Dance Central made quick work of awkward bowling, silly river rafting, and virtual pets to take the crown as the best launch game for Kinect last year. And rightly so - Harmonix' dance title was both accessible and challenging. And most importantly it was a game that justified the new technology. Gamers gave themselves lactic acid from fistpumping in Poker Face, and when Rock Band and Guitar are sooo 00's, and competitors like Just Dance are doing great, it's only natural that a lot of resources have been poured into the sequel.
The basic concept remains the same. It's all about dancing and being judged on your movements as you try and mimic a dancer on screen to the tunes of licensed music you won't find in Rock Band. It's not a genre of music I enjoy, but fans of club music are bound to be pleased with the 40 or so tracks sporting Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Missy Elliot, Britney Spears, and Bruno Mars - and there is more tracks to download. You can also (for a small fee) import your tracks from the previous game.
My first session starts out with a few simple side-to-side moves and claps, and it soon escalates with windmills, cocky shoulder shrugs, and booty moves that require a Fred Astaire or Michael Jackson clone to properly pull off. There is sweat and endorphins, and a growing will to improve.
But even if there is plenty of opportunity to chase high scores, and try and complete the most difficulty songs on hardest, the pleasure (at least for me) is mainly in its party appeal - to just dance through a few songs in good company and get your energy up. Dance Central 2 is not a game I play alone, and therefore the addition of a two player mode is most welcome.
The second player can jump in or out at any point, even mid song. Kinect recognises the player (at least nine out of ten times), which still feels a bit futuristic. There are game modes where rivalry and competition are at different levels of intensity. In Dance Battle you duel with your opponent in Spotlight sessions where you take turns to perform certain moves. There is also something called Free 4 All, where different moves appear and you and your partner can pick them off in any other and score bonus points.
The option of dancing with a friend is not just suitable for those how aim to excel at busting moves, but also makes the game more inviting to beginners and those who are unsure of their skills. If you're playing Dance Central 2 at a party, it may feel a bit more daunting to stand there alone and try and dance with two left feet, but with someone else at your side, at least there is someone to share the embarrassment.
There are once again an option to practice songs in the "Break it Down" mode, that has been improved since the last time. The game notes which parts of a song you are struggling with, and now you can skip ahead if you already know parts of the song to focus on what you need to learn. Just like before you can slow the song down when you practice - and speaking of training, there is a fitness mode with a calorie counter where you can burn off your excess fat in up to 40 minute long sessions.
Dance Central 2 also contains a career mode with a story, another addition since the first game. The idea of gradually unlocking songs is something that typically splits the player base in two - personally I like the concept, but I would still like to have all songs unlocked from the start.
The career mode is called Crew Challenge and you start out as a dance rookie and end up a professional dancer. Honestly, it's a rather dull story and the hunt for cred feels a bit forced, something that is also true for the "boss battles" where you face off against some cocky phenom. You probably won't spend all that much time in Crew Challenge, and thankfully you can play two people in this mode as well.
Dance Central 2 takes about the same leap as Harmonix did between the first and second Guitar Hero title, just enough of an improvement that it needs to be applauded. The third game probably needs some more fundamental new features, but the concept remains fresh and entertaining. Great Kinect titles don't come knocking on your door all that often, so if you enjoy shaking your booty and own a Kinect you should look into Dance Central 2.