Somewhat improbably, the Just Dance series – which has seen phenomenal success in the decade since the first game was released – has its origins in a rhythm minigame featured in Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party for the Wii (thanks, Wikipedia!). If it weren’t for those pesky, very divisive Rabbids, the series may never have existed at all.
I’m incredibly late to the party with this series. It’s ballooned into a seemingly unstoppable behemoth over the years, spreading its wings and launching from its home on the Wii over to other consoles, with a variety of features added in such as camera functionality on the consoles that could take advantage of this, and even the ability to use your mobile phone as a controller. It also spawned a number of spin-offs, including kid-friendly versions that themselves even spun off into Disney-specific games as well.
As I’ve recently become reacquainted with my Wii – perhaps now playing it even more than I did back when it was released – through my bargain hunting shenanigans, I finally decided to give Just Dance a try. The first one was the cheapest and only cost a few quid, so why not give it a go? Worst case, I could trade it back in and it would only have ended up costing me a quid or so. A few of my friends had been really into the series over the years, but I just wasn’t sure and – due to its mixed to negative critical reaction – had always ignored it.
I tried it and – well, I wasn’t entirely sold. Played entirely with a single Wii remote, the game can only really track the movement of one hand – and even then, especially as it doesn’t support Motion Plus, the tracking is really imprecise and sporadically successful. It’s not difficult to just shake or turn the remote at certain points and get a perfect score, without dancing at all. It seemed way too simple to be of any interest, with little in the way of feeling as if you could progress and actually get good at the game.
However, I played with other people who either didn’t realise this or didn’t care, and everything changed. With everyone throwing shapes – not always particularly accurate ones, but shapes nonetheless – and having a giggle, you suddenly realise that it’s this very simplicity that made Just Dance perfect for an audience who weren’t particularly worried about how gamified their dancing was; they were just looking to have some fun. Isn’t that what gaming should be about?
The first game, then, is very basic and feels very barebones, but it certainly had a charm for players looking for multiplayer fun that didn’t just consist of being annoyed at that one experienced player dominating proceedings; it generally didn’t matter who did ‘best’ at Just Dance, just that everyone – regardless of age and experience – could enjoy playing.
It was because of the fun I eventually had with Just Dance that I was tempted to try out the Just Dance 2019 demo on Switch. Though limited, naturally, it gave me a good idea of how the controls worked with the JoyCon and how the presentation had evolved over the years since the first game was released. In both control and visual style, surprisingly little had changed – however, this could be because the layers of extra features that built up on consoles using Kinect or the Wii U controller’s camera, for example, have been removed, giving the game a more back-to-basics feel.
The game still only tracks the movement of one controller and therefore, just one hand – though the Switch’s HD rumble is used to good effect; also, accuracy definitely did seem to be higher and the tracking more consistent than I was used to with the Wii version.
The visuals still have the dayglo dancers with near-featureless faces, albeit now with the colours, choreography and backgrounds turned up to 11 – with none of the fuzziness of the original Wii’s resolution (although there’s a bit more on that later).
I had fun, but with the game sat at £49.99 on the eShop, it wasn’t fifty quid worth of fun, you know? The song selection in the full game also seemed very hit and miss too – and with only 40 included (which, years ago, would have felt like an awful lot – but given the lack of songs appealing to this particular middle-aged gamer, it seemed very threadbare), it just didn’t seem like a lot of value. Sure, I’d had an awful lot of fun with the first game, especially in multiplayer – but that was at a drastically lower price point.
Another thing to consider was that, though extra songs were available – taking the volume of available songs past 400 – these were available only via subscription to Just Dance Unlimited. Though this represents excellent value, with access to the entire library of songs for a year being priced at £19.99 (and a month of access was included for free with the purchase of the full game), it seemed pretty cheeky of UbiSoft to expect players to pay fifty quid for the full game and then a further twenty (per year) for access to the full song library (though other, cheaper, shorter-duration subscription options are available).
Thanks to the eShop sale and an until-now hoarded collection of Gold Points, however, I was finally persuaded to purchase Just Dance 2019 (£12.49 for the full game, albeit with most of that reduced even further thanks to the Gold Points I’d been collecting).
My first impressions from the demo stood up with the main game, mostly. However, what was new to me was the ‘Dancer Card’, essentially your in-game profile and avatar which you use when you play. This levels up as you play and you earn ‘Mojo’ for your dances; varying amounts depending on how well you do. Much is locked off when you first play, with a very restricted number of songs and features, so as to ensure you’re not overwhelmed by all of the options when you start. The tutorial is clear and, as features are unlocked, the ability to access Just Dance Unlimited songs is also granted (remember, this is given to you as a free trial for a month when you purchase the base game).
The Mojo points that you earn can be spent in a gacha machine, which dispenses capsules for 100 Mojo at a time. These capsules contain artwork, extra dances for certain songs, new avatars and more besides. Just this aspect of the game is very compelling, with more than 200 items to unlock when you begin and Mojo earned at a fairly swift rate. Daily tasks are given in order to accrue Mojo even faster, further heightening the compulsion to play.
Online functionality is present here, with global rankings on each song and also online play, where you’ll compete in real time against other dancers. Though there’s occasionally some issues with the song and visuals buffering (and your internet connection will mean that your personal experience here will vary), it’s generally an excellently implemented addition.
