Version tested: Wii
Junior Senior's Move Your Feet is one of those records that has next to no virtue away from the dance floor. Its grating vocals, synth horns, cheap repetition and blaring, kitchen-sink production trample tastelessly all over the legacy of the disco legends like Nile Rogers that it rips off. Unfortunately for music snobs everywhere, it's also insanely catchy and great fun to shake your ass to.
In short, Move Your Feet bears the same relation to serious music that Just Dance does to proper videogames.
Just Dance is a stupid, shallow, garish thing that mocks the skill and sophistication of great game mechanics. It has absolutely none of the score-attack cachet that helped the hardcore get along with Guitar Hero. It is principally loved by small girls and, secretly, their parents, who stick it on when drinking white wine with the neighbours after X-Factor on a Saturday night. People, in other words, who couldn't possibly know better.
So we watched its stupendous sales from our ivory comments threads and shook our heads sadly, pelting it with the rotten tomatoes of our scorn. It was a soulless cash-in, we surmised, an unrefined piece of waggleware, a cynical land-grab for the Wii's clueless casual market who only snapped it up in their ignorance. Right?
Wrong. How's this for an inconvenient truth: Just Dance sold multiple millions for the simple reason that it's incredibly good fun. And being good fun is to games what having a good beat is to dance music; it conquers every criticism.
And cynical? However calculating the boardroom meeting that greenlit it, in itself Just Dance is about as cynical as a three-week-old Labrador puppy. It is imbued with an infectious, childish joy in dancing, and a love of music every bit as genuine as the more studied beatmatchers from Harmonix, Freestyle and the like.
Nonetheless, Ubisoft Paris is going to have to do something to justify this sequel, released just 11 months after the original, which is still shimmying around the lower reaches of the UK Top 10. Fortunately, Just Dance 2 makes a compelling case for itself right away with one brilliant addition: duets.
11 of the 44 new songs on the disc have been choreographed specifically for two players, represented by two dancers on the screen. These routines are absolutely priceless. Just Dance was always much more fun in company, and now the duets enshrine this in gameplay, tugging you into happy interaction with each other.
Vampire Weekend's A-Punk segues from indie-kid stamping to ballet pirouettes; Donna Summer's Hot Stuff is hilariously cheesy his'n'hers disco flirtation, complete with mime; twin B-boys duck and weave around each other and shake their afros to Kriss Kross' riotous Jump. There's even a Charleston. The duets are the highlights of Just Dance 2, and the perfect showcase for its cheeky energy.
The game's heart and soul is its choreography, and once again this is superb. In a very real sense, choreography is Just Dance's level design, just as (if not more) finely calibrated and creative as, say, the note patterns in Rock Band. Every routine is perfectly pitched for difficulty easy enough to get into on a first go, hard enough to make you want to learn and they're all witty, appealing and full of character.
But it's the brilliant performances of the dancers that make them so infectious. However good your motion capture, a dancing avatar is always going to look like a puppet; Just Dance's stroke of genius is to use stylised video instead, and the irresistible, human energy and mischievousness of these dancers radiates from the screen. They're bouncy and irrepressible, a little bit clownish but with lots of charisma and a certain innocent sexiness too.
Just Dance 2's dance and choreography teams are one and the same, so take a bow, gaming's unsung heroes of 2010: Julia Spiesser, Jérémy Paquet, Zack Reece, Nicolas Huchard, Julie Dorval, Natalie Lucas, Jessica Katanga and Les Twins. Stars, every one.
They're backed up by an even better song list than the first game's, one which casts its net a little wider while still ensuring everything is recognisable and danceable. Most importantly, it acknowledges that the disco doesn't discriminate on cool so you'll find Justice, Digitalism and the Ting Tings sitting next to It's Raining Men, The Monster Mash and Boney M's Rasputin (complete with Cossack dancing). There's a huge spread of styles and eras too, from the electro bump'n'grind of Ke$ha's TiK ToK to Harry Belafonte's vintage calypso. Turns out that waving your arms around, laughing like a drain and looking like an idiot are great equalisers in taste.
The only disappointment is the increased number of session-musician covers. Some are more convincing than others: Madonna's Holiday is uncanny, but there's a distressingly insipid run at Crazy in Love here. At least we get to hear some classic recordings too, like Quincy Jones' Soul Bossa Nova and Ike and Tina Turner's Proud Mary. The latter brings the house down every time: the most energetic numbers, such as this, Hey Ya, Rockafeller Skank and the incredible endurance test that is Snap!'s The Power, are the ones you find yourself returning to time and again.
A few numbers a day is a reasonable little workout, actually, a fact recognised by the new Just Sweat mode that awards you "sweat points" for your efforts and assigns mild, tough or intense daily programs. It's hardly Wii Fit or EA Sports Active, but it's arguably a more enjoyable way to work up a sweat in your living room.
It's also one of the very few excuses you'll have to fire up Just Dance 2 on your own. The fact is that, although the routines are fun to learn, there's nowhere near enough precision in the motion-detection or interest in the simple scoring system to reward solo play, and with everything (very sensibly) unlocked from the start, there's no incentive to solider on either.
Just Dance is, you see, something of a con. With the game only detecting the motion of your right hand holding the Wii remote and even then, it seems to be much more sensitive to force and timing than actual direction you can play it like an orchestral conductor from the sofa. It's so imprecise that you'll struggle to improve your timing in an effort to get reliably better score ratings, and since you can't ever fail to finish a song, there's no inherent challenge. But if you're playing it with that mindset, you're doing it wrong.
Because despite all this, the better you dance and the more you move your whole body, learn the routine and enjoy yourself the better you score. Just Dance's mechanics may not be a science, but they might just be witchcraft. Judged by the developers' own criteria for success getting players to lose their inhibitions, feel the music and, well, just dance it's a roaring success.
Just Dance 2's final additions are a much-needed download store for songs thinly stocked, currently, but it works seamlessly and a couple of multiplayer modes. These improve on the first game's but are, frankly, surplus to requirements. The game is playable by up to four at absolutely all times, and adding spurious competitive mechanics just breaks up the routines.
In the end, those routines and the tunes they're crafted around are the only things that matter. The game system and the technology, slender and unreliable as they are, are irrelevant. In a way, that might be the best thing about it.
Just Dance 2 is impossible to play with a furious frown of concentration on your face, and just as impossible to play without a wide grin. It doesn't reduce music and dancing to precision beatmatching or button-pressing: it's about surrendering to the free-spirited, glorious silliness of it. As Junior Senior sing: everybody, move your feet and feel united!
Well, your right arms, anyway.
8 / 10