The main Just Dance series has been doing phenomenally well for Ubisoft, especially on the Nintendo Wii, where it seems to have run virtually unopposed. Each new game seems to trend upward in sales, with no end in sight. Likewise, the two Just Dance Kids games on the Wii have been doing well due to the kid-friendly selection of songs. With that in mind, one would have expected Ubisoft to release Just Dance Kids 3 this year and call it a day. However, it's dedicated a Just Dance game to just one license, and the result is Just Dance: Disney Party.
The basic game mechanics are the same. Holding the Wii Remote in your right hand, you select a song and mimic the dancer as he or she goes through the routine's moves. The closer you are to matching the move, the higher your point total and the more energy you earn. While there are silhouetted diagrams that give you a hint about upcoming moves, you'll be better off just watching the dancer. By the end of the song, your points are tallied up, and bonus points are given for hitting certain milestones. The points are translated into a star ranking, so you'll know how well you did for that tune.
The game provides players with four different modes. The Dance and Team Dance modes have you dancing along to the track either by yourself or with up to three other people. For the most part, you'll all be copying the same moves, though there are some songs that have different dancers doing different things. Freeze & Shake mode does the same thing, but at various moments, you'll be told to either shake the Wiimote vigorously or stop moving altogether, and you receive big bonus points when you do so. New to this version is Balloon Pop mode, where successfully completed moves inflate an on-screen balloon. Once the Balloon pops, players have a limited amount of time to shake the Wiimote to pick up stars while trying to keep up with the routine.
The last two modes are distractions rather than modes you'll want to play. Just like Just Dance Kids 2, the Freeze & Shake mode would have worked better if the moves weren't still being fed to the player when the special commands come up. There's already enough happening on-screen, and having to juggle those special commands into the routine can be difficult. The same goes for Balloon Pop, though the added balloon graphic is partially in the way. It isn't large enough to overwhelm the screen, but it feels like something extra you'd rather not deal with when trying to enjoy the routine.
Beyond the dance modes, two other options are available. Playlist mode lets you go through a predetermined set of songs that are separated by either theme or difficulty, perfect for those who want a particular set of songs but don't have a particular order in mind. There's also Party Shuffle, which plays songs in a random order.
Though the game is intended for kids, there is also an informational section for parents. There's a progress tracker, so you can see the high scores for each song and mode. You can also see the amount of playtime and calories burned for each session. There's also a pseudo achievement system to track things like how many songs were played or when certain modes were tried. Finally, there's a small tip section that encourages parents to be good examples by exercising and providing healthy foods.
The modes may be light, but none of that matters unless the soundtrack is good. Luckily, the soundtrack is possibly the best one yet for the spin-off series. There are 25 different tracks in the game spanning a number of decades and encompassing a few Disney properties. You'll find a few classic songs , such as "The Bare Necessities" ("The Jungle Book"), "Be Our Guest" ("Beauty and the Beast") and "Under The Sea" ("The Little Mermaid"). There are some more modern offerings, such as "Something That I Want" ("Tangled") and "That's How You Know" ("Enchanted"). On the Disney Channel side, you'll find "Hey Jessie" ("Jessie"), "This Is Me" ("Camp Rock"), and "Calling All The Monsters" ("A.N.T. Farm").
The first good thing about the soundtrack is that the usual genre mix works much better here than it did in the other entries. You'll find a few songs that skew a bit too young, such as "It's A Small World" or "Following The Leader" ("Peter Pan"), and "Fly To Your Heart" ("Tinker Bell") is more apt for a solo player who wants to do interpretive dance, but everything else plays well for a party situation. Players generally won't mind dancing outside of their desired genres because the songs sound energetic. Surprisingly, 17 of the songs have multiple language options, so you'll be able to hear some of your favorites with lyrics in a completely different language. While the songs remain untouched otherwise, a few, like "Everything Is Not As It Seems" from "Wizards of Waverly Place," have a more emphasized tempo when in Portuguese, so it's worthwhile to listen to those versions.
The other good thing about the soundtrack is the use of actual artists for the tracks. While the main series started out with some cover artists, it moved on to having a complete soundtrack of recordings from original artists. Until now, the spin-off was still wallowing in cover tracks. Having the original recordings here really ups the production value and makes it feel like more care was put into this title.
From an audio standpoint, the only drawback to the game is the number of available songs. Compared to the other games in the series, 25 makes it feel like you'll get through them in no time, especially since "The Muppet Show Theme" is one of the shortest songs to grace a dancing game. Not having downloadable content is understandable for parents who may be concerned that their kids would blow through their bank account trying to get every song, but when you think about the rich history of Disney songs, you'll feel that much more could've been thrown in here to contend with the large song libraries in other dancing games.
The game continues the use of real on-screen dancers as opposed to the stylized silhouettes in the main series. This could've been bad for a system that doesn't quite go HD. Luckily, the Wii's "softer" look means that the real-life dancers don't stand out as much from the computer-generated backgrounds. Both adults and kids dance along to the tracks, so it feels like less of a Kidz Bop-style production and something more in line with the cable channel. The venues are still brightly colored but much more animated, with special cameo appearances in both the background and foreground. You'll see bunches of rubber chickens all over the set of "The Muppets," and Bolt pops up on-screen for a few seconds during a routine. Meanwhile, the effects are also quite nice, and the glow effect on the dancers' hands nicely mimics the main series' style.
Finally, the controls have always been a sore spot for the series since it doesn’t feel like you're getting any feedback about whether you're performing the move correctly or incorrectly. While you can still flail around and get a decent score, the controller now gives you vibration feedback when you hit a move just right. It may be a slight improvement, but it does wonders for letting the player know how well he's doing. The only drawback is that the feedback only lasts until you fill up the meter. Once that happens, the controller stops shaking, and even though you've already hit the mark, it's a little disappointing to have that indicator go away for the duration.
Just Dance: Disney Party is certainly the best of the series' three dance titles for kids. The production values have been increased greatly, and the presentation is creeping closer to the main game. While the song list may be short, the songs are great, and there are fewer "undanceable" songs than expected. Those looking for a dance game that caters to younger kids will be perfectly at ease with this title.
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