It seems like it was only yesterday that this writer was reviewing Just Dance 2016 – last year's entry in Ubisoft's mammoth dancing franchise. Most people will be at least somewhat familiar with the concept; seeing friends and family dancing along to a variety of songs with wavering levels of success. By that we mean you're either the type of person who transforms your front room into a heavily-furnished version of the West End, getting five stars on every song, or the type who awkwardly flails their arms around in vaguely circular motions whilst tripping over the cat. So has much really changed in Just Dance 2017?
In short: no. At first glance Just Dance 2017 seems identical to its predecessor; many of the modes and features are retained from last year. At the heart of the game is your standard Just Dance mode, allowing you to jump in to any one of the 40 provided songs and just have fun. As with all previous instalments, you follow the direction of an on screen dancer to earn points. The complete dance routine is shown in the centre of the screen, whether in single player or multiplayer, with smaller icons displayed in the bottom corner signalling which moves are about to come up.
Other returning modes include 'Dance Quests', in which you dance to a setlist of three songs against AI competitors trying to earn a bronze, silver or hopefully gold trophy by placing third, second or first overall respectively; 'Sweat' mode which swaps points earned for calories lost – enabling you to create your own workouts whilst keeping an eye on how many pizzas you've managed to burn off; and finally some online focused offerings for the most competitive dancers out there.
The first of these online modes is 'Just Dance TV', basically a creepy, virtual portal into front rooms around the globe. Here players can share videos of themselves dancing along to their favourite songs thanks to the GamePad's camera – which when placed directly in front of you will record your moves and offer you the chance to upload its recording. During our time on Just Dance TV we saw a fantastic video in which someone's mother walked through the shot carrying what was quite possibly the world's largest lamp, completely stealing the show. Poor kid.
The second of these modes is 'World Dance Floor' which takes things up a notch. Here, just like before you can view other people's attempts at copying Beyonce's 'Single Ladies' routine, but this time you can challenge them. If you're feeling brave, choosing to challenge a video enables you to try and beat their posted score – as you dance along, the video of the player you are challenging plays at the top of your screen and their score rises as their original attempt would have done. Once complete, the challenged player can then try to beat one of your scores in return and the game keeps a record of how many wins or losses each player has against the other.
The one entirely new mode on offer is called 'Just Dance Machine'. Here, aliens are running out of energy for their spaceship and spot Earth in the distance. After considering a banana and a chicken as possible sources of fuel they settle on a dancing human – you. We wish we had made this up ourselves as the start of some incredibly farfetched anecdote but no – this is genuinely what happens. Your job is to dance along to short clips of songs which vary from wildly different genres in order to score enough points to help the aliens home. Taking away the children friendly cut scene to start the mode, the only thing different here is the aforementioned cutting up of genres into one performance which is nice, but not necessarily enough to make up the only real new feature this year.
As has become tradition, this year's soundtrack features mostly songs from the last two or three years with some older ones thrown in for good measure. Songs such as Fifth Harmony's 'Worth It' and 'Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)' by Silentó make an appearance for chart lovers, 'Don't Stop Me Now' by Queen is there and 'PoPiPo' by Hatsune Miku rounds off a game featuring a relatively wide selection of genres including straight pop songs, dance, J-Pop, rock, and disco to name a few. Not quite something for everyone – but not too bad.
There is an option to boost your song selection rather dramatically by purchasing a subscription to 'Just Dance Unlimited', which unlocks a constantly updating library of songs from previous Just Dance titles to play as well as a few exclusives. The game comes with a 90 day trial of this service so you can decide whether or not you feel it is worth the plunge, although when compared to other recent music games offering streaming services for free such as Guitar Hero Live, this seems a little stingy. Other songs can also be unlocked simply by signing up to 'Ubisoft Club' – a free Ubisoft rewards program which offers you little in-game rewards for completing challenges.
Just like last year's game, players can choose to dance with either their Wii Remotes (up to four players), or with their smartphones (up to six players). Using your smartphone is as simple as downloading an app and following the instructions. This app works just as smoothly as a controller for both dancing and menu navigation as the Wii Remote, making either option just as viable. Our advice would be that Wii Remotes feel slightly more comfortable to hold and are more secure thanks to their wrist strap, but of course the option to include smartphones is brilliant, especially if you don't have enough Wii Remotes lying around.
Slapping a score or a definitive verdict on a title like this is a particularly tough challenge. Does the Just Dance series deserve high praise? Yes. This particular entry? Maybe. Is the series innovative? Yes. This entry? Not really…
Just Dance is brilliant at what it does – serving as a surprisingly jam-packed offering for solo players as well as being a great addition to parties, sleep-overs and gatherings of friends. Naturally, Just Dance 2017 is perhaps the best of the lot – simply because it offers the most diverse library of songs (when including Just Dance Unlimited) and an almost perfected offering of modes, but doesn't really feel like an essential upgrade if you have an entry from the past couple of years. If you are new to the series or are a diehard fan, willing to splash out for the extra features, then Just Dance 2017 is definitely the way to go. If you're happy with older versions of the game however, there is no need to rush into another purchase just yet.