It’s a different scene in Japan, but needless to say Harmonix has greatly diminished Konami’s momentum in the rhythm music game market on a global scale. The two studios are going head-to-head once again with Dance Central and DanceMasters, but for a change it seems Konami has come out on top.
DanceMasters (or, more appropriately, Dance Evolution everywhere else), is the spiritual next step in the Dance Dance Revolution series. Utilizing the Kinect in place of a dance mat, DanceMasters allows input from the entire body, making for a much richer and less step-heavy array of moves:
There are 30 songs in total ranging from Puyo Puyo to Pop, Club, and R&B (yuck!), and a handful of difficulty settings that range from cakewalk to insane, as well as Stealth Mode, which removes all visual indicators for those who no longer need them. The beauty is that the player can get as much or as little out of DanceMasters based on their involvement. If you want to just snapshot all the different poses, the game is still fun and quite easy, but if you want to step it up and dance your ass off, try one of the harder difficulties. Even on easy, you can do the full choreography rather than only what’s required of you to score points. It all makes for a very liberating sense of open-ended freedom rarely seen in video games.
The visuals also edge out Dance Central’s chunky characters and claustrophobic back alleys with some truly stunning sets. All of the songs get their own fantastical lighting and pyrotechnics, as if you were watching a live performance at the Grammys. Also, I’m going to put this out there since I know I’m not the only one, but I kind of have a crush on the blond dancer. Now that Lara Croft looks like a sack of beaten potatoes, the world needs a new virtual dream girl to ogle. By default, the game displays a mirror image of yourself on screen. While I appreciate the effort, it distracts from the game's eye-popping aesthetics.
Two players can get in on the action locally, or four players can dance off online. I found the local multiplayer option to be fun but somewhat clumsy, as the on-screen indicators overlap with each other, causing confusion and more than a few physical collisions with your real-life dance partner. Despite some tricky spacing, this is an excellent party game, and one I'll be popping in the disc tray over Dance Central for the foreseeable future.
The one department Harmonix’s Dance Central outdoes its rival is with the Break It Down option, which allows players to get intimately acquainted with every possible dance move at their own pace. It’s a very thorough feature that is particularly helpful with the more formidable routines, and it’s sorely missed in DanceMasters. While Break It Down is a feature that should be standard in all similar games (and the lack of its inclusion in DanceMasters does diminish the game’s overall value), the songs are short enough that they’re easy to replay over and over again, just as you would practice actual choreography.
My main concern is the surprising lack of DLC. There have been no solid announcements about additional songs, and with only 30 on the disc (about half of which I don’t even like), DanceMasters is dangerously on the verge of being too little of a good thing. I think the game has more than enough R&B and Hip-Hop, but not enough pulse-pounding Club songs, and for once I’d actually consider paying whatever exorbitant amount of money Konami’s suit monkeys try to price it at (if there were achievements, of course).
Anyone can jump in and enjoy DanceMasters instantly, but those looking to truly master the game will find a long, rewarding process ahead of them. My patience for repeating the same thing over and over again is slim at best, but even I am motivated day in and day out to improve my dance abilities and work on getting a flawless AAA rank on all songs.