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December 11, 2015

Just Dance 2015

I’ve covered most of the elements of Just Dance last week, in the long review of Just Dance 2014. Go check it out, you might need it as I won’t spend words re-explaining core elements of the franchise for this review. Also, there’s been an itch recently, like I have an impression that I won’t be so nice today…

The new edition of a Just Dance game always changes many elements from the preceding edition. As such, new modes can be added, new features be implemented… but old modes and features can also be removed. As an example, the hand-in-hand choreographies from Just Dance 3 (where there were only two) and 4 (where there was only one) disappeared from Just Dance 2014. Note that I don’t blame them, that particular type of choreography was a load of crap. But sometimes, good modes can be removed, good ideas can be taken out. Well, “good” is subjective, and it has always been, so your opinion may vary on each feature. As for me, I always try to have a positive judgment of things. Ultimately, the choice of adding or removing features is left to the creative team behind the game; they choose what stays, what's new, and what goes. If they get rid of a feature you liked, well, I’m sorry, but that’s how it works. And, in the end, things have to evolve. It’s only normal that every next edition of a game that comes out yearly has to have some changes. Change is a part of life, we can only accept it.

I bought Just Dance 2015 last year, in… October 2014, I think. Yeah, pretty much around the time it came out. That was right after I had returned the only game I never wanted to see in my collection ever again, and I think I had also bought another Ubisoft Wii game around that time… No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. Yes, I remember now. I also remember going straight to Just Dance 2015 when I got home. Despite the blood games of NMH2 and the promise of fun, gratuitous violence, I instead started with the dancing game, and... I really liked it. Although, now that I have played another Just Dance game, I can allow myself to be more critical of it. Let's start now!


Sorry for the low quality, I couldn't find this anywhere online.
When the game starts, we’re thrown directly on the dance selection screen with Iggy Azalea’s “Problem”, Pharell Williams’ “Happy” and Ylvis’s “The Fox”. That’s all fine and good, but what happened to the menu? Oh, I see, have to click the left arrow to get to it. Okay. See, that’s already a bad start. In fact, there’s something I noticed in Just Dance 2014 and 2015: You must click the Left or Right arrows on the screen to move around the menus. A lot of games have menus that work by pressing + or – on the Wii remote, so I was found doing just that… and ended up on the Options menu instead. Thankfully, one can also press Left or Right on the Wii remote to move around the menu, so I'm probably just nitpicking... still, I would have preferred to be directly on the main menu from the start.

Talking about the options, there’s the usual stuff: Turning on or off the lyrics, tutorials and/or pictograms, watching the credits, and accessing the Wii/SD Card memory menu to switch songs around… in fact, let’s talk about that.

One example of a song to buy from the JD2015 Shop is
Papaoutai, one of the rare French songs in the series,
despite its development in Paris and Milan.
Place required? About 250 Wii memory blocks.
Length? about 3 minutes 30 seconds.
How long to move it from the SD card to the
Wii memory? 5-ish minutes. Oh joy.
Once again you cannot play a song you’ve bought on the Just Dance Shop if it isn’t in your Wii’s memory. If it’s in the SD Card’s memory? You have to transfer it to the Wii’s internal memory. And once you’re done dancing to it, you’ll probably wish to send it back to the SD Card’s memory, because these songs still take anywhere from 200 to 400 blocks of space. Hell, for four songs downloaded off the Just Dance Shop I needed a little less than 1200 blocks. And of course, every song you transfer from a memory unit to the other takes an ungodly amount of time to do so, possibly longer than the actual freaking song. That’s a Hell of a lot of loading. I said it last week, I say it now; in Just Dance 3 you could access the songs directly from the SD card. There was still a bit of loading, but damn, it was nowhere nearly as bad as this.

