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Review: Dance! It’s Your Stage!

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

This review was done for the extremely lovely people over at Play2Compete.com and you can find it here.

Dance! It’s Your Stage! No one else’s! YOURS! You hear that? You get a whole stage! What are you going to do with it? I’ll tell you what you’re going to do with it. You’re going to get your boogie on, my friend. Or at least your control sticks. Dance! It’s Your Stage is the latest installment from ze friendly Austrians over at Sproing, and while it has some strengths, the painful truth is unfortunately that it’s mostly just another rhythm game. You choose which out of 6 stereotypes characters you would like to play as, and you are quickly thrust into your first public performance, all the while being told by a flamboyant dance expert that the pressure is on and you must be professional at all times and bring the funk. As you hoof it around the game, you slowly unlock more dance-able areas than the 3 available from the start. When you unlock all the areas, you’ll find yourself shaking a leg on the Street, at the Dance Club, the Airport, a Training room, the Heliport, a Tunnel, a TV Studio, and a Marina. Each area has 3 songs to perform, increasing with difficulty (sometimes quite abruptly) as you go on.

The gameplay consists of 2 little circles on the bottom left-hand-side of the screen, where cascading colour-coded arrows will fall in time with the music. If you flick your control stick (and I mean flick, you almost have to let go of it, a gentle push won’t cut it) right as the coloured circle is smack-dab in the middle of the circle outline, you’ll achieve more points. Points are required to score your performance, with gold, silver, and bronze medals for each dance routine. Each level has a different number requirement for these medals, gradually getting harder as you unlock more areas and levels. There is also a way to increase your points harvest by using the “Magic Power” function (a lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into naming that one). As you dance your power metre fills. A sound signals when this metre is full to let you know you should hit RT and activate it. Once activated it causes your avatar to glow, and spray sparkles everywhere in a Cullen-esque extravaganza. Some levels will require you to be perfect in every move, not making any mistakes, to activate your Magic Power at every given opportunity (around 4 times per routine), and to get the circle dead centre with each move in order to get enough points to continue. For a game you would think would be marketed towards a younger audience, the difficulty curve is surprisingly brutal. (Perhaps it would be easier with a dance mat, I used just the xbox controller for this review.)

Graphics wise it’s surprisingly pretty for such a title. The avatars you’re playing as are cell shaded and while standing still look quite impressive. As you get your groove on though, they start to look a little flouncy and lack the weight you’d want to see with people jumping about on stage. Their faces stay completely deadpan as they’re busting a move and apparently having a grand old time, making them look bored. Being asked by the narrator/dance instructor “It’s great but WHERE’S THE PASSION?!” and having avatar’s faces not moving at all makes me feel like he’s asking me for more than I’m capable to give. As far as the dance sequences go, they seem quite solid – if you can see them. The problem with trying to analyse how well they’re dancing or even trying to learn the dance moves yourself (which I imagine some people would want to do) is that you can’t watch the dancing because you’re so worried about your arrows on the left-hand-side. There didn’t seem to be a playback option where you could view a video replay of the dancing, which would have been good for those wanting to learn the sequences at home. I have an inkling why this wasn’t included though – if there was video replay of your performance, you would expect to be able to spot the places in which you made mistakes and it would become blatantly clear that the moves you make have absolutely no bearing on the actual movements of your avatars. This was supremely disappointing to me as I watched expecting that when I flick my control stick to the right it would fling some limb in that direction, and it didn’t. Your moves don’t correspond with your avatar in any way and this thrust me squarely into a state of disillusionment. To have a dancing game where you could take the dancing out and it wouldn’t change a thing, is something I just cannot get past.

Considering it’s not a dancing game then so much as a rhythm game, you’d expect the music and sound to be something really special. While a lot of work went in to making the original songs for each routine, they’re all shady counterfeits of songs we’re mostly familiar with. It wasn’t until I’d played a few that the penny dropped and I started realising the introductions and backing beats were almost directly ripped off songs recently in the charts. It felt like I was wandering through a dodgy flea market having fake Chanel and Prada purses thrust in my face. Vague “appearances” of Good Charlotte, the Ting Tings, and the Black Eyed Peas amongst others all left me feeling dirty and tawdry (and not in the good way). If real world songs were involved it would be one thing, if completely original songs were used it would be another, but to meet in the middle with tinpot rip offs felt really disenchanting.

In terms of being a genre-defining game, Dance! It’s Your Stage! falls short of the mark. Unfortunately as a silly ‘just chuck it on and have a bash’ game it also falls short due to it’s abrupt difficulty curve. The jump in difficulty from a one star song to a 2 star song is harsh at best and game killing at worst. While it was fairly pretty to look at, the clunky menus and the bitchy queen dance instructor suck the fun out of it. He’s hard to please and isn’t satisfied with anything less than absolute perfection. I play games to get away from people like this! Just to hit you in the face with a wet fish the songs are eerily familiar and smell of cheap perfume. The actual rhythm dynamics however are strong, and the controls are easy to pick up. With a few minor changes this game could be a whole barrel of fun, but as it stands, it’s disappointingly just more of the same.

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