The party videogame is where it’s at, proven with the successes of Buzz, Rock Band and Sony London Studios’ own SingStar series. Now Sony’s London Studios has traded the microphone for a Move controller and are hoping that DANCESTAR PARTY will muscle in on territory that Harmonix had previously claimed with Dance Central.
Exclusive to the PlayStation 3, DanceStar Party uses the PlayStation Move controller to track your movements as you cut a rug to more than forty dance floor classics. Once you have located your Move controller and wiped away the layer of dust from the lens of your PlayStation Eye, that is. Set-up is as hassle-free as it should be, and within a minute or two the (almost complete) track-list is ready for selection. The tracks are varied while remaining very Euro-centric. If you’ve heard a song on The X-Factor in recent years, then the chances are that it’s on this list. It’s a mostly modern list with a few oldies thrown in: Sony’s music catalogue has been well and truly plundered and it doesn’t disappoint.
Footloose, fancy free
Progression through DanceStar Party should be very familiar to anyone who has played the SingStar series: the presentation and general feel of the game differs only negligibly. Choose a song, match the moves that are played out on screen and, provided your body hits the right ‘notes’, you’re free to give yourself a round of applause and move on to the next selection. The Move wand, as always, does a sterling job of telling the Eye whether you’re doing the Twist or the Hustle, but if you don’t enter into the spirit of DanceStar Party you aren’t going to get much out of it. Yes, of course it’s possible to ‘cheat’ your way through the game. The Move wand and the PlayStation Eye, despite being the most precise motion controller double act out there, are not without their limits – they don’t ‘do’ legs, after all. But where’s the fun in that? While games like UFC Personal Trainer let you strap the controller to your thigh to track jogging speed, DanceStar Party lets both your left feet do as they please. Be a sport though, yeah?
There are three visual elements to help you keep your groove going. ‘Cue cards’ show a stick man, who informs you of the next position in the dance sequence. The dancing figure in the middle of the screen is playing the game how it is meant to be performed, never missing a beat, never putting a foot wrong (it’s a nice touch that the figure is also holding a move controller). And finally, there’s the music video of your chosen track in the background.
I found it initially problematic that my efforts were not represented on screen in any way other than an increasing score and flashes of ‘Awesome’ and ‘Flawless’ and never once ‘Poor’, honest. SingStar at least presented you with the wobbly line that was your own falsetto and gave you a visual indication of something to aim at. The lack of visual feedback felt hollow but not insurmountably so. It’s probably for the best that, despite the all-seeing PlayStation Eye recording your every move, your jiving efforts are not represented on screen as you dance. In your head you are Usher: Sony knows that the key to replaying DanceStar Party is in perpetuating the lie. Don’t tell the Emperor he’s naked. Don’t uncover the portrait in the attic. And for Pete’s sake, don’t let me see what I look like while I’m dancing. Ignorance is bliss.
Do yourself a favour and avert your eyes at the track’s end, though: there’s a slideshow and your sweaty self is the star.
Of course, this being a ‘party’ game, there’s no real career mode as such and there’s no actual way to ‘complete’ it. The difficulty levels presented are, again much like SingStar’s three levels of increasing vocal athleticism, designed to ease you into the game. Every song can be played at any level so newcomers to dancing games are best advised to walk through the steps slowly at first, before attempting to go toe-to-toe with Rhianna. At three or four tracks in though, I found the repetitive and limited moves had been mastered and I was ready to throw some shapes in the house of dance. DanceStar Party jogs along at a satisfying rate and once a routine has been completed, mere seconds of score tallying allow you to catch your breath before the opening bars of the next song.
The navi-controller that makes up the full move set is rarely used other than to scroll through the odd menu at the beginning of set-up, leaving your left hand (or right – cack-handed lefties are catered for during initial configuration) free to wield your SingStar microphone ready to attempt something that has eluded professionals Britney, Cheryl and Kylie: singing and dancing simultaneously. DanceStar Party is fully compatible with your USB or wireless mics from London Studio’s other big-hitter, SingStar. Your vocal performance has no bearing on your leaderboard-topping success, but sneering into the mic along with Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself rounds off the package and is a thoughtful touch.
Everybody dance now
So you dance because dancing is fun. It’s even more fun, and substantially less sad, when you are dancing side by side with a friend. Floor space notwithstanding, simultaneous multiplayer is where DanceStar comes alive. Matching one another’s moves, or taking turns in a ‘dance off’ during a well practised session of Born This Way is a genuine thrill. Does player two really need a Move wand? Hmm… two answers: yes with an ‘if’ and no with a ‘but’. Technically, anybody is free to dance with you as long as they steer clear from the view of the Eye. But no score will be recorded, no play will be logged and, possibly most importantly in terms of gameplay, no competition will be had. DanceStar Party is a Social Game, two very important words. Without a mate, it’s not social. Without a second wand, it’s not a game. They’re cheap. Do yourself a favour and get an extra one.
Budding choreographers can also take advantage of DanceStar Party’s Create a Dance mode and challenge friends to complete move sets of your own creation. Unfortunately the creation process here can be very fiddly as you choreograph a routine in a very stop/start fashion, with relatively long waits as the game ‘renders’ your routine and matches your moves to your chosen backing track’s BPM and rhythm. It can be done, it can be impressive, but only the most patient dancers need apply.
DanceStar Party is very, very fun. The motion sensing technology of PlayStation Move rarely gets confused which can lead to jarring experiences with other tech. Two people, two wands, jostling for elbow room while your outer wallflower gets a thorough trampling by your inner diva. Although coming to the dance game party quite late (just as Dance Central 2 hits Kinect), it has the floor to itself when it comes to the PlayStation 3 user-base if Ubisoft’s Just Dance series doesn’t bump your grind. Another feather in its bow is the utilisation of the Move controller to track the player: there isn’t a nanosecond of lag as every move is pixel perfect.
I’m sure that DanceStar will receive the same amount of support on the Playstation Store as its spiritual predecessor, SingStar, turning the initial forty song selection into a list that will easily run into the hundreds. DanceStar Party does everything it set out to do, everything you would expect it to, and a little more. Dancing is great exercise and Sony’s London Studios has included a calorie counting dance studio mode complete with tailored workouts that, although not to the high and comprehensive standard of actual fitness titles, still extends the life of DanceStar Party by turning it into something useful.
The limits of DanceStar Party only extend to how far your pocket can stretch. Multiple players require multiple Move controllers and although a forty-strong track list is significant to begin with, dipping into the PlayStation Store will become necessary to ensure a long and happy game life. This game isn’t a time sink but when you’re in the mood it calls to you. Even for just a few minutes at a time. Keep a lint-free cloth handy, you’ll be dusting this one off more times than you think.
If you know how often you like to dance, then you know how often you will play DanceStar Party. As a half-hour warm-up on a Friday night before the taxi arrives, DanceStar Party is well worth a purchase.
DanceStar Party, by Sony’s London Studios and published by SCEE, is out now on PlayStation 3.