Now that I’ve parroted myself, let’s move on to the new stuff in Just Dance 2015. Or, rather, the new modes and types of choreographies. More than ever, the place is given to the Community and makers of Just Dance. Let’s see:
-Now that we’re far into the franchise (JD2015 is the sixth game in the main series, after all), some Mashups, whether they’re Solo, Duets or Dance Crews, have become themed. This means that, as an example, a Mashup may feature past Just Dancers with a theme between all the mashed-up dancers (such as “Mystic Princesses” for Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse”), or “Best Of” Mashups comprised of the favorite dancers from a previous installment. By the way, Dance Crew Mashups are introduced in JD2015.
Well... they're having fun, that's all that counts.
-Community Remix, which features performances from other Just Dance players – and therefore, you have to follow the movements of other people instead of a white character in colorful clothing. These may be a little more difficult to follow… and although it is pretty cool to see other people showcased in an official game, even if it’s just for a couple seconds, it’s not quite my favorite mode.
-Then we have Just Dance VIP, which is Community Remix with a single dancer all the way through. That’s the point of VIP, I guess. The VIP stars are either people who work on the Just Dance series, YouTubers (such as Smosh, who dance on Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow”), or singers. One of them, Richy Jackson, is an official choreographer for Lady Gaga, which is damn impressive.
-Some Dance Crews only have three dancers, which basically makes them like the On-Stage mode, except that in some cases, all three dancers being important instead of having a main dancer and two back-up dancers. Other times, two dancers serve as back-ups.
-Last but not least, a bunch of thematic dances. They’re alternate choreographies of songs in JD2015, but they’re not on that song’s page, instead being relocated to the end of the song menu. There were three of those in JD2014, here we have eight, including:
Snazzy.
--Campfire Dance for “The Fox”. Here, they mimic the words in the song’s lyrics;
--Sing-Along for “Happy”, not all that different from JD2014’s On-Stage, except all three dancers are important;
--Seated Dance makes a return for Rihanna’s “Diamonds”;
--Buckingham Palace Guards Dance for Icona Pop’s “I Love It”, really two guards with their huge hats and being sort of robotic in their movements. They got it all wrong, those guys have to stay perfectly still!;
--The Official Choreography for Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”;
--A Fitness Dance for Calvin Harris’s “Summer”, namely one of the very few dances in the game that can be compared to the “Sweat” versions of previous installments;
--An Old School version of DMC & Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”;
--And last but not least, a Bollywood Version of Will.i.am’s “It’s My Birthday”. Good, because Bollywood really needed to be ruined by a bad song.

Also of note, as was the case in JD2014, a bunch of choreographies are only unlocked during certain months, unnecessarily lengthening the time needed to play this game. Urgh, what is it with games that make us wait for MONTHS?

However, instead of having to go to a certain page of the game’s menu, we can access the News Feed and the World Dance Floor at all times. The News Feed is an indicator of which songs you have unlocked and which new VIP or Community choreographies have come out. The World Dance Floor option will often show which song is currently playing and how many players there is at the moment, good incentives to go try it if you want.

Pictured: 100% inaccurate depiction of the Dancer
Cards in Just Dance 2015.
On the top right of the screen, you can get to the Dance card screen. You can have up to 8 players in your “party”, but only one “main” Dancer Card.  This menu shows some data about the game up to this point: How many calories you’ve spent so far, how many Stars you’ve collected on all the songs, how many choreographies you’ve played through, the total number of choreographies, how many avatars unlocked, how many Mojocoins you’ve earned thus far (including those used to pay for locked levels or avatars), and how many alternate choreographies unlocked (I’ve unlocked all 25 of them). When you start playing, the game will immediately choose whichever country you’re playing from for your Dancer Card, which is only a problem if, for some reason, you like to pretend that you live in another country. But who does that anyway?

I like the center-top one.
Also interesting to note is that this game offers 225 different avatars. Seriously, that’s huge! In comparison, JD2014 only had 168! Once again, these avatars are either unlocked by completing songs, having save files of past JD games in your Wii, paying Mojocoins or getting to a certain level on the World Dance Floor. By the way, to get one of the final avatars, you need to reach Level 5000 on the World Dance Floor. FIVE THOUSAND! That would mean getting 5 stars playing 1,000 songs. And replaying every song, alternate choreographies included, about 15 times.

