From the people who brought you the amazing We Sing games, We Dance is publisher Nordic Games' first attempt at bringing the “We” brand into the dancing arena. But while Just Dance-style games are ten a penny at the moment (which albeit is no bad thing, as they’re a lot of fun to play), and games like Dance Central have tried to offer a stricter, more realistic approach to dancing, by tracking your body using a camera, We Dance instead presents an intriguing mixture of the two.
If you’re anything like us, when you’re playing Just Dance, you’ll often find yourself fighting the urge to not really, well, play along. When waving your arms around is all that’s required, and all that gets scored, you'll find yourself either half-heartedly shuffling your feet around, or simply not moving them at all. If you’re mega lazy, you may even just move the one arm. And while Dance Central tried to combat that, by offering full body tracking through Kinect, meaning you had to move your feet, or risk missing out on a huge helping of points, it often had problems judging exactly what you were doing, and you had to be 100% accurate – and live in a converted barn - if you wanted the game to successfully pick up your moves. Wanting to offer a more immersive dance experience than Just Dance, while being mindful of the stupid space requirements of Kinect, We Dance takes a rather ingenious approach, by letting you use both a dance mat, and a Wii Remote, to track what both your hands and feet are doing.
As we seem to be developing something of a reputation as a site that’s not afraid to get up and have a go, regardless of whether we’ll make a fool of ourselves, we were invited down to London recently for a first look hands- (and feet)-on with the game (it’s so top secret, there haven’t even been any screens released yet!). And, we’re pleased to say – it’s fantastic!
If you’ve played a We Sing game before, you’ll likely know what’s waiting for you inside – a large helping of polish, some simple, but addictive gameplay that anyone can jump into, and, most importantly, a whole host of incredible songs. Scrolling through the We Dance setlist, we must have sounded like we were going a bit crazy, as practically every song we came across garnered the same reaction: “Why wasn’t that in Just Dance?” But the thing is, it’s true. The Macarena. YMCA. Kung Fu Fighting. Jai Ho! We're surprised Night Fever/Staying Alive isn't in there. From top to bottom, the setlist is packed with songs that you’ll feel like getting up and dancing along to – not obscure Latin pop like Dance Central. From party classics, to modern “toons” for the kiddie winks, there’s something to make everyone, young, old, and anything in between want to join in - and in a party game like We Dance, that's exactly what you're looking for.
When you choose a song, you’ll be presented with three difficulty levels - Easy, Medium, and Hard. Easy sees you wanging the Wii Remote around, Just Dance style, and works in an incredibly similar way – which is presumably why it’s down as the easy mode, as it’s the one people will be most used to. Simply grab hold of your Wii Remote, and copy the silhouetted on screen character's dance moves with your arms, and you'll start racking up points. If you find yourself struggling to work out exactly what you're meant to be doing, there's an option in the pause menu that'll let you turn on "gestures", which are little icons that scroll past, breaking each move down into its constituent parts, to give you a Just Dance style impression of exactly where your arms are meant to be at any one time. In our experience though, these were largely un-needed, as its every bit as easy, if not easier, to just follow the silhouetted dance man and/or woman.
On medium, you’ll be able to forget all about gestures, as this mode uses only the dance mat – although much like the rest of the game, even the dance mat isn’t the same as we’ve been used to. If you’ve ever played a game with a dance mat before, you’ll likely be used to the standard, four way mat, with arrows laid out facing your North, East, South and West. For We Dance, however, things have been cranked up a notch, as the mat now has eight directions on it, with the various arrows still laid out like a compass, only now you have North-East, etc. It sounds like a small change, but it really affects the routines you'll be doing in the game, as you’ll end up moving both feet forwards and backwards during the songs, and actually dancing around the mat a lot more, rather than staying practically still in the middle.
Medium works a little bit differently to other dance mat games, as rather than tracking arrows coming down the screen, they instead simply grow towards the front of it, increasing in size until they fill their respective square, which is your cue to tread on them. It can take a bit of getting used to, as it's initially a bit tricky to get the timing just right, but within a few tracks, you'll be stepping around like a pro - and feeling good doing it. In another interesting twist, the icons in We Dance are coloured, with solid blue, or solid pink icons indicating you’re meant to use your left or right foot respectively, while an icon that’s half blue, and half pink wants you to jump, two footed in the relevant direction. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from simply ignoring this and dancing how you want to, but a) that’d be less fun, and b) using the suggested feet makes your job a lot easier, as you’ll be facing the right direction for the next movements. The only problem we really had with the dance mat mode was when it came to trying to tell whether the game wants you to do a split jump, and put your feet on two different arrows at the same time, or whether it just wanted you to press two arrows one after the other. At the moment, there’s no way to really tell whether you're meant to jump together, or do one after the other, other than simply judging the rate at which the two squares are increasing in size towards you - which is about as hard as it sounds. A different icon, or different colour square would be a huge help here – hopefully it’s not too late for the change to be made.
