Dance Central

Boogie wonderland.

It's the dance mats I feel sorry for. Where do they go to die? Is there some sort of dance mat glue factory where their electronic innards are ripped out and their PVC shells turned into Wendy houses?

Or do they just get thrown out on the street? Perhaps soon we will see tramps with dance mats instead of sleeping bags draped round their shoulders, swigging Tennent's Extra from hollowed out PS2 network adapters, begging signs propped against Tony Hawk skateboards.

Who knows. What is certain is that the age of the dance mat is dead. The end began with Ubisoft's Just Dance, which introduced the notion you need nothing more than a motion-sensing remote to get your groove on. It was a surprise hit, with more than three million copies shifted in six months.

By an amazing coincidence, other games companies began producing new dance games of their own. This week sees the release of SingStar Dance - Sony's attempt to prove that dancing is even more fun if that motion-sensing remote has a magic ping pong ball stuck on the end.

Also out this week, in the US anyway, is Dance Central. This game takes things one step further now you can throw away not only your dance mat but your remote controls and ping pong balls too. Yes, You Are the Controller! Well, you and that 130 camera sitting under your telly, staring up at you like something out of Batteries Not Included.

More on Dance Central

Any fears that this game is a cynical attempt to ride the Just Dance wave may be eased by the knowledge that Dance Central is the work of Harmonix. That's the studio behind classic titles Amplitude and Frequency, the first Guitar Hero titles and the Rock Band series.

In other words, they know what they're doing when it comes to music games. And they've no need to knock out cheap cash-ins, already having so much money they sprinkle diamonds on their cornflakes and have holiday homes in space.

Dance Central's intro movie also suggests this is going to be a quality title. It appears to be, cough, inspired by the work of Gorillaz artist Jamie Hewlett - think cartoon visuals drawn with thick black outlines, stark but funky urban landscapes and hip characters sporting sharp jawlines and angular limbs. It's very fresh, slick and cool.

So it's a bit of a shame that when it comes to the in-game visuals, we're lumbered with the same old Rock Band-style 3D avatars. You know, the ones with the sausage fingers, plasticine hair and inexplicable eyebrows. And instead of stark but funky urban environments they strut their stuff in naff, luridly lit 3D locations, surrounded by similarly sausage-fingered spectators.

While SingStar Dance and Just Dance feature stylised video footage of real-life dancers, here you're copying these CG avatars and their motion-captured moves. The downside of this is these instructors are never going to look as realistic or seem as human.

However, those rival games only feature one piece of video footage per song and therefore one dance routine. Changing the difficulty level just alters how generous the scoring system is, so you rack up a different amount of points for trying perform the same moves.

Dance Central gives you a choice of three routines per track Easy, Medium and Hard. The higher the difficulty level selected, the more types of moves you must perform and the quicker you have to switch between them.

Easy routines are available for every track from the get-go, while Medium and Hard dances must be unlocked. This makes sense serious soloists have goals to aim for, but casual types and party players can access all the songs right away.

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