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Dance Magic

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3
Genre: Rhythm
Developer: Targem Games
Release Date: Feb. 15, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Review - 'Dance Magic'

by Brian Dumlao on March 23, 2016 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

What if dancing could save the world? In Dance Magic, it can. Scientists have invented a biological energy that converts dancing moves to real power. Do not let this energy be used for destruction!

Towards the latter half of the original PlayStation's life cycle, there was a game called Bust A Groove (or Bust A Move, as it was originally titled in Japan). It was a rhythm game that had original tracks produced by one of the big Japanese music labels, Avex Media, but what made it memorable was that it was essentially a rhythm fighting game. The quirky concept worked, producing a sequel that was just as good before a peripheral-heavy PS2 version essentially mothballed the franchise. The influence of that title doesn't seem to have been lost, though, as Dance Magic on the PC tries to channel that gameplay style for a new crop of gamers.

The core mechanics will be familiar to rhythm game enthusiasts, even though it is very different from what is expected. As in any rhythm game, you're expected to hit your marks on the beat using either directional buttons or face buttons, whichever is easier. However, you're never provided guidance about which buttons need to be hit on which beats. Instead, you're encouraged to freestyle everything within your beats, so the only way to mess up is to not hit your direction at the right time. Because this is a fighting game nestled in a rhythm title, there are certain combinations that relate to specific moves, such as basic attacks, stuns, or defending yourself from your opponent's attacks. Every other move you throw in builds up a combo meter that strengthens your attacks — provided the combo doesn't break. As expected, your goal is to keep attacking until your opponent's energy meter is depleted.

Dance Magic comes with three modes. Tournament is the single-player campaign where you choose a dancer to face off against six other CPU-controlled opponents in various locations. Though the game doesn't have a story for each character and all of their attacks are the same, they each have distinct commands for their attacks. Completing each battle gives you cash that can be spent in the shop to unlock more characters, outfit pieces, and songs.

It should be noted that the game features 30 songs, all of them from unknown artists. The songs are from an array of genres and are danceable, but you wouldn't expect them to be played on the radio. This is especially true for the songs that take some core riffs from popular tracks but lay other instruments and different lyrics on top, so the tunes are instantly familiar but still sound strange.

It should also be noted that the prices set for purchasing the locked songs is quite high. With less than 25 percent of the library available from the outset, a fair bit of unlocking needs to be done . With the amount of cash earned in one tournament, you'll be able to open a few songs, but with varying prices per track, you're forced to go through the tournament multiple times to unlock everything. This wouldn't be so bad if the tournament mode didn't feel like a grind. The level of difficulty is quite low, and since nothing meaningful is attached to the mode beyond cash, there's little motivation to finish the mode with multiple characters.

The second mode is Skirmish, which is essentially a truncated version of Tournament mode, since you play one round against the CPU or a friend. You've got more leeway in terms of the locales and the song, but that's about it. You still earn cash for your victories, but the amount is substantially less than what's in Tournament mode, so it's even more of a grind if you want the versus modes to be meaningful. This mode also features online multiplayer, and the performance is pretty good. Then again, you have to arrange for someone to actively participate with you, since the online community has pretty much dried up.

Freestyle mode is the final mode, and it's more enjoyable for players who aren't fond of the rhythm-fighting combination. This mode acts more like Dance Dance Revolution, since it gives you arrow prompts to follow. Multiple difficulties go along with each of the unlocked tracks, and the standard moves are present, like arrow holds and hitting two directions simultaneously. Though the mode doesn't give you any currency, it features a leaderboard so you can post high scores.

The core mechanics are very familiar, but there are a few changes that throw people off. First, the area where the steps appear is rather small, presumably to make room for your dancer to keep going despite your missteps. It is useable, but for those coming from the Bemani game style, it feels rather cramped. Second, the arrows never scroll but remain static while a hit line goes down. As the line goes down, the previous arrows are replaced, and the line reappears at the top before repeating the process. After getting accustomed to focusing on one spot in dancing games, it's very jarring and unintuitive to need to constantly scan vertically.

Compared to most modern rhythm game titles, a 30-song soundtrack is pretty meager. Luckily, the game lets you import your own MP3 files to expand the selection. In a way, it even circumvents the fact that you'll need to spend a great deal of time unlocking songs since you can throw your own in there and call it a day. That works fine for the Skirmish mode, but if you're trying to use your songs in Freestyle, you'll also need a corresponding SM file, which originates from StepMania, a free game that was originally a means to get a DDR-like game on the PC. With tons of SM files out there, it makes the Freestyle portion just as endless as the Skirmish portion. Then again, in order to make any of this work, you'll have to