Quick math. 1,000 divided by 15 is 66,666666667. That’s close to the actual number of choreographies in this game… 68. I’m not angry or anything; after all what’s the point of getting angry at a game that just wants you to have fun and exercise your muscles? But seriously, only 68 choreographies – for 42 different songs – feels a lot less than there were in Just Dance 2014, which had 47 different songs with a total of 89 different choreographies. I have to admit that getting less songs is a letdown, really. I’m not usually one to prioritize quantity over quality, but in the Just Dance series, the quality tends to be similar from game to game. The appeal of the series is in its wide selection of songs to dance to, so a game with less titles coming a year after the previous installment, which had many more choreographies, tends to leave me hoping for more.

So, now that I’ve wasted 1700 words on everything except the dancing itself, it’s time to talk about it. Let’s pick any song… Okay, this isn’t right.

Again, sorry fopr the low quality.
but you see what I'm talking about, right?
No individual score for each choreography...
The squares where you can select the songs are on the right side of the screen, while the number of stars and your best scores for that song are on the left. Difficulties have been removed, so you no longer have an indicator to know if the choreography you’re about to do is difficult. Also, there is the “New” icon only in the song selection menu; when you get to that song’s secondary menu (where you can pick the regular choreography or another one), the levels, if there’s more than one for the same song, no longer indicate “New” (so if you don’t know which alternate choreographies you haven’t done, suck it). Similarly, the Star rating goes for ALL of a song’s choreographies; so the separate choreographies for a song no longer show how many Stars you got on each of them. I take it that only the normal choreography counts. In exchange, you get your Star rating on the left side of the screen, with your Top 3 high scores for that song; the scoreboard will also show the weekly Top Score for your country on that song, because this is the most social edition of Just Dance.

However, this is bad for many reasons. For starters, I play Just Dance to exercise, sure, but my ego likes to be stroked by seeing how many Stars I’ve scored on each song. Alternate choreographies included. Because, although these aren’t the main levels, they’re still separate from the regular dance for a level, with sometimes a different difficulty level, and I would have much preferred the way things worked before; each choreography shows the maximum number of Stars you scored on it, and the ones you haven’t played display a “New” icon. Hell, Just Dance 2015 is telling me that there are choreographies I haven’t played yet… but due to the way these new menus work, I can’t even know which ones! And yeah, it’s all fine to know what’s the highest score someone got on a song this week, but all I care about is getting my Stars! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I care about getting over 10,000 points (since that’s how you get 5 Stars on a song), but I don’t really care about getting the highest score. Just my 5 Stars and I’m fine. Of course some people are better than me at this song. And congrats to them, but I couldn't care less, I. Just. Want. My. Five. Stars.

Holy crap, they got real mouths in the background?
That's kinda creepy.
Okay, so let’s dance! That’s pretty much the one thing that still hasn’t changed, right? You just follow the movements, Wii remote in your right hand, and try to be as precise as possible. What has changed, however, is the packaging of every level. It’s a number of aesthetic changes that are much welcomed in the franchise, for me anyway, and it’s finally something that I can be happy about in this entire thing. For starters, the dancers; you could say not much has changed about them, but that’s not quite true; in JD2015, more than in any other Just Dance game (sans perhaps JD2016, which I haven’t played), the dancers will actually change, transform; and no, I don’t mean like they do in Mashups, either; the normal choreography will often have the dancer changing form, transforming during key sections of the song. In general, it feels as though every level had higher production values, using everything that's been in the Just Dance series so far, and pushing it all beyond what they had done previously (such as on JD2014). As an example, here’s the main choreography to Katy Perry’s Dark Horse. 


It’s not my favorite song, but it illustrates perfectly my point. The main dancer goes from a Cleopatra-like figure to a… golden robot… and then a dark robot… and her backup dancers transform as well. Their coloration changes. This transformation of the main dancers is used in a number of levels, sometimes to create a great effect; as an example, in Love Is All, the frog dancer turns into a prince after a dance movement involving a kiss with the other character, a princess.


