Movin’ to the Groovin’
Though the dance subgenre of gaming originated in neon-lit arcade halls with Dance Dance Revolution, it has in the last months found a second home (and enjoyed a second coming) on Xbox’s Kinect peripheral. Movin’ to the groove has never felt more natural than when your body is faithfully recreated within the game’s confines, letting players do more than simply tapping their feet in a pre-determined pattern.
A slew of games like Just Dance and Dance Central, along with their sequels and track packs, have cropped up, all vying to be the next best party game for you and your friends to get funky to. Konami’s latest Kinect-only downloadable title, Rhythm Party, promises to add an unprecedented level of freedom to the arcade dance scene, while offering up a bite-sized package of dance tunes culled from several decades worth of disco, club, and party anthems. What it actually delivers is a slightly different affair, bringing to the table a competent Kinect dancer that sacrifices some of its touted free-form gameplay for an intense, if less varied, single-player workout substitute.
Now You’re Dancing…?
Let’s start with what sets Rhythm Party apart from the rest – at least according to Konami. Whereas other dance simulators offer to teach you song-specific dance steps and work on building up a routine with the player, finally challenging them to display what they’ve learned in a performance, this game dances to its own beat (see what I did there?). Rhythm Party doesn’t feature slow-motion tutorials to learn specific steps; rather, the game starts players off immediately dancing. The reason for this is simple: in Rhythm Party, there are no prescribed movesets to follow, no dance routines to learn. Players are allowed to freestyle the entire song, and can be as bouncy or lethargic as they choose to be. The game does award points for fancy jump tricks, spins, and the like, but never penalizes you for missing a particular movement as part of the dance.
Well, at least that’s how it probably sounded on paper during the development stages. But pretty soon, the issue of how to grade players’ performances rears its ugly head. While the only unlockables are in the form of more stringent song difficulties, some sort of evaluation system for players had to be devised. The end result is that, while you’re flouncing and prancing about (you know, “dancing”, if you’re like me), you’ll have to hit timed orbs, called “ripples”, by swatting your hands or kicking your feet to certain places on the screen at specific moments. While it is technically possible to combine these spastic movements into a dance, there are those of us that lack the coordination to pull this off with anything resembling grace and fluidity. As it turns out, I might have preferred being given some sort of solid choreography to follow after all.
Despite the fact that the core gameplay isn’t as uninhibited as it seems at first brush, Rhythm Party makes up for this by offering a high degree of challenge found in the more advanced difficulties. By playing in Extreme and Master modes, players will work up quite a sweat keeping up with everything happening on-screen around them, and hitting each and every target ripple requires some serious arm- and legwork. Although it’s still a far cry from the feeling of performing advanced dance moves with ease, it’s these unlockable difficulty settings that force you to be in an unceasing, dance-like motion.
Pump Up the Jam
Most music and rhythm titles sell themselves on offering up a wide array of musical content, meeting widely varying tastes and ensuring their discs are spinning in console trays for months to come. Not so Rhythm Party. On display at launch are a cynical-eyebrow-raising ten tracks, which, of course, may or may not be added to via downloadable songs in the future. Now, I’ll admit I’m a bit out of my element with this particular genre of music, but even I recognize songs by artists such as Bobby Brown, Vanilla Ice (featured in not one but two songs!!), and Shanice. Beyond that, Rhythm Party spans several musical eras, ranging from yesteryear’s Village People to modern-day dance hall demigod Lady Gaga.
Each track features its own accompanying video performance, with unique effects, locations, and styles; a few songs play the original music video in the background, while one particular track lets players find themselves in a cartoon world, interacting with animated creatures as they dance to the beat. It’s hard to find fault in the musical presentation, and Konami have taken care to offer up attractive scenarios for you to feature in. Sadly, the accompanying animation and graphics are restrained by the short track list, and it seems that many of the songs have been truncated somewhat from their original versions, with most clocking in just shy of the 3-minute mark (some in mid-chorus).
In contrast to the colorful and flashy dance scenarios are the game’s menus, which feature bland backgrounds and endlessly repeating 5-second snippets of whatever song you’ve currently selected. Don’t think of walking away for a few moments while in the menus; the sound quickly gets nerve-grating and it’s all you’ll want to do to rush back and mute the game. Another minor quibble is the menu navigation; while it’s certainly not the most imperative aspect of a game, having to learn a brand new system of gestures and being forced to slow down every few moments and double check your position just to navigate a menu is not a spectacular compliment.
The Final Verdict
While Rhythm Party from the get-go offers a different experience than its dance contemporaries by removing the set choreography, the game devolves into slow-paced arm-waving on the lower difficulty settings, and for advanced players becomes a bit of a cross between a dancing game and a cardio workout trainer. The music selection, though woefully small at the present time, is eclectic, and songs are presented in visually interesting ways. While it doesn’t quite manage to be the next evolution of the dancing genre, it gives you another competent dancing title for your Kinect, and, at 800 MS Points, does so for a fraction of the others’ prices.