Ubisoft's Just Dance came out of nowhere last year and was promptly the target of filth and excrement flung by the core gamer contingent, decrying it as yet another casual suck-fest as they put their controllers down between rounds of the Call of Duty. And that crowd wasn't entirely off base; to them, Just Dance seemed to offer virtually nothing of interest.
But Just Dance wasn't made for them. It was made for everyone else, the vast Blue Ocean audience that Nintendo set out to conquer with the Wii, and the game became a huge sales success for months on end, joining the likes of Wii Play and Mario Kart as a monthly Top 10 sales staple.
Contrary to popular belief on gaming forums, its success wasn't a fluke: despite some motion detecting issues and pretty basic feature set, Just Dance turned out to be a pretty fun time if you let it do its thing without judgement. One year later, Ubisoft is back with a sequel that boasts improved gesture detection, more songs, more modes and a stronger presentation to make one of the better Wii games to bust out at a party.
Just Dance 2 is best described as a dance karaoke game: you don't need to be a very good dancer to have a good time, and half the fun comes from watching others booty-shake to one of the 40+ pop songs in its repertoire. Each of these has its own special choreography of moves that range from goofy to kind of cool – you're more likely to learn a thing or two here to help make you a more desirable dance partner in real life than through the spastic marchings of a Dance Dance Revolution. The basic idea is to treat the on-screen dancers — tripped-out videos of real people dancing — as if they were your reflection in a mirror, copying and learning moves that are then registered by the game through the motions of the Wii Remote in your hand.
In-song, the game follows the established formula of other music-based games like Guitar Hero or Rock Band: apart from the dancers doing their thing, a horizontal highway on the bottom tells you what move is coming up, and you're ranked in points depending on how well the game thinks you pulled off the move and awarded stars at the end of the routine based on your performance. To get everyone in on the fun, song lyrics scroll by on the bottom of the screen in case you or your audience, which will surely gather round once it sees you pacing a sassy arm-pump round your living room, feels like singing along. For the dancers, a new, extremely helpful indicator has been added that colours one of the on-screen dancer's hands to show where your Remote should be. This is a nigh-indispensable addition, especially for weaving duet numbers.
The presentation goes out of its way to cut out any potential intimidation and be as inviting as possible to people who don't typically interface with a game controller. Every menu is large, chunky and bedazzled in glitter, and once in a song a vibrant neo-80s colour scheme takes over the dancers and scenery. The game's visually distinct, light-hearted fun comes across as cheesy and feels like it knows full well what the hell is going on. In addition, the full soundtrack is wisely open from the start, eliminating any need to trudge through an unnecessary career progression just to get to that Justice track you like.
And the soundtrack, despite the still curiously absent Lady Gaga track by which the game title seems to be influenced, is full of small wonders. Even if your heart is frozen to pop music you'll undoubtedly find something of worth when it's your turn to strut your stuff. With tunes ranging from Rihanna to Blondie, Vampire Weekend to James Brown, Madonna to Harry Belafonte and with an amazing stop at the "Monster Mash," you'll be channeling Carlton Banks one way or another. Especially during "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," since it actually includes that iconic move. While the first game was limited to what came on the disc, this sequel includes a Pay & Play shop for downloading new songs, which can stream either from your console storage or an SD card. Songs are priced at 300 Wii Points, with the exception of a free Katy Perry tune, which seems a bit steep but not outrageously so if your heart is set on whatever makes it up there. Whether Ubisoft will update the shop regularly remains to be seen, but it's an encouraging step for longevity at least.
Besides the regular ol' dance mode, you can pull in a partner for duets or take on some friends in Simon Says or a few other mixer modes. The closest Just Dance 2 gets to a typical career mode is Just Sweat, an exercise program that tracks Sweat points over a period of time. It's novel, and we suppose that it might encourage people to pop in the game more often, but it seems somewhat needless given what the rest of the game sets out to do; it's almost too serious for a game where Frankenstein's Monster pops off his neon head and ambles about, expecting you to do the same in your living room.
The biggest notch against Just Dance 2, though, is the nebulous scoring. It's somewhat of a mystery how exactly the game measures your accuracy, be it perhaps a combination of timing and specific direction readings, but it's somewhat scattershot. You can't just waggle the controller in any which way and expect to do particularly well, and repeat plays and learning of routines result in improved final tallies, but at the same time we experienced more than a few dance battles with questionable end results. Only here would your intrepid reviewer come out on top in a swagger-off to "Crazy In Love" against an opponent who has spent many years on a competitive hip-hop dance team. Had you seen the actual goings-on in our two interpretations of the routine at hand, you'd agree that something about the end result was mighty fishy indeed.
With the right crowd and an open mind, Just Dance 2 easily sheds its unjust shovelware label with exuberant neon jazz hands and an unwavering smile. It's still a bit fishy on the score tracking side, but Just Dance 2 is not a game about numbers. In fact, if that's your main focus, then you're probably approaching it from the wrong angle. Instead, gather round a group of friends, pound a pitcher of fruit punch and just shake that booty. It'll be okay.