For some, the month of October means Halloween or the chilly autumn air, the build-up to the holidays or finally settling in to the new school year; for Ubisoft, this time of year means it’s time to release yet another entry into the Just Dance franchise – a tradition which has now been going strong for ten years. If you’ve already got a handful of the previous nine titles (or over 20 if you count the spin-off games, too), you’ll probably be wondering whether or not this latest effort is worth the upgrade. Luckily, that’s what we’re here for.
As you might expect, the core aspect of the game is exactly the same as it always has been; you must follow the on-screen dancers move-for-move, strutting your stuff to a collection of popular hits as you carefully step over your mildly annoyed cat and try not to trip over the carpet. Your efforts are tracked by the Joy-Con in your hand, with each movement earning you a number of points (and eventually a star rating) determined by your accuracy.
As is always the case, the game’s songs are all available from a menu, with the player simply selecting whichever track they’d like to perform. Playing your first few songs unlocks other areas of the game, with just one complete song being needed to open up your profile – a place where you can see your dance stats (such as time played and stars earned) and create your avatar.
You’ll soon unlock other sections of the game, too, such as a home screen - which presents you with song recommendations, shows you your latest cosmetic unlocks, and gives you access to the game’s online mode – and a Playlists function. In Playlists, you can either choose from a selection of curated playlists – think Spotify’s home page – or create your own list of favourite tracks, helping you to separate the best songs from the main list for easy access.
If you’re anything like us, being able to separate your favourite tracks from the huge selection of songs (if you have Just Dance Unlimited – more on that later) is a wonderful little feature; we can only tolerate hearing the preview of Snoop Dog and Arash’s song ‘OMG’ so many times, so being able to ignore it for the rest of time is lovely. It’s just one of several little touches that make this edition feel a little more user-friendly; the ability to quickly toggle lyrics, controller vibrations and other options is another.
In fact, the main difference between this year’s edition and the many that have gone by before it is its simplistic, modern design. Gone are those slightly crazy modes with aliens and episodic, themed dance-offs from recent years, instead being replaced by easy-to-access, no-frills dancing. You can dance alone, with friends in local multiplayer, or online against others around the world – and that’s it.
It’s a strange shift to behold, suggesting that the game is trying to adapt to a new Spotify-using, social media-loving, older teen audience, or maybe growing up alongside those who have supported it from the beginning. Everything is very smart and clean, but some of the ultra-colourful energy has been sucked out in the process and sacrificing modes to achieve this ultimately means that there’s less content to explore. This game has even done away with being able to use your smartphone as a controller (which has been a feature for a few years now), which seems like a very strange and backwards decision indeed.
Speaking of sacrificing things, let’s quickly revisit the elephant in the room: Just Dance Unlimited. Buying a copy of Just Dance 2019 grants you a one-month trial of this online subscription (as long as you’re happy to create a U-Play account with Ubisoft). In this subscription, you get access to over 400 songs that are either new and exclusive, or cherry-picked from previous games. The options are impressive, even for people like us who try to avoid chart music like the plague, and your first month will be a happy time.
Once that trial ends, though, you’re forced to either pay up £20 a year to subscribe or lose all of the content, leaving the game with just 40-or-so songs included on the cartridge. This has been the same for several years now, with the game slowly turning into a subscription-based affair, but it makes purchasing each year’s latest boxed offering so much less desirable. Why would you want to keep buying new games and subscribe to a service?
Of course, if you want the latest selection of tracks – which includes the likes of Ariana Grande’s ‘No Tears Left To Cry’, ‘Sangria Wine’ by Pharrell Williams and Camila Cabello, and the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 winner ‘Toy’ by Netta – the upgrade is essential, and each of these tracks comes with some impressive new on-screen animations to accompany your dancing and make things a little more worthwhile. Unfortunately, as pretty as some of these animations are, we did experience several instances of buffering, where a song would momentarily stutter and come to a halt for a couple of seconds - even on the easy-going tracks found within the game's child-friendly 'Kids' section.
Just Dance 2019 is a sleek entry to the franchise that does exactly what it says on the tin – and not much more. There aren’t any fancy modes to speak of and you won’t have access to a lot of songs unless you pay up for a subscription, but the gameplay itself is just as precise and enjoyable as it always has been. Little touches like having the Joy-Con’s HD Rumble pulsate to the beat make the Switch version particularly appetising, but we’re left feeling ever-so-slightly mixed on the overall package and we did notice the occasional performance hiccup. If you’re happy to pay the subscription and want to rather literally just dance, treating yourself to the series’ newest instalment provides you with the largest selection of tracks the series has ever offered and would be a good investment. Of course, if these things don’t apply to you, it’s considerably harder to recommend the upgrade from last year’s entry.