Oh, but that’s not where it stops, either; you may have noticed something else in these two examples, something that is spread to almost every single main choreography in JD2015: The backgrounds change as well. And not just a little, either. They change a lot. This was already in JD2014, and even in the previous editions but this time they went all-out and almost every level has this. From Dark Horse (where the inside of a tomb changes for the outside with a pyramid in the background) to Love Is all (where dozens of fantastic creatures – and a Rabbid – join behind to dance with the royal couple, to Till I Find You (which is tamer, but still the background has a LOT of elements to see)…


Hell, sometimes the dancing will be preceded and/or followed by an animation, forming the dancer or the background before the level actually starts. Ylvis’s “What Does The Fox Say?” begins with a children’s book that opens, leaving way for our furry character and his backup dancers.

But the most impressive is how some backgrounds will include models of dancers from other choreographies. These characters will cameo during the song, which is a cool idea. It isn’t all that common, but it’s there. Sometimes it will be numerous copies of the main dancer suddenly appearing on the screen; the most extreme example of this is in the main choreography for the song Built For This, in which on certain parts there’s AN ARMY of the same dancer coming from behind, and moving towards the screen.


Last but not least, the teams at the Ubisoft offices in Paris and Milan offered themselves a last bit of creativity; playing around with the camera! Oh, not by much, mind you; that’s still the rarest stylistic change in this game. But it’s there, and the best example is in Happy. See how the camera often zooms towards the dancer? It doesn’t happen all that much, but it does happen.


Just look at this. How can this NOT be art?
I think that’s all I had to say about this game. And, despite having been so negative towards it, well… I still like it. I mean, it’s Just Dance. It’s always the same basic thing. There are changes from a game to the other, but most of these changes are in the interface and the menus. Aside from that, it’s still colorful characters dancing. It’s a fundamentally fun franchise. (Oooh, alliteration!) It’s there for you to enjoy, to exercise, to dance. Therefore, one could claim that such a franchise is critic-proof, but it isn’t. And sadly, Just Dance 2015 proves that the same basic idea may remain, but everything around it can be changed, and sometimes not for the better. Oh, it’s still an excellent game. I’d even dare say that on an aesthetic standpoint, it’s fantastic. I wouldn’t have spent the last 500 words discussing only the backgrounds, the dancers and the camera tricks if those things didn’t deserve mention. Oh sure, it was already a bit like this in the previous installment, but I feel like the development team really went all-out for this one, and made it the most beautiful Just Dance game to date.

It’s also the most social Just Dance game to date, which is a thought I’m not against. I’m all for social gaming. I like that they used their audience for Community remixes, and choreographers and other stars for VIP remixes. However, a social turn in the franchise must not be done at the expense of everything else that is available for those who are not playing for the social aspect. And this is what happened here. Most alternate routines are replaced by these remixes, which are just the same choreographies with real people instead of a porcelain white dancer in colorful clothing. Instead of every routine having its own score and number of Stars, we get a scoreboard for the whole song, alternate routines included, with the high scores of other players.

I don’t blame Ubisoft for making their game more social. I understand the thought. More than ever, with consoles constantly connected to Internet, the emphasis is on social gaming. But it still has to be done right, and the changes implemented in order to offer a “social” Just Dance 2015 seem to me like a downgrade on the usual Just Dance formula. I sincerely hope Just Dance 2016 tuned out the defects from its predecessor and offered to the players a social game that didn’t remove the features non-social players liked so much.

And in the end, Just Dance 2015 is still a solid game. 43 different songs is still a respectable number, the special routines are a lot of fun, and while there are more recent hits in this edition, there’s still quite a few dancing classics, as well as some odd choices (No, before you ask, I don’t hate the Tetris one). Although, I do admit the small number of alternate routines does take away some of the fun. But it’s still a good game.

Alright, they do look silly...

Next week… is one week before Christmas. My original plan was to post a list of my favorite Just Dance levels first, followed by a Bottom 12 of my least favorite levels… but since I hate to be negative on Christmas, I’ll switch things up a little. Next Friday: My least favorite Just Dance levels – for a bunch of reasons, then my Top 24 favorite Just Dance levels! I might post the Bottom 12 next Friday, then Part 1 of the Top 24 on the following Monday, and then Part 2 of that same list on Christmas. Stay tuned!