The aforementioned buffering also comes into play when playing a song from the Just Dance Unlimited selection, which – unlike the songs included with the game – are seemingly streamed. I’ve had times where it’s taken the visuals a minute or two to properly kick in, with a fuzzy look to them that would have shamed even the original Wii version. Once or twice I’ve had songs pause entirely too, again due to this buffering. However, such instances have been few and far between, thankfully – but if your internet connection is known for being slow or unreliable, it’s worth checking out the performance of the Unlimited songs as much as you can before committing to a subscription.
Given the cost I paid for the ‘full’ game, I will have no qualms with paying for a full year’s subscription to Just Dance Unlimited – which, as mentioned above, costs £19.99 (this will vary by region of course, but I believe it’s similarly good value for money elsewhere). As also mentioned above, I don’t think the base game is worth £49.99, given the limited number of songs – personally, I think there should be a year’s worth of Unlimited included if purchased at full price. I get that UbiSoft don’t have any control over what retailers sell their physical stock for (which could lead to users getting Unlimited subscriptions at a much-reduced priced – but if the base game was more sensibly priced throughout, I can imagine sales being even higher, not to mention the take-up of Unlimited being a lot stronger overall (though, admittedly, I have no idea what percentage of users do go for a full year’s subscription even when paying full price). Another factor I haven’t yet mentioned is that access to Just Dance Unlimited can be purchased in far smaller chunks – it goes down to a day pass, for example – but given the pricing model, it really does make sense to go for the year’s access straight off (which of course, is fully intentional on UbiSoft’s part).
There’s a Kids mode included; there have been full spin-offs available aimed just at Kids, but here it’s a separate mode included with the base game. This adds a simplified menu, along with more relaxed scoring and positive encouragement and access only to the more child friendly songs in the library. Access to songs via Just Dance Unlimited is available if access has been purchased, though of course this will also be limited to the kid-friendly choices.
HD rumble is utilised well, with the JoyCons pulsing to the beat of the song – though this can be turned off if you choose. There’s a Sweat mode, activated by pressing X on the song menu, which counts down time remaining in the song and counts your calories as you play. Useful for keep fit fanatics such as myself; however, I was dismayed to see how few calories were burned during even the most intense of dance routines!
The song selection is hugely eclectic, especially when Unlimited access is factored in; I was surprised to see the Tetris and Pac-Man themes here, with some seriously nutty videos and dances for them; both are imaginatively choreographed to fit the theme, with game-appropriate visuals and dancers to boot.
This is true of the songs and dances overall; the bright, almost impossibly colourful visuals are striking in their design and UbiSoft should be applauded for the imagination that’s gone into the design of the videos and the general look of the dancers. Even with some of the more popular songs that feel somewhat generic to me (more recent pop songs, for example), the visual accompaniment tends to be pretty dazzling and the dances all feel unique and often quite surreal, with a number of crazy costumes being worn by the dancers in-game.
There are plenty of group dances, where you can choose which dancer to follow from a selection of two, three or four dancers in the video; this is great not just for multiplayer sessions, but also for extending the challenge and longevity in single player – often the dancers each have vastly different routines to each other.
Though you can still play Just Dance by wiggling or shaking the JoyCon at the appropriate times – and the fact that you only use one controller still feels like a bit of a throwback, especially given that every Switch is supplied with two JoyCons – if you get into the spirit and try to follow the routines, there’s a huge amount of satisfaction to be gleaned from Just Dance. With the collection of extra items being so compelling – and the availability of daily tasks can be collected for bonus Mojo and the fact that just playing earns Mojo at a steady rate too, there’s a real addictiveness to the proceedings that I didn’t expect.
There may be less features than series veterans may be expecting, but Just Dance 2019 is a fantastic jumping on point for players who either haven’t played for a long time or haven’t played the series at all – with one caveat: I genuinely don’t think, despite all of the fun that can be had with the game, that the base game is worth full price. However, the game’s perennial popularity probably proves otherwise and it’s just stragglers like me they’re trying to tempt into the fold.
I do think, however, that without the addition of Just Dance Unlimited, the song selection is not appropriate for a £49.99 title – but unless you’re downloading the game during the times when it’s full price, you’re unlikely to need to pay that for it; physical copies of Just Dance 2019 are now much cheaper, perhaps preparing for the arrival of Just Dance 2020 in a few months time.
I struggle to see how I’ll be tempted to buy another version of the game though, especially when the major change is likely to just be which songs are included with the base game. It’ll take an awful lot to get me to upgrade to the new game at this stage – especially as one of the most appealing things I’ve found about Just Dance 2019 is its simplicity, even despite the number of features available. I’m not sure that any number of extra features would be enough to bring me over at full price, given how much I’ve found on offer with the 2019 version. That said, many players of Just Dance 2019 have had it since last October and may well be clamouring for more content and additional features.
That remains to be seen though, for me at least. As it stands, I’m infatuated with Just Dance 2019; if you’d told me that would be the case even six months ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. The fact that a middle-aged man can say that – unlikely the type of person you’d imagine is the target audience for Just Dance – is surely a huge recommendation for the game, which seems to have widened its appeal to being pretty damn inclusive for all players, regardless of age or ability. Though it may well have reached this level of universal appeal many years ago, perhaps the fact that I’ve been drawn in now, after successfully ignoring the series for a decade, and that I’ve found such a compelling experience here speaks volumes; this is excellent stuff.
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