Falling in love with somebody that doesn't exist is one of the most soul-crushing feelings in the world. Like when you meet a girl in a dream, and you're totally going to get married and make babies and stuff, and then you wake up. It's torturous. This is very much like what has happened to me with Dance Central 2 and the mesmerising Miss Aubrey. She was in the first game too, but didn't have quite the same impact on me then. This time, her revealing new outfit, expanded repertoire of dance moves and trademark locks of auburn hair have me well and truly infatuated.
This is a good metaphor for the game itself. Dance Central is more likely to catch your eye a year down the road; it's tighter, brighter and better to show off to your mates. Kinect has been out for almost 12 months now, and it's clear that Harmonix has become better acquainted with the technology. The camera is more accurate when grading your movements, the menus are easier to navigate, and the game is now capable of tracking two players simultaneously. While there are a bevy of refinements, bells and whistles, there are enough significant additions here to warrant a sequel so soon after the original.
Unlike the first game, there's a career mode to bulk things out. Outside of the party environment, I've always felt dance games lack substance - a reason to keep playing when there's no alcohol around - but Dance Central 2 offers a loose narrative and sense of progression that is otherwise absent in the genre.
Each of the five characters from the first game is now part of a crew, pairing up with a brand new dancer. Ultimately, my adoration for Miss Aubrey stems from the slick presentation of these hipsters and groovers. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Dance Central 2 boasts some of the best character designs I've ever seen in a game. Each dancer is proportionally correct (it would be hard to mimic their movements, otherwise), but with slightly exaggerated features. The facial expressions, ridiculous outfits, crazy hairdos, hats, belts and bling - it creates a charm and attitude that polygons and vertices are rarely able to pull off. This is a big part of the game's appeal.
As an up-and-coming dancer, it's your job to earn the respect of these characters by bopping around to a set list of tracks for each crew; it's the Guitar Hero formula in disguise, essentially. The first crew, Rip Tide, is fronted by beach bums Bodie and Emilia, who throw shapes on a paradisiacal beach. Miss Aubrey and her Lu$h Crew partner Angel, on the other hand, prefer the bright lights of a television stage. Each crew has a unique venue and a vague musical theme for its tracklist. Mo and Glitch of the Hi Def crew like to get down to more beat-driven electro tracks such as La Roux's 'Bulletproof' or Daft Punk's 'Technologic'.
For each crew, you'll need to amass 16 stars in order to unlock a final audition. Get four or more stars in this initiation of sorts, and you'll be allowed to join the crew - at which point you'll unlock the next set of songs and can immediately start dancing for the next collective. You have no loyalty to each faction, apparently, and aren't too bothered about buggering off the moment you've been accepted. With three difficulty settings, five dance crews, leaderboards and outfit-based unlockables, there's a lot here to keep those without friends entertained for some time.