A few years ago, Ubisoft came up with Just Dance on the Nintendo Wii, and despite the drubbing it got from critics, it went on to be one of the few third-party titles on the system to sell millions of copies. Naturally, Ubisoft went ahead and greenlit the sequel, Just Dance 2, as companies tend to do when they get a game that sells that well. The company also did something a bit more unusual in the form of Just Dance Kids, a title that sported the same engine and game mechanics but had real kids in lieu of dancing silhouettes; the songs were either tailored for kids or had kids singing them. The game sold well enough to warrant a sequel. This time, however, Just Dance Kids 2 has branched out from being a Wii exclusive to a multiplatform title and, in the case of the Xbox 360 version, it uses the Kinect for a controller-free experience. Fans of the first game who may have migrated to the Xbox 360 no doubt already have this title, but everyone else wants to know how Just Dance Kids 2 stacks up to Just Dance 3 and Dance Central 2.
For those who are unfamiliar with Ubisoft's dancing game, it plays out like a less technical version of Dance Central. You simply try to mimic all of the dance moves that your on-screen dancer performs as you go through a truncated version of the selected song. There are poses that run through the bottom right side of the screen toward the center, but since they aren't present all of the time and are a little hard to interpret, following the actions of the on-screen dancer is the recommended way to go. The better you are at mimicking those moves, the more points you get, and your chosen icon lets you know how well you did on each move. Once the song concludes, your score is tallied, bonus points are given for hitting certain milestones, and the final point total is converted into a star rating for your performance.
The game presents you with three different modes under the Dance section. Regular mode has you dancing with one or two players against each other in a big points competition using the above mechanics. Team High Score has the two players team up to get a bigger overall point total on a song. Pose & Shake takes the same mechanics and throws in a few twists to the formula. Some parts of the song ask you to do a pose while others show a virtual instrument on-screen that you have to pretend to play for a bit. It is a nice change of pace, but kids may be confused since the on-screen dancers go about their routine even if the game asks you to pose instead of move.
The title carries over a few things featured in Just Dance 3. There's the idea of playlists, which let you dance to a predetermined list of songs without having to go back to the menu to select each song individually. You also have the opportunity to make up your own playlists, which can contain up to 10 songs each. The idea is nice, but highlighting each playlist doesn't give you a list of the songs beyond the first one. The Create function is also here, which lets you take any song from the game and make up your own routine. In some ways, it performs better than the one found in Just Dance 3 since you can use any song, and you can save as many routines as your save device allows. In other ways, it is worse since your performances end up being quite choppy and you're only allowed to dance to a small fraction of the song instead of the truncated version played on the built-in routines.
There is one thing missing from the game, and that's a set of unlockables. Like the other dance games on the market, every song is available upon booting up the game. However, no matter how well you perform or how many songs you've gone through, you get nothing for your trouble. Compare this to the parent game, which has you leveling up and unlocking new routines and playlists as you go, and Just Dance Kids 2 suddenly feels like it's lacking features. The core audience might not mind this as much since they can access what they want without restrictions, but it shortens the lifespan of the game since there is nothing new to discover.
It is pretty hard to tell if the game is picking up the controls correctly because of the leeway it gives. Unlike the main series, you can do the general motions for a move and still be rated as perfect even if you missed a few steps. Interestingly, it feels like only the upper half of the body is being counted toward anything. You can decide to only move your upper half of the body and stand in place throughout a song, and you'll be rated perfectly on moves that show the dancer making leg movements. The general ease of the game encourages kids who are just learning rhythm and only care about moving around to a song, but for those who want to learn some sort of routine, the low level of difficulty won't help them get better. Elsewhere, the menu selection is easy to navigate, and even though regular controller support isn't thrown in for menu navigation, what's here isn't too sensitive or laggy, and kids will handle this just fine.
Like the rest of the games in the series, the soundtrack tries to hit just about every possible demographic. There are songs aimed at the youngest of kids, including nursery rhymes like "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and holiday songs like "Jingle Bells." There are songs for tweens that are big radio hits, including "Whip My Hair," "Rocketeer" and "Just The Way You Are." There are classics that parents will recognize, such as "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "Barbara Ann," as well as songs from popular media, like "Something That I Want" from the movie "Tangled" and "Hold Still" from "Yo Gabba Gabba!" The variety is appreciated but, like Just Dance 3, there are a few songs that you can't really envision yourself dancing to because of the slow tempo. "Whip My Hair" works great, but Michael Bublé's "Feeling Good" feels out of place.
One thing to note is that a small percentage of the 40 available songs are sung by the original artists. With the exception of the songs by The Wiggles and Yo Gabba Gabba!, every tune here is delivered by a group of kids or a cover band — or David Choi, in the case of the song "Alright." It works well enough, but with other music games going out of their way to get the original artist's recordings, you would think that this title would do the same despite the target audience. There's also no way to expand the song library via DLC, which Just Dance 3 is doing on the console to expose new players to songs they may have missed from the older installments. This may have been done to ensure that kids aren't buying new songs without parental supervision, but that doesn't mean it stings any less that you can't add songs from the first Wii-only game.
For the most part, the graphics shine brighter thanks to the system's HD capabilities. The colors of each of the song's backdrops "pop" more because of the bright color scheme, and the animations, while basic, add some life to each song. The dancers come out clearly, and they blend in nicely with the backdrops. The fact that you can see the kids clearly contrasts with the bright silhouette style of the parent series, but kids might enjoy seeing other kids moving around in song-appropriate costumes. The only problem with the graphics is that the backgrounds have hints of compression and pixelation on solid colors. Now that the game is on a more technically capable system, issues like this should have been eliminated. Kids won't really notice it, but it's bothersome when you do see it.
Whether or not Just Dance Kids 2 is right for you or your kids will depend on a few factors. If you aren't comfortable with the songs presented in the two other big dance titles on the Xbox 360, then you should be fine with this one. This will also be good for you or your kids if you expose them more to the likes of the Kidz Bop series of CDs instead of mainstream radio or Radio Disney fare. It'll also be good for them if you don't think they're ready for the full-length songs in Just Dance 3 or the more precise movement required from Dance Central 2. However, the game doesn't present much of a challenge at all, and the lack of expandability means one can tire of the song list rather quickly. If anything, treat this game as training wheels for future dance games. It is a great place to learn about the genre, but it won't be long before the audience graduates to meatier fare.
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