Should you choose to play in Hard mode, however, not only are you approaching being certifiably insane, but you’ll be required to put the two sets of movements together, at the same time. Using both your hands, and your feet to dance, you’ll have to track both sets of movements, and harder still, actually do them properly, if you want to get any points. It’s as definitely as hard as it sounds to begin with, but surprisingly, we actually found ourselves picking it up (albeit not perfectly) pretty fast. Luckily, We Dance has been pretty sensibly designed, as tracking tracking both sets of moves at once is fairly straightforward. In Hard mode, the silhouette of the person you’re meant to be copying the arm movements of is positioned behind (but never covered by) the grid that tells you where your feet have to go, meaning it's entirely possible to do both at once (it's a lot easier to understand when you see it in person). We were advised that Hard mode was recommended for people who’ve practically memorised the hand gestures from Medium (as all hard does is stick the two bits together) – but that didn’t stop us jumping in at the deep end, when we were finally let loose on the game.
Being children of the late 80s, and therefore growing up in the 90s, we jumped into some classic 90s pop, with the Spice Girls – Spice up your Life. On Hard. If only we knew what we were letting ourselves in for. Bombarded with a stream of icons and gestures, we quickly admitted defeat, and retreated to the relative safety and normalcy of Easy mode. This was better. Following the Just Dance style pictures and icons, it was pretty easy to tell what you’re meant to do – and, better yet, the dance moves seemed to fit with the music almost perfectly. Everything gelled together, and we actually did quite well, as we jigged about like we hadn't a care in the world! The only thing that caught us out a little bit was when it popped up saying “clap”, as we weren’t entirely sure what we had to do – it turns out it’s not looking for a physical clap, but rather for you to gesture with the Wii Remote as though you’re clapping. We actually liked this so much, we played the song six times in a row – even if the majority of those were in the tutorial mode, as we tried to nail the moves we kept missing...
Buoyed by our success, we changed track back to Hard again, convinced we’d stand a better chance if we just attempted a different song. Picking a song we thought we’d stand a reasonable chance at, we went for the YMCA. It turned out to be a good choice. We already had a good idea of what the arm moves were going to be – at least for the chorus – and the majority of the rest of the song featured some heavy repetition of moves, which meant you quickly figured out what to expect next. With some fairly simple dance mat moves, it was a lot of fun to play, and even the arm moves, from the iconic “YMCA” bit, to simply moving your arm across in an arc, wagging your finger at the crowd during the “Young man” section, blended perfectly with the song. Even on Hard, this one was easy to pick up and play - which surprised us, to say the least.
Switching it over to Medium, to take some of the pressure off our poor brains, we quickly remembered why we liked dance mat games, and quite how much we miss them. With eight directions on offer, We Dance retains its link to the dance mat games of old, while also moving them into the future. Just by following the arrows as they grow on your screen, you’ll find yourself dancing forwards, backwards, and even round in circles, and it all works incredibly well – although possibly never more so than in OK Go – Here it Goes Again. With an incredibly active video that famously saw the band dancing across some treadmills (as seen on YouTube), we knew this was going to be an active song, but we had no idea quite how active. Asking you to do two footed jumps around the mat in several sections, all while waving your arms like a lunatic, this is a song that stays fairly close to the video, yet’ll take years off your life – and inches off your waist – if you manage to see it through to the end.
While blending the two sections together for Hard mode may sound a bit on the tricky side, it’s actually a lot easier than it sounds – due in part to the fact that your arms tend to swing in the way they’re meant to be going when you’re dancing anyway. Get into the dancing properly, keep jumping around, and you’ll find yourself absent mindedly swinging your arms around anyway, ready to destroy any innocent glasses that may have had the misfortune of being placed within reach of your flailing hands. Either way, you get good marks for dancing around like a prat, and that’s always good.
With sweat pouring out of our every orifice (sorry), we decided to finish up on Jai Ho!, the famous semi-bollywood track that was brought to fame in the smash hit Slumdog Millionaire. Again, it’s a song that you have a good idea in your head of how the dance might go, and we can confirm it’s every bit as exhausting as you might imagine.
Having played for two hours solid, sampled practically every mode in the game, and played through a wide selection of the songs, we were absolutely shattered – more than we’ve ever been playing any other dancing game. Playing We Dance is probably on a par, or even more energetic than Zumba Fitness. Drenched with sweat, and with our legs feeling like they were about to give way, we went to say goodbye to our hosts (sorry, Ali), and made our way back to the station to rest our aching legs. If we didn’t have to catch a train, we’d have probably stayed a lot longer. With an immense setlist, the same pick up and play gameplay we’ve come to know and love from the “We” series, and a wide range of incredibly energetic dance routines, We Dance is shaping up to be one of the best dancing games ever. Making you use your whole body without requiring you to knock down your living room wall (we’re looking at you Kinect), We Dance is one anyone with even a slight interest in dancing should keep an eye on. Competitively priced, with a release set for Q3 2011 (or Autumn, if you’d prefer), we’re already looking forward to getting the chance to get stuck into the game all over again. You should be too.