Some may have thought that the rise of motion controllers – be it the wagglestick of the Wii or the laser tracking of Kinect – would spell the end of dance mats. Those large vinyl tiles covering the living room floor now seem a concept from a quite distant era, where strutting around on an oversized d-pad was the only way of unleashing the rhythm trapped inside you.
Around the country, alongside their Guitar Hero axes, charity shops began amassing ever-growing piles of Dance Dance Revolution emblazoned, vinyl mats. Youngsters traded in their DDR knock-offs and replaced them with games requiring distinct lesser amounts of plastic accessories.
“But why can’t we all just get along?” piped up some bright spark at Nordic Games. And so We Dance was born.
Combining both dance mats and motion controls into one entity brings a fair set of challenges, although the potential reward is great. Watching the trailers and seeing players quickstep their way around the 8-way mat, grinning inanely and swinging their arms in gay abandon is a coordinated sight to behold. A far cry from the stern-faced, iron concentration and swift-but-clinical leg motion displayed by the pinnacle of the DDR crowd; they look like they’re actually having fun.
If it sounds overwhelming, have no fear, for dancing with the Wiimote has been spun off into Easy difficulty and the mat alone is used in Medium. Only on Hard are both combined, by which point the mutual flailing of all your limbs will be measured, though they should at such point be moving in utter harmony. However, at every level We Dance falls short of delivering an experience that will succeed in coaxing you into any semblance of smiling choreography.
Even on easy, players are left to fend for themselves. A dancer styled as though from an iPod commercial looms large on screen, silhouetted as an item of high contrast, and takes you through the moves. At no point are you warned what the next move will be. He struts and grooves in time to the video playing behind him, but there is no indication as to what you should be doing other than copying him. The result is you dance as though separated by a poor transatlantic video link, appearing to suffer from terminal lag.
For me, this is the cardinal sin when it comes to dancing games. Prior warning allows players to become attuned with the moves required and feel like they’re taking part in the routine. Offer no indication as to what’s next, how long the move will continue for or even what is considered proper form, and there’s a good chance they’ll feel out of time and foolish.
Not even the included dance school helps to address the problems. It does show you what moves to bust, but in such a way that it becomes illogical. Whilst the requisite moves are displayed below, the Apple dancer continues as normal above, not pausing for you to keep up or waiting for a particular block of moves to complete, he’ll carry on regardless. You’re then left with a series of moves to execute yet with no frame of reference, timing or comparison to work against.
Playing on the mat is thankfully better, but equally flawed. Though jumping out a rhythm to Ace of Base did have me on the cusp of grinning – if it wasn’t for my furrowed brow of concentration – the concept as a whole has simultaneously been made too hard and yet too stagnant.
The choice of an 8-way mat is just too much. We Dance’s chosen method for indicating which squares to hop to doesn’t help, either, obscuring each other and lacking the ability to infer timing. Staring at the screen and then attempting to operate your legs when such comparative precision is required is not intuitive or scalable, and that’s prior even to dancing with both accessories.
Inexplicably, these periods of rapid movement are then interspersed with long sections of inactivity or requests to “freestyle”. One particular Pendulum track – lasting three-and-a-half minutes – saw me standing idle for a combined total of a minute-and-a-half, sparking genuine boredom. With a thumping track backing me, why am I not being asked to move?
We Dance’s saving grace is the broad range of music it can offer, pitched well to appeal to many different generations and tastes. There are pockets of music from the 70s right up to modern day, indie, early 90s dance, cheese, and a playlist that would be at home at any wedding reception, encouraging even Auntie Agnes to join in.
It’s not enough to save the experience as a whole, however. Given a greater emphasis on guiding the player, a “traditional” dance mat and more commitment to an involving dance routine for both arms and legs, We Dance could have been something. As it stands, there are far greater and more rewarding prospects out there deserving of your time.
Sorry, Oxfam. Here’s another one for your collection.