Dance games are everywhere at gamescom. No matter where you look, there are girls in baggy trousers and crop tops throwing shapes to an audience of mesmerised gamers. Stand around gawping for long enough, and they'll try and pull you up to join them. You need to be quick with your excuses here, or before you know it you'll up there with them. I blamed a twisted ankle and walked away with an impressive limp.
Just Dance 3, Singstar Dance, Black Eyed Peas: The Experience, Dance Party; since the rise Wii, Kinect and motion gaming, the genre has exploded. Having played a distressing number of these titles over the past year or so, I can confidently say that Dance Central is the best of the bunch. And it's about to get better.
Sitting with Harmonix' John Drake behind closed doors in Cologne, I found out how the sequel differs without having to sacrifice my dignity on stage. Let's get the obvious stuff out the way nice and early on, then: the track list. La Roux, Darude, David Guetta, Flo Rida, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Bananarama have all been confirmed, with plenty more still be announced. More importantly, Daft Punk's Technologic is in there. Drake admitted that he's been hunting down the rights to Daft Punk for some time now, making its inclusion all that more special. There's no denying Technologic is a cracking song, but the sooner the likes of Aerodynamic, Crescendolls and One More Time find themselves as DLC, the better.
In addition to the 40 tracks that will launch on the disc, Dance Central 2 will allow you to import any song from the first game, pushing the total number of tracks over 100.
Rockband 3 did a fantastic job of rejuvenating the series' tired campaign by adding a narrative to what was previously just a list of songs. The exact same principle has been applied to Dance Central 2. While Harmonix isn't ready to go into specifics, Drake explained that the campaign will be based around dance crews, each with its own theme and personality. Dance battles are tied directly into this in the form of crew challenges, where you're dancing for the reputation of your crew. Drake also referenced "boss-battles", but wouldn't elaborate on what that might entail.
Another big improvement over the original is the break down mode, which offers players a chance to practice specific dance moves. Drake admits that the first game "wasn't great for perfecting routines", and this is something the sequel addresses directly. You can now practice individual moves, with the game suggesting which you might like to work on based on how successful you are with them in the game. Best of all, your training is recorded, with a video that can be played back alongside the flashcards, highlighting exactly where you might be going wrong.
Dance Central was a perfect fit for Kinect, and the sequel manages to squeeze even more out of the technology. In addition to minor UI improvements, voice commands can now be used to control every facet of the game. In the menus, you can use your voice to choose the song, change the difficulty setting and start dancing. In break down mode, you can say 'Xbox Skip' and 'Xbox Previous' to cycle through moves, making practice incredibly effortless. Voice commands have always been a painful affair from my experience with them, but Drake used little more than his voice to control the game the whole time. It was quick and responsive, and appeared to be a much more intuitive alternative to gesture commands.
It's still a looker visually, too. I've always been a fan of Harmonix's character designs, and Dance Central 2 maintains these high standards. The chunky models are complimented with new particle effects, making each routine much more of a spectacle. Dance Central was awarded an impressive 8/10 in its review last year, and the sequel refines, polishes and innovates in all the right places. There's a worry that the dance genre could reach a point of saturation at some point soon, but Harmonix needn't worry; Dance Central 2 is head and shoulders above the competition.
Dance Central 2 is due for release on Xbox 360 in October.