There was a time when rhythm gaming was all the rage. There was Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and then there was also Just Dance. A separate branch of rhythm games that flourished with the invention of the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect, dancing games had also earned my prejudice because I grouped them all together as: “not worth my time.” But then college happened. At the welcome party for freshmen, there was a Nintendo Wii running Just Dance 2. At the time I hadn’t the courage to dance, but I was unable to ignore the game. That day broke my prejudice for dancing games, really only for Just Dance. Still, I’m a dancing freak now– all thanks to college and this series.
Let’s get started with the first game in the series.
Just Dance (Wii — 2009)
In 2009, Ubisoft tried its hand at making a rhythm game of its own, and particularly a dancing game. Being made for the Wii, there was something different about Just Dance, different than other dancing games before it. Where, say, Dance Dance Revolution focused on the foot movements (often having to supply a special mat with their games) Just Dance focused on the hand motions. The Wiimote would sense the way you moved it and judge that motion in comparison to its programmed routine — which was simultaneously being performed by a model on screen.
The thing about Just Dance (as in the first game of the series) is that it’s very simple. Out of all the games (except maybe the kids’ versions) it has the least complex routines, and the backgrounds even less complex. This makes it my least favorite of the series, and the one of two standard versions I don’t own so far. When all the other games down the line are better (and many allow you to download the few good routines from this game) why go back? If you do want to go back that far try browsing at Gamestop or something, the Wii is just barely outdated; games for it should still be around somewhere.
Just Dance 2 (Wii — 2010)
This is where things got good. There was a giant step up when Ubisoft published Just Dance 2. Everything got better: better backgrounds, better dances, and even the addition of ‘duet’ dances. In Just Dance, there was only ever the single dancer for each routine, though you could have up to four people dancing at a time… if you had the space for that.
Just Dance 2 provided some songs with more than one dancer, therefore a duet routine, therefore multiple players didn’t all have to follow a single dancer all the time. Each routine also picked up gold moves (big moves for big points!) and there were some really fun songs in this one (“Toxic,” “Jump in the Line,” “Rasputin,” to name a few.)
Also releasing during the period where motion gaming was trying to prove to the world it was here to stay, Just Dance 2 was the first version to include a “sweat mode.” I never got into this, as the dances themselves were already sweat inducing enough, and I never play a game with the intent to work out. That just seems counter-intuitive to me.
If you’re looking for this game on the market, look at the same places you would for Just Dance, but look harder. This one was much more successful and popular than the first, and therefore more people are actually hanging on to it.
Just Dance 3 (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii — 2011)
Just Dance 3 (still Ubisoft, but now for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 thanks to the Move and Kinect systems) was the first version of this game I owned. Well technically, my sister owned. It took me a whole year to convince my family I was actually into this game, and then they go and give it to my sister for her birthday. But that didn’t stop me from becoming the undisputed champion of Just Dance 3.
So the game itself… Yeah, not much different than Just Dance 2. Really it is just the amped-up version of the second title. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t great additions in Just Dance 3. It is quite the contrary. Where Just Dance 2 added two dancers for a routine, this title increases that number to four.
Just Dance 3 is the advent of the ‘dance crew’ mode, where all four players can have their own part of the dance (most hilariously in “I was Made for Lovin’ You” by Kiss, where an 80’s metal band skips and dances about). Then there was also the Mashup, where moves from already established choreographies were spliced together to make a new routine for a single song.
But then there’s ‘Hold My Hand’ mode. For the Wii and Playstation 3 there are two dances that can be done by holding hands with the other players, and it is the most frustrating dance mode Ubisoft has imagined.
As to purchasing Just Dance 3, this title might be easier found online.
Just Dance 4 (Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U — 2012)
This one felt like a bit of a clunker to me. When I look over my collection of Just Dance games, I’m always drawn to the other titles I have over Just Dance 4. The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with it. I think what happened is that it was just too much of the same — it felt just like a little better version of Just Dance 3.
Granted, it had its pluses: the artwork and animation took another leap forward, and it had some really great songs. Plus it introduced ‘Extreme Mode’ choreographies. It was the only thing that got me to tolerate the song “What Makes You Beautiful.” This was probably the saving grace of the game, as ‘Extreme Mod’e was fun — having a choreography that only the true masters of the game could surmount, yeah, my cup of tea. In Just Dance at least.
What works against it though is that Just Dance 4 really blends into the background of this series. When I think Just Dance 2 or Just Dance 3, all my favorite routines come to mind. When I think of Just Dance 4, I get these vague images of its artwork style and pieces of choreography. I actually have to start looking into the song list before I remember all the good parts of this installment.
But if you want it, Just Dance 4 is probably still on the market somewhere. I haven’t seen it around like I have with Fire Emblem: Awakening, especially since the next installment is out, and Ubisoft is hard at work on next year’s already.
Just Dance 2014 (Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U — 2013)
Fortunately for Ubisoft, Just Dance 2014 made a great recovery for the series. It feels enough like its own thing, but is still enough of the good ole fun that it doesn’t fade into the background like Just Dance 4. Having yet further enhanced animation, Just Dance 2014 pushes the edges of creativity further by introducing some modes specific to each song. Sure Just Dance 4 had some song specific modes (like “Umbrella” by Rihanna with an actual umbrella) but Just Dance 2014 goes all out. Some songs have chairs, some have sumos, some have extreme versions, dance mashups, unlockable crew versions, battle modes (a feature introduced in the last game, but more noticeable here) and the new ‘On Stage’ routines. ‘On Stage’ is interesting because it is set up like an actual stage performance of the song: lead singer and two back-up dancers. It just all feels like a breath of fresh air after blending into the previous edition’s wallpaper.
Now, Just Dance 2014 has some really fun anecdotes. Like, for example, the entire name of the game is based on the Lady Gaga song, which they finally collected the rights to use. So, it took five games (and various spin-offs) to get “Just Dance” in a Just Dance game.
And then instead of adding a “5” to the end of this version’s title, they started with the Madden approach and started adding a time-stamp instead — especially confusing since it comes after Just Dance 4. With the way the eyes work, it’s easy to skip over the “201,” and read them both as Just Dance 4.
Lastly, Just Dance has always had to battle with the foul language in popular songs. They keep in alcohol references, while dropping swear words and the most obvious sexual references. But then they add “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry. Oddly enough, they censor the word “cherry” (the taste of her …. chapstick). It makes the song into a game of Mad Libs: who can think of the funniest word to fill in the blank?
Just Dance 2014 is definitely still on store shelves. The next installment shouldn’t come out until Black Friday time, and usually Just Dance games hang out on shelves several months after their successor arrives on the market.
That’s what I’ve got to say about the Just Dance series in its entirety. I skipped over all the special collections (such as Just Dance: Greatest Hits and Summer Mix) as they are simply remixes, and I ignored the kids versions, as I was way to old to play the kids version when I got into this series. Plus I doubt there’s anything profound to say about the kids versions, at least that I haven’t said here.
All in all, this makes a really great party game, and encourages us lazy types to get up on our feet and sweat a little — even if we never touch the ‘sweat’ versions. It’s great for girls, guys, younger folk, and the occasional old folk (who love to dance).
Photos via: Ubisoft and Just Dance