Ubisoft / Ubisoft Paris
Switch, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U, PC (Switch version reviewed)
There’s no snobbery on this site. You might be the sort of person who will never like Just Dance, and if it isn’t your cup of tea then that’s fair enough.
The reality, though, is that this is a series that had sold 40 million copies by 2013, so dismissing it outright just because it isn’t a shooter or a platformer is a type of elitism that doesn’t fly here.
Every game deserves a fair review, so that’s what you’re getting. Check your prejudices at the door (and, given some of the songs here, your pride as well) and let’s get jiggy as fuck.
Just Dance 2017 is the eighth annual instalment in Ubisoft’s dance ‘em up series. It was already released on other formats last October, and now a port is launching alongside the Switch.
In fact, given that it’s one of the few series that’s still released on Wii every year, Just Dance 2017 is that rarest of beasts: a game released across three system generations (Wii, Wii U and Switch).
If the series has somehow passed you by until this point, the concept is simple: you and up to five of your friends pick a song from the selection available, then follow the actions of the on-screen dancer to boogie along to the beat.
As you play your movements are tracked and you’re rated ‘OK’, ‘Good’ or ‘Perfect’ depending on how well you perform each move.
That’s the idea on paper (well, on a screen), but how well it’s actually executed really depends on your expectations from the game.
As a party game, there’s a reason it’s popular. Some people find dancing fun, and this is a way to perform choreographed dances with your friends and in doing so probably look cooler than you would randomly swaying at a nightclub.
That’s why the game’s a staple among sleepovers, house parties and student dorms: it’s harmless entertainment and easy to play.
If you’re a serious gamer though and you’re genuinely invested in trying to get high scores on each dance, you can pretty much forget it: it just isn’t accurate enough.
You see, there have been two flavours of Just Dance games over the years: motion control ones and camera control ones.
The motion control versions started with the original Wii game, which used the Wii Remote to track your motions. This carried over to the PS3 (with the PlayStation Move) and Wii U versions.
The camera ones, meanwhile, made use of the likes of the Xbox Kinect and Sony’s PlayStation Camera to track your movements instead.
In general, the camera versions are the most accurate (though still not perfect), since they observe your entire body as you dance. The motion control versions are far less precise, making you hold a single controller and using its gyros to roughly track the movement of just your right hand.
As you may have guessed given its lack of camera, the Switch version is motion controlled, making you hold a single JoyCon in your right hand and using its built-in accelerometers.
This means that no matter what the rest of your body is doing, it’s what your right hand does that makes all the difference. Story of my life, mate.
Annoyingly, as was the case when playing the game with a Wii Remote or a PlayStation Move, even your right hand can’t be properly tracked using just accelerometers and gyros.
At times just shaking the JoyCon was enough for me to get a ‘perfect’ rating for a move, while at other times even though I’d emulated the move flawlessly (usually during slower movements) I only got an ‘OK’, which is Just Dance speak for “you fucked it, chief”.
Here’s the thing: for most of Just Dance’s audience, this won’t be an issue. Most people play the game to, well, just dance – the score they get is of no interest.
Others – the sleepover crew, mostly – probably do care about the score but see it as just a bit of fun, rather than an Overwatch session.
For them, it’s the modern equivalent of daft playground shit like writing two friends’ names and counting the letters in them to see if they’d make a perfect couple: the result is completely random but they get a laugh out of it anyway.
And then there are the folk like me, with the Guitar Hero mentality of wanting to get five star ratings for every song.
If this is you, don’t bother: it’s nigh-on impossible to do this without reverse-engineering the scoring system on every song and trying to discover exactly what JoyCon motion it’s expecting for a Perfect.
Ubisoft seems to have accepted this over the years, to be fair. In the past some of its unlockables required you to get certain scores in each song, whereas now you get them by simply playing songs for the first time or hitting cumulative totals.
The main meat of the game is the titular Just Dance mode. Choose a song from the 40 available, dance like a prick, choose another one, repeat until you’re exhausted or you realise people are watching you through the window.
(I refuse to say which category I fall into, but if you were one of the two teenage girls walking down my street who saw me getting down to Shakira last night, mind your own fucking beeswax.)
The 40 tracks available are a mixed bunch, ranging from modern pop hits – yer man Bieber’s in there with Sorry, as is yer other man Zayn with Like I Would – to older songs, i.e. the ones I recognise.
Don’t Stop Me Now? Brilliant. I Love Rock N Roll? Belter. What Is Love by Haddaway? Well, I’d need to close the curtains, but yup, count me in.
As this little montage I’ve put together shows there’s also a smattering of J-Pop in there with appearances by Hatsune Miku and some other lassie dancing with a blob:
As well as the main Just Dance mode there are a few other options available to mix things up a little. The biggest of these is Just Dance Unlimited, a subscription service which lets you choose from a wider range of songs (over 200) and stream them in.
At the time of writing this feature wasn’t available (the Switch’s online servers haven’t been ‘switched’ on yet), but I’ve tried it on other formats and it works exactly as you’d expect.
You get three months of Just Dance Unlimited free when you first start it up, so that’s nice. After that you’re talking around $39.99 a year.
Other returning modes include Sweat (a set of playlists with a calorie counter telling you many you’ll burn off if you perform the dances properly) and Dance Quests, an attempt to give the track list some sort of progression by grouping them into themes and making you beat one setlist before you can access the next.
Finally, new to the series is Just Dance Machine, in which a pair of aliens beam you aboard their spaceship and make you dance in a bunch of different styles so they can power their spaceship. It’s so fucking French it’s unreal.
It’s also probably the weakest mode in the game, though thankfully it only takes an hour or so to ‘complete’ by filling the aliens’ energy tank to 100%.
In all, Just Dance is somewhat predictably the same game it ever was, and as such brings with it the same advantages and drawbacks it’s had ever since the first Wii game launched back in 2009.
If you just enjoy dancing and couldn’t give a shit about trying to beat your best score, it’s another helping of fun tracks to jig along to, and three free months of Just Dance Unlimited is welcome too.
If you’re a more traditional gamer though – especially if you’re a fan of rhythm action games and won’t rest until you five-star every song – it may not be for you. A single JoyCon tracking a single hand’s movements is nowhere near accurate enough, and you may as well roll a dice to see what score you’ll get.
A word of advice, though. If you fall into the former category and are tempted to get Just Dance 2017, get it on any system other than the Switch.
While it’s easily available for £19.99 on every single other format (Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4), the classic ‘new system syndrome’ means the price of the Switch version – which is identical to the others except for a single exclusive track on Just Dance Unlimited – is a ball-tightening £49.99.
Just Dance is available on Switch on 3 March, and is out now on Wii U, Wii, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from Nintendo. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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It’s mental that it’s being released on Wii, Wii U and Switch. Imagine a game being released on SNES, N64 and Gamecube at the same time. (Great review, by the way)
I just so much prefer the Camera version. Kinda wish they would release a cellphone app version or something, but I can probably pick up a cheap 360 at this point if I really want to play it.
I do enjoy a bit of video game dancing, but I always found the Dance Central games to be more satisfying as games to play, as the tracking on them was better for chasing star ratings and high scores. It has been quite challenging to persuade my friends to come over for a dance party that would suit a Just Dance game, but I can always see the fun in it.