The whole idea behind the Kidz Bop brand is quite interesting. For those unfamiliar with it, each Kidz Bop CD takes a menagerie of current pop songs from various artists, rewrites the lyrics to some of the questionable content, and is sung by a chorus of children instead of the original artists. The idea is that the kids can still listen to a song that would be played on the radio while parents can play it safely in the home or car without worrying about the content. Whether you love or hate the idea, the discs sell well enough, with a few reaching gold status in sales. With the rhythm genre entering a new phase and the perception that the Wii is the right console for families, the group at D3 Publishing decided it was a good idea to have the Kidz Bop brand branch out into the world of video games with Kidz Bop Dance Party. Whether the Kidz Bop brand should have stuck to the realm of audio CDs remains to be seen.
Instead of going for the karaoke route like some people would have expected, Kidz Bop Dance Party is going for the other sect of the rhythm genre: dance. With a Wii Remote in hand, players go through each of the 24 available songs following the motions given by the on-screen arrows to try and get the highest score possible. The arrows don't just go through the simple up, down, left and right directions. Diagonals, loops, spins and curves all play a part in making the player dance while a guide star helps to regulate the movement speed and the direction of the Wiimote. In short, the formula is ripped directly from the We Cheer series, but cheerleaders have been replaced with a troupe of dancing kids.
There are a few noteworthy modes in Kidz Bop Dance Party. The Challenge mode lets you go through several different challenges with their own set list and level of difficulty. All of the songs in the given set list must be finished before the next stage opens up, and completing each challenge level opens up other backgrounds to dance in, new difficulty levels and the ability to dance as your Mii. Completing each song also earns you money, which can be spent to unlock various clothing pieces and accessories for your dancer. Free mode gives you full access to all of the 24 songs, and while you are limited to what you unlocked in terms of difficulty levels and arenas, you can still earn money to buy dancer accessories. Finally, there's versus mode, which lets you compete on the same screen with a friend for the highest score on any of the given songs.
There are a few questionable things the game does or, in some cases, doesn't do. For one thing, Kidz Bop Dance Party only handles two players. The game is labeled as something for parties to enjoy, and competing products handle up to four players, so having only two players dance simultaneously is a letdown. With the two-player limit in place, one would think that the ability to use two Wiimotes for solo player dancing would be available, especially since We Cheer, a sister product thanks to the publisher's relationship with Namco Bandai Games, does this. Alas, only one controller can be used, reducing the overall difficulty of the title and making the limit of two players even more questionable.
What will likely confuse players more is the game's fashion system. In Challenge mode, players are required to get a set number of points per song to complete the challenge. While players can easily meet that quota, bonus points are given for the outfit combination and how it relates to the song. However, there is no indicator hinting to the player what kind of outfit pieces would be best to gain the most bonus points for the track. More often than not, the clothing bonuses become luck of the draw, though those who really care about getting these bonuses will probably spend more time playing dress-up with their selected dancer than actually dancing. Since one outfit that garnered bonuses for one song won't necessarily do the same for another tune, the feature becomes more of an annoyance instead.
For the most part, the controls work. Single direction arrows are read well with the Wiimote, as are activities such as pointing at the screen, shaking the remote or posing. The game tracks some fast motions rather well, though it seems to have some trouble if the movement requires the player to do something slowly. What is more disconcerting, though, is that the game has trouble reading short, rapid movements. Constantly moving left and right or up and down never gets read unless the player happens to hit the sweet spot in terms of timing. It may be good that the game doesn't fail players at the end of the song, but it also becomes frustrating when the margin for error is so narrow, resulting in some proper movements being regarded as mistakes.
The sound works well in some areas and not so well in others. Like every rhythm game, special attention is placed on the musical selection, and depending on whether or not you're a fan of how Kidz Bop handles pop music, you'll either be fine with it or hate it passionately. It's interesting that out of the 24 available songs, two are original compositions, and while Kidz Bop Boogie is listenable since it apes some current club hits, "Ice Cream and Guacamole" quickly reminds you of how silly children's song lyrics can be.
Another point of interest is that you never get to fully play all 22 of the cover songs. For the most part, you'll hear no more than 75 percent of the song before it fades out. Compare this to the two original compositions, which you can play in their entirety, and you start to feel shortchanged. Finally, the game makes it a point to let you know how well you're doing when you've accomplished a dance move combo. Unfortunately, the words of encouragement from the kids end up being louder than the song. A little balancing in this department would have gone a long way in terms of preventing the user from having to turn down the overall volume just to ensure that a kid doesn't shout at him/her.
Graphically, Kidz Bop Dance Party doesn't seem to aim for much. The levels are colorful and bright, but don't expect much in the way of detail. It's not that the clothes and backdrops have muddy textures, but since the game runs at 480i, only those still running on SDTVs will be fine with the graphics. The character models look fine, though the original characters easily clash with the Miis, who are watching from the background. The same thing can be said for the animations. While the dancers animate well, only the Mii dancers share that same fluidity. The background onlookers only have a few frames on animation. On the bright side, the dancing arrows are easy to see, and you can easily tell what kind of move you're supposed to be doing. All in all, the graphics work, but they certainly could have been better.
In the end, Kidz Bop Dance Party is a respectable title. Unlike the more popular dancing titles on the system, it feels like your controls count for something, and the overall dancing mechanic is much easier to understand. However, you get the feeling that they could have done more with the multiplayer limits, and the clothing mechanic is more confusing than helpful in giving the player a more enjoyable experience. If you're a fan of the Kidz Bop style of music or have kids who can't get enough of it, you can feel safe knowing that this game won't disappoint them. For everyone else, the search is still on for a dancing game that can beat out the We Cheer series.
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