The Zumba Fitness series started off badly. The original title seemed like a tech demo of motion controls, with routines pasted on decent-looking avatars and bland backgrounds. It sold a great amount of copies and gave the developers a chance to bring out a sequel, Zumba Fitness: Rush, which featured vast improvements in mechanics and presentation. Zumba Fitness: Core gave players grueling routines that made workout veterans break into a sweat. The latest entry in the series, Zumba Fitness: World Tour, keeps things the same, but the additions provide the game with some much-needed growth.
Similar to aerobics, Zumba is an exercise program that uses rhythm and dancing to keep the participants moving. While the music is high-energy material, it tends to lean toward more Latin rhythms of merengue, salsa and samba, to name a few. The moves also lean in that direction, with a mash-up of seemingly traditional exercise maneuvers and dance routines designed to hide the cardiovascular exercise.
As expected, the game follows the same formula. As the song plays, you mimic the dance instructor as closely as you can. Depending on how well you mimic the movements, you're given a grade for each move that ranges from okay to perfect (known as "Zumba" in this title). At the end of the song, you're given a star grade based on your overall performance and the approximate amount of calories burned.
Zumba Fitness fans will notice a few big gameplay changes. The first is the return to a more casual-friendly style. The prior title, Zumba Fitness: Core, went from general Zumba to one with a specific focus on the core muscles. The change was accompanied by a grueling set of workouts, even for frequent practitioners of Zumba. World Party returns to being a more general Zumba workout program that's easy to get into and more friendly to those who may just be starting out. The routines are not very hard to do, and the generous tracking system means that it's difficult to get lower star ranks. That may throw off players hoping for a more game-like pass/fail system, but it keeps with the general Zumba ethos, which stresses physical exertion and fun over mastering technique. The routines are still grueling, however, so you will feel some pain if you aren't prepared for the workouts and very short breaks between songs.
The other big change has to do with the soundtrack and, consequently, the moves. Zumba was built on Latin music, but the games have slowly started to incorporate other music genres since Zumba Fitness: Rush. In World Party, there's a decent chunk of music that isn't Latin in origin. There's an increase in songs with themes from Hawaii, India, Ireland and Russia, just to name a few. The songs from non-Latin origins also come with respective dance moves, so you can finally incorporate an Irish jig into a Zumba workout. There are a few pop songs ranging from Zedd to Lady Gaga, and they have some decent representation in the 44-song set, but a majority of the material is stuff you'd find in the World section of a music store. With the new song and move variety, World Party can qualify as both a rhythm and exercise game.
Despite the many alterations, the HUD didn't change. The silhouette window that displays what you look like when dancing is rather small compared to the rest of the game, making it tough to see how you're doing. Likewise, the preview pane for upcoming dance moves shows you a bit of what you're supposed to do but not the whole thing. As a spectator, this looks like it can be problematic since you can't see the information you need to perfect the technique. In practice, it doesn't matter since you'll be so focused on the trainer that the other elements get lost in the tunnel vision. For someone using this as a starting point for other rhythm dancing games, the HUD size and placement aren't very helpful.
Most of the modes have been seen before. Quick Play has you dancing to any of the 44 songs that are available from the outset. All of them have preset backdrops, difficulty levels and trainers, so you can't customize any of it. Full Length has you attending the equivalent of a real Zumba class, with durations ranging from short to medium to full. Each class has 20 different routines, so there are enough mixes to give you some variety. Should you want full control of the music being played, there's a custom option that can be saved for future workouts. Then there's a personal tracking mode, which keeps a record of which workouts you've done, songs you've played, calories burned, etc.
The new mode for this iteration is World Party, which gives the game some structure. You have the chance to visit one of several locales around the world and participate in their Zumba classes with local trainers. All regions are unlocked, but their playlists are only partially unlocked. To unlock the rest, you have to earn Zumba miles through your performance in that region. Gaining Zumba miles also unlocks things like postcards and souvenirs, which aren't that valuable unless you're going for Xbox One Achievements. They also unlock videos related to each region and trainer, so there's some entertainment value if you're interested in those things. While the routines are just as grueling as the Full Classes, the Zumba miles come in fast enough that you'll be able to unlock everything in a stage.
From a technical standpoint, the menu functionality is hit-and-miss, depending on which method you prefer. For the first time in the series, voice commands work perfectly. Without using a starter command, any command you give you only needs to be heard once by the game. You run into the issue of figuring out what some of the commands are since the game doesn't show you, but once you get over that hurdle, you can get through most of the game with voice commands. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for gesture commands, which are terrible. It takes a while for the game to recognize that you want to use gestures in the first place, and when you do activate it, navigating menus with gestures is simply too slow. With no controller support in the menus, your only headache-free option is to speak.
Unlike previous entries, the graphical style of the game has changed dramatically since it no longer uses pre-rendered characters and backgrounds. The title has video of the real instructors performing the routines against a green screen backdrop that represents the locales. Your performance means the backgrounds get more lively, with neon colors and other effects. It also means more people appear in the middle of the routine, further giving the feeling of being in a crowd. While the effect sounds like it would look cheesy, it looks pretty good in 1080p. The only flaw comes from some of the camera angles during the routines. The segments may throw off some people since the dancers are sometimes too far away from the camera, so you can't see what they're doing.
Zumba Fitness: World Party works as an exercise title and a complementary title to Just Dance 2014, the only other rhythm game on the system thus far. The routines and soundtrack are good, but the inclusion of several different styles makes this game more well-rounded than previous entries. The move to live dancers is handled very well, and the use of voice to navigate the menus is clearly the best way to go through the game. Some of the preexisting issues, like limited move previews and odd camera angles, are still present. The use of gestures to navigate menus has actually gotten worse, but if you can live with these flaws, you'll have a great time with World Party.
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