Review: Just Dance 4 (Wii U)

Dance epidemic tonight

Given its massive success, we can't even feign surprise at this point that Just Dance hasn't veered far from its path. Pleased with its gift horse and eyes locked firmly elsewhere but its mouth, Ubisoft keeps it on the same track for yet another go round of light-hearted party fun. The prerequisite tweaks and fiddles to the interface and feature set that accompany an uptick in number are all here, but otherwise this is just plain ol' more Just Dance. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, really: sometimes more of the same is just swell, and Just Dance 4's large injection of new songs to bop to and choreography to master is sure to please party-goers and long-time Remote-wiedling dancers.

The playlist keeps up the series' high-quality blend of current radio hits from the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen, Maroon 5, Justin Bieber, Skrillex and Marina and the Diamonds mixed with curveballs like Barry White's "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" (complete with Ally McBeal choreography) and They Might Be Giants' "Istanbul." It's a rock-solid setlist and most of the tracks are the artist's original recordings, but sadly not all — considering the massive success of the franchise the few covers served up seem increasingly out of place. DLC support is pledged though unavailable at the time of writing, so everyone will just have to wait to get their Gangnam Style on.

Each song has its own more-or-less-appropriate choreography and theme — sometimes with multiples of each — and the binding connections seem more strenuous than before. We can't explain why the dancer for Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" is dressed as an Old West bandit on top of a train and shooting at people — other than some people in the Old West spoke Spanish and so does Ricky Martin — or how Moss from The IT Crowd found his way into said Barry White track, or why Rick Astley's immortal classic "Never Gonna Give You Up" has a superhero dancing on top of a building with monsters fighting in the background, but so it goes. Group routines seem to have swelled in number and, happily, intricacy, mostly breaking out of the "clone" mould where everyone does basically the same thing. Communicating difficulty has been streamlined as well: instead of ranking both technicality and activity, songs now show a single challenge rating on a scale of three, removing the odd difficulty discrepancies of past games where a song may rate a one on technicality but a three on activity.

The better you play the more stars you accrue, and the more stars you accrue the more Mojo levels you climb, unlocking new songs, mash-ups and modes. You can't choose what you would like to unlock — with the exception of Uplay unlocks, prizes are determined by stopping a spinning wheel — but the increasing amount of stars required to unlock the gifts favours play over a longer period of time rather than instant gratification. The switch from profile-wide to song-specific achievement lists gives more to do per song, but the number of unique achievements for each track isn't very high.

Since the game sticks with Wii Remotes for dancing, the GamePad can be happily left on the sidelines as a mirror of the main screen — while you could call this "off-screen play" as it does technically remove the need for a television, the diminutive screen is tougher to follow along and creates a lesser experience. However, picking it up during a routine triggers Live Control, home to a few quirky features and conveniences. Players can line up the next song for play and save on downtime between routines, display karaoke-style lyrics for whoever may care to sing along, or crudely doodle on the screen — perfect for sparking immature giggle fits among the peanut gallery. The GamePad gets more involved for Puppet Master mode, where the person holding the GamePad can choose what moves are coming up — in a pleasing nod to the older games, the selection of moves pulls from the better choreography of previous routines, so there will be no end to Russian folk dance infecting modern Top 40 tracks.

Evolving from its humble beginnings as a throwaway workout mode, Just Sweat sees the most significant new changes — it's beginning to reach the point where we wouldn't be surprised at all to see it get a stand-alone spinoff release. In Just Dance 4, the mode ditches the concept of Sweat Points earned across whatever song you play and replaces them with relatively structured, themed (space aerobics! punk cheerleader!), timed sessions with warm-ups and cool-downs, featuring original exercise tunes between songs, and varying intensity dependent on your performance. It isn't a substitute for the gym but Just Sweat provides enough structure, tracking and body ache to work as a fun exercise supplement.

Just Dance's signature tripped-out look is sharper than ever, with the bump to HD making the on-screen mayhem brighter, sharper and cleaner than its Wii counterparts, and the scene designers appear more confident in letting their on-screen bonanzas go in different places. The dancers look less cartoony and more human as subtle facial details become visible, as do wrinkles and zippers on the costumes — everything looks a little cheesier. Coming from staring at multiple games where everyone looks like a cartoon, the extra detail is slightly jarring.

Conclusion

Just Dance 4 sticks to what the franchise has always done best and delivers another round of bananas party fun with the right crowd — and after a number of these games already, "the right crowd" is anyone at all still interested in playing. Even with a few dud covers and themes sometimes at odds with the songs they're supposed to capture, the setlist remains impressively diverse and sure to please. The GamePad offers a few novel features to make the game worth considering on Wii U and the greatly enhanced Just Sweat mode pushes dance workouts in fun new directions. Just Dance 4 still has the right moves, but soon might be a good time to learn a few new ones.