The Wii was (and is) a wonderfully appealing console, enticing folk who'd never considered picking up a joypad into a quick round of Wii Sports or Mario Kart. The Wii was also the natural home (and origin) of the Just Dance series of games, which went on to sell in vast quantities. Waving a Wii-remote to a spot of Katy Perry on a Friday night quickly became an acceptable pastime for 'casual' gamers - and otherwise - worldwide.
Now Baila Latino has arrived on the Wii U eShop and takes to the living room stage in an attempt to beat Just Dance at its own game. Using a combination of Just Dance's gameplay mechanics, Latin music and a beach party theme, can Baila Latino muscle in on Ubisoft's seminal series? We know you're just dying to find out. Right?
While initial impressions seem promising, a few niggles quickly come to light. Our chief concern is the user interface, which seems to have been designed by someone who REALLY wants to utilise the GamePad, even when it's not necessary in the slightest. Menu selections require the user to swap between Wii Remote and GamePad sporadically. One minute you'll be using the D-Pad of the Wii-remote to select a profile, the next you'll be forced to use the GamePad to continue. What on earth inspired this design choice is beyond us, but suffice to say it makes navigating around incredibly frustrating, not to mention requiring the arms of an octopus.
Jumping into the game reveals there isn't any tutorial to speak of; the only instructions provided are 'Dance as if you are reflected in a mirror'. Shortly thereafter the music kicks in and it's business as usual for this Just Dance-alike. The television displays the primary dancer showing his/her moves, while the actions you need to perform scroll in one after another from the bottom right. These are depicted by silhouetted figures with indicator arrows explaining the movements required. There's also a handy visual indication of the beat to help with keeping in time, plus a variety of rather psychedelic backgrounds help to get you into the party mood.
Typically the featured dancer depicts the moves you need to mimic, which in turn match up with the instructional icons scrolling constantly by. Baila Latino takes this familiar concept a step further by occasionally providing instructions that don't exactly match the movements of the dancer. Additionally the dancer will sometimes happily do his/her stuff with no instructions provided to the player, which is odd. While these problems aren't frequent enough to cause huge issues, it can be hard to follow what you're supposed to be doing from time-to-time.
Not that it matters though; playing a song sat down on the sofa and bouncing your arm to the beat ensures a fairly decent score, even if you didn't copy any of the moves. This was always the inherent problem with the Just Dance series; it doesn't REALLY matter what you do, as long as you're making movements roughly in time with what's being asked - obviously not trying is missing the point somewhat, though. Anyway, the main draw of these types of game has always been the kerrrrazy multiplayer modes right?
Hitting up multiplayer allows up to four players to dance simultaneously (after pressing 'A' on each Wii Remote and then being forced into pressing 'A' on the GamePad to continue…) in what is arguably the most uninspired set of multiplayer modes, ever. Your four options are as follows: Single Dance (play a song, most points wins), Battle (play three songs, most points wins), Endurance (play five songs, most points wins) and for a spot of variety, 'Throw Out' drops out the player with the least points after each song until there's only one (winner) remaining. Play with just two players and it's basically the same as Single Dance mode. So in a nutshell - play and see who gets the most points. There's no swapping around of moves, no additional choreography, nothing. You may as well just all be playing the single player game together.
Single player conversely is even less of a game, as all songs are unlocked from the off and there's no incentive to perform well, aside from winning a few pointless in-game trophies. Overall none of the game modes are going to set your world on fire, which means Baila Latino lives and dies on the strength of its song list.
According to the digital instruction manual, Bailo Latino is about singing and dancing to twenty of the 'most famous and exciting hit songs of Latin American music!'. You'll have to excuse our ignorance of this genre, as we didn't recognise a single tune. Thankfully they are all quite catchy and upbeat, evoking images of sunshine, beaches and Ricky Martin, although they do get a touch samey. We quickly grew to miss the cheesy pop music of Just Dance.
Additionally the GamePad is used to display song lyrics during gameplay. In theory this means you can karaoke sing along to such classics as Dighidin Don Don (Guantanamera Remix 2000), but in practice you probably won't, especially seeing as it's not mic-compatible. A final point to note is Baila Latino isn't playable using GamePad only. This is understandable given a nice big TV is almost a requirement for delivering the best experience.
You're probably getting a feeling we weren't especially impressed with Baila Latino, and you'd be correct. The horribly thought out UI, hard to follow dance instructions and uninspired gameplay modes unfortunately ruin the cheery atmosphere delivered by the upbeat soundtrack and surprisingly nice graphical presentation. Baila Latino also arrives about six years too late to the party. If you really love Latin music, it's possibly you might learn a few new ways to shake your booty, but for others this isn't really worth the effort. Breaking out the original Just Dance disc for a spot of MC Hammer and Spice Girls reminded us that there's really no need to go Latino. To wrongly quote Mr. Hammer, 'Don't touch this'.