Every year as the leaves begin to fall from the trees, as we start to moan about the weather even more than usual and as we start to hopelessly search the entire house for our gloves which we've lost for the fifth year running, you can be certain of one thing… Another entry to Ubisoft's Just Dance series will be fox-trotting its way to stores near you, hoping to expand on last year's entry and make you want to upgrade to the newer version. So does Just Dance 2016 do enough to stand out from its predecessors?
The first thing that you'll notice when starting up Just Dance 2016 for the first time is that it's huge. There are six main game modes to choose from, some of which have multiple ways to play. There are over 40 songs available to strut your stuff to on the disc which can be expanded further with an online subscription to Just Dance Unlimited – a song streaming feature exclusive to eighth generation consoles - which boasts a catalogue of 156 songs at launch; to top things off each mode has a percentage bar telling you how much of it you have completed so far. There is something about percentage bars that make even the strongest of us cave in and spend the rest of our lives aiming for full completion.
The game's main mode is Dance Party. This is everything you'd expect from a Just Dance game and is likely going to be where you'll spend most of your time. Here you can either team up with friends, getting as many points as possible for a combined score, or compete against them in gruesome, sweaty battles where you regret eating too much of that takeaway the night before. This mode can also be played solo where you can work on getting five stars on each song and perfecting your skills.
The basic gameplay idea is extremely simple. You mirror an on-screen dancer while being judged on how accurately you are able to copy the moves. Small diagrams scroll along the bottom right hand corner that depict what dance move is coming up next. At first, these are entirely useless and you'll need to follow the dancer in the middle of the screen as best you can, undoubtedly messing up a little as you try to keep up. Once you start getting used to a song's routine, though, the diagram prompts start to be extremely useful and allow you be ready for the next move.
The next game mode is Dance Quest. This time around you are battling against AI dancers in a short setlist of three songs. The positions you achieve in each song give you a certain amount of points – 12 for first, nine for second etc – which are tallied up at the end of the three songs to determine the leaderboard. Your goal is to place in the top three, with a gold, silver or bronze reward being given out to those who are successful.
Sweat and Playlists mode swaps the goal of earning high scores for burning calories. Here, each song tells you approximately how many calories you'll burn by performing the song and allows you to create playlists so you can customise a work out session. Whilst dancing along to each song a new meter appears telling you how many calories you're actually burning, which relates to how much the controller can feel you moving – so don't just sit on the sofa waving your arm around! This feature actually works really well. The idea of losing weight whilst having a good time attracts many people to Just Dance and thanks to this mode you can keep a track of how you're doing.
Just Dance 2016 is also incredibly online focused with the remaining three modes all being centred around sharing content with other players. As you dance to a song the camera on the Wii U GamePad, which should be placed somewhere in front of you, records your moves and gives you the option to upload the video for the entire world to see. 'Showtime' mode allows you to use this feature to upload videos of you lip syncing, doing your own custom dance routine or whatever you like. In JDTV, you can watch videos that others have uploaded in Just Dance's version of a social media site which allows you to 'like' videos that you… well, like – and keep a track of how many views each video has received. Players have already started to upload creative videos to grab your attention – a few impressive cosplay efforts and even cuddly toys dancing across someone's bedroom floor were spotted on our last visit to JDTV.
World Video Challenge, replacing last year's World Dance Floor mode, takes this one step further by asking you to compete against videos that others have uploaded. The aim is to beat the score that they set when recording their video, and as you're dancing you can see how well your opponent was doing at this point in the song. Seeing your score bar rise in sync with your opponents can create a tense last few seconds of a song as you go neck and neck into the last few moves.
Just like previous versions, Just Dance 2016 supports up to four Wii Remotes alongside the GamePad – which can in certain tracks be used by a fifth player in something called Party Master Mode. Here, the GamePad player can mix up the dance routine being performed by the other players by choosing different options available on the GamePad's screen, acting as a sort of puppet master forcing their friends to dance to their will. A strangely dark concept when you look at it like that, but inevitably fun and also meaning that the Wii U version has more content than any other version of the game.
As well as Wii Remotes, a very welcome feature from last year's instalment returns which is the ability to use your smartphone as a controller. An app can be downloaded for both Android and iOS, allowing up to six players to join in on the fun at a time. It probably goes without saying that Just Dance is the type of game that thrives in a party setting and this feature is perfect for that. Not only does this mean that anyone can get involved extremely quickly, it also means that as a host you don't have to hand over your beloved, limited edition Wii Remote to that guy who no one actually remembers inviting. Both the Wii Remote and smartphone controllers work extremely well with no connection errors in sight. The game has a quite forgiving nature, too, meaning that you won't be penalised for not quite stretching your arm out fully in time.
Talking of the game being played in a party setting, the soundtrack this time around is very much geared towards that. With songs like All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor, Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars and Want To Want Me by Jason Derulo – which is much better here than that awful E3 performance for those of you who witnessed it – the game is full of songs that people will know and ultimately want to dance to. Oddly, songs such as Rossini's William Tell Overture and a remix of the Angry Birds theme are also included. Why? Who knows? But the Angry Birds theme dance routine is a great laugh with four players so we're not complaining.
Just Dance is the sort of title that most players will already have feelings about. For some, this game is their worst nightmare, being the centre of attention and dancing in front of a room full of people is a very different experience to sitting down for a night of snacks and shooting things. But this game isn't aimed towards that audience.
It may not have ground-breaking graphics or a heart-string tugging storyline, but that doesn't matter. It achieves its purpose extremely well, allowing people to spend a night in together and have a great time. The soundtrack and the new features introduced this time around make Just Dance 2016 the definitive version of the series so far, meaning that it would be a great time for newcomers to the franchise to jump aboard, and also worth it for serious players from last year to upgrade.
The Just Dance Unlimited Premium package seems a little stingy compared to other recent music releases such as FreeStyleGames' Guitar Hero Live, which doesn't force you to spend a penny, but other than that this is a very strong party game which does the job of being fun.