Just Dance 2016 is the most innocent of modern video game franchises, and for that it’s always had my respect. The glory days of dancing games are fading, but Ubisoft keeps everyone grooving along, having fun with music. In a market saturated with shooters and violent games, it’s nice to have something a little more casual.
But after nearly 20 mainline titles, spin-off “experiences” and special kid-friendly entries in just six years on the market, it’s beginning to feel like a certain other oversaturated annual franchise walling off content to be purchased separately – and that’s never fun.
Still, for its intended market, Just Dance 2016 offers up satisfactory casual dance gameplay with the same colourful, dazzling backdrops and faceless neon-lit avatars guiding players on-screen with impressive moves to get the best high-scores – just with a much less universally appealing tracklist and less songs overall to choose from in the base game.
In the 2016 edition, several new features and modes make their debut exclusively on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U versions – sorry, PS3 and Xbox 360 players. Dance Party is a co-operative mode where players dance together or against each other to reach the highest score, Dance Quest is a player vs. AI dance-off to 3 songs for the highest score, World Video Challenge allows players to upload their dance-offs on the Web to other players as challenges or showcases, and Showtime (which requires the Kinect or PlayStation camera) lets you lip-sync to select songs and create a music video (with some visual effects able to be used) out of the recording.
New modes are always welcome in any subsequent entry of an annual franchise, but all three of these feel like standard-fare and don’t really significantly add to the package of yesteryear too dramatically. Dance Quest especially felt very redundant, as you can just choose whatever three songs you want and dance to it against the computer rather than restrict yourself to three random titles.
Tracking players this time around is a lot more flexible across all platforms, thanks to the introduction of a Just Dance smartphone app, downloadable on Android, iOS and Windows devices. So if you don’t own a Kinect, PlayStation Camera or enough Wiimotes for friends, just bust out your phones, download the app and dance away.
I found the tracking to work fine using my iPhone, though it’s less ideal if you’re scared to drop your phone while dancing due to a lack of wrist straps – make sure to have enough space, especially if you have friends (up to six other players) dancing alongside you. It definitely is a welcome addition, making the game more accessible to more players than before, and helped me convince my girlfriend to join me in some fun co-op dance-offs.
Visually, Just Dance 2016 retains the same colourful, stimulating screens of faceless neon-lit avatars dancing to your song in question while players follow their movements and the on-screen prompts to score the best they can. It looks great and has a lot of personality and charm, especially considering the avatars change depending on the song. For example, “Uptown Funk” has a slick trio of dancers in suits straight out of the 1920’s, “Fancy” has pop-lock-and-drop it street-dancers guide you, and even Santa comes around for a go.
For players who love having the widest range of songs to dance to, get ready to be disappointed or happy, depending on your personal music tastes Just Dance 2016 comes with around 44 songs, with a few more remixes unlockable with UPlay account and points. While I acknowledge I’m not the target audience for this playlist, it’s hard not to feel like they’ve rarely ventured outside of mainstream pop or safe classics – from years past. It’s strange there’s only 8 songs that are actually from 2015, and makes it feel like no effort was put in to curate a playlist that captures and represents the latest and great dance songs.
So what’s Ubisoft’s quick fix for their lazy playlist curation? Just Dance Unlimited, an in-game subscription service necessary for gaining more (and better tracks) to dance to. There’s around 156 on-demand songs in Unlimited, including all songs from previous Just Dance games, and four new Dance Quests. It’s around $10 a month (there’s a free month trial that comes with copies of the game), with more to be added in the future. But it feels like another lame reminder of how much content you’re locked out of unless you fork out more cash.
Like other reviewers have pointed out, recent games like Guitar Hero Live offer free streaming services rather than gouge players further for songs that should be earned and unlockable (at the very least) in-game, so it’s definitely not something I appreciated in a party game staple. On the flip side, though, I can see Ubisoft ceasing annual physical releases in favour of encouraging gamers to just rely on its subscription service for new songs – though obviously this means no further addition or refinement to the franchise will be made.
Just Dance 2016 and its straightforward, annual goal of making gamers of all ages have fun dancing to a curated Top 40 party anthem playlist remains mostly intact, and the addition of the smartphone app to use as an tracking option is great. However, a weak lineup of tunes to strut your stuff to (only 8 from 2015 in the base package) and the emphasis on having to purchase a subscription to access a larger quantity of songs gives it less replayability from just the base package, and makes it feel lazy and more greedy than past entries.