Version tested: Wii
"Life after Bush and Gorbachev, the wall is down but something is lost / A fine little girl is waiting for me, but I'm as bent as Dostoevsky." So sang Iggy Pop in 1993. Who could have imagined that 17 years later, actual little girls would be jumping up and down to those words in front of their tellies? But then who could have imagined that Iggy Pop would be selling car insurance by then? Or that the world's best-selling console would be the one with the least processing power? Or that a game for that console, one where all you have to do is wave your arms about like it's 1993 and you're a massive tit, would turn out to be quite good?
At first glance, Just Dance doesn't look like it's going to be any good at all. The menus are low-rent and limited, pulling off old tricks like offering "Quick Play" and "Classic" modes as if they're different. The presentation suggests the development team has played a lot of SingStar and watched too many Apple adverts. The copywriter has tried to fill out the manual with advice about checking your batteries and making sure you have enough space to move, but there are still three blank pages for "notes" at the end.
This is because the instructions for how to play Just Dance could be written on the back of a postage stamp. In crayon. You hold the remote in your right hand and copy the dancer on screen. The end. There are no other peripherals - no dance mats, no balance boards, no bits of neoprene to strap to your thigh, not even any nunchuks. This means all you need for a four-player game is four Wii remotes and not an ounce of dignity between you.
The manual claims, "The flow of your body movements will be sensed by the Wii remote." This seems a bit grandiose, especially considering Just Dance isn't playable with the MotionPlus accessory. It continues, "The amount of energy you put in is also detected and taken into account." In other words the harder you shake the remote, the higher your score. You receive one of three ratings for each move - Bad, OK or Great - and good moves fill up your score meter as the song progresses.
The game isn't brilliant at recognising your movements consistently. You can receive four Greats in a row followed by a Bad, even though you've just done the same move in the exact same way. It's hard to believe the game really knows whether you're leaping around and punching the air or waggling the remote while sitting on the sofa. Try out both techniques and you'll find it makes little difference to your final score.
So yes, Just Dance should be rubbish. It's stupid, shallow, crude and not nearly as technically proficient as it pretends. Which might explain why I like it so much. But despite all that, if you're in the right company and the right frame of mind, it's tremendous fun.
This is mainly down to the excellent work by the dancers you have to copy. There are proper videos of them, stylised to look like animations, so there's a real flow and human quality to their movements. They wear silly outfits - legwarmers and headbands, giant afros and Elvis wigs, hotpants and MC Hammer trousers - appropriate to each song. The dances are great, again tailored to suit each track. They vary in terms of how difficult they are and how much effort is required and some can cause you to work up a serious sweat. However, none are too hard for littluns to have a go at or too easy for grown-ups to do without looking stupid.
Which brings us to the most important thing about the dances - they're hilarious. Highlights for anyone who remembers the nineties include Reel 2 Real's I Like to Move It, Pump Up the Jam by Technotronic and MC Hammer's U Can't Touch This. Turns out the running man is still funny. Then there's Cotton Eye Joe (complete with lassoo move), Blur's Girls and Boys and Wannabe by the Spice Girls.
There are plenty of songs from other decades too, going right back to Dee Dee Sharp's Mashed Potato Time. Other oldies include I Get Around by The Beach Boys, Le Freak by Chic and Anita Ward's Ring My Bell. From the eighties there's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Eye of the Tiger, amongst others. And there are more recent chart-toppers - Katy Perry's Hot N Cold, Dare by Gorillaz and Kylie's superb Can't Get You Out of My Head, to name a few.
In fact there are more than 30 songs in total, all by the original artists apart from two - Fame, which is "in the style of" Irene Cara, and Womanizer, sung by "The Gym All-Stars" instead of Britney. Both covers are decent enough. There are no fillers here and no tracks you won't have heard of. You don't get the videos but that would miss the point of the game, and the dances you have to copy are often more entertaining anyway.
All the songs are unlocked right from the start. Hardcore types might complain this means it isn't a proper game but again that's missing the point - Just Dance is meant to be a fun, accessible multiplayer experience, one which encourages and amuses players rather than challenges them. In that regard it succeeds; games don't come much more pick-up-and-play than this. Watching other people have a go is at least as entertaining as taking part yourself, and I haven't had so much fun with a party title since SingStar.
That's not to say the technology in Just Dance is anywhere near as sophisticated as that behind SingStar, or that the two games are comparable in terms of depth and long-term value. This one doesn't have any online options and there's no library of downloadable songs. There are only two modes other than the main one and neither is very exciting. (Strike a Pose is basically musical statues, and disappointingly has nothing to do with Madonna; Last One Standing involves losing a life for every incorrect move, which shows up the inconsistent registering.)
It's a bit like We Sing, the four-player Wii karaoke game released at the end of the year which couldn't match up to SingStar: Just Dance is a similar cut-down, more simplistic version of the real thing, but fun all the same. There are two key differences, however. First, it's cheaper than We Sing; the game carries an RRP of £24.99, you can already find it for under 20 quid and there's no shell out for extra peripherals. Second, there's no PS3 or Xbox 360 equivalent to Just Dance.
For now, anyway. Perhaps Project Natal and Sony's magic wand will herald a new era of full-body dancing games. Perhaps those cameras will properly read and evaluate your moves in a way the Wii simply can't. In the meantime, Just Dance is the only option for those who want to wave their arms in the air like they just don't care.
Plenty of people would rather sit on the sofa, thanks, and play a proper videogame with guns, and good for them. But small girls, show-offs and people who are too drunk to care in the first place will have a great time with Just Dance. Perhaps even games-with-guns types might enjoy it too, if they give it a try. After all, going back to Iggy Pop and car insurance, who would have thought a game where all you have to do is wave your arms about could be more popular than Modern Warfare 2?
7 / 10