see that damn red line telling me that something's off. I swear I'm pulling off the Bromance move right, Spotlight!
Dance Central Spotlight seems like a logical next step for Harmonix. It's a safe release that's not tied down to an expensive physical copy, but rather a small serving that looks to be the appetizer to a build-your-own dinner combo comprised of only the delectable songs that fit your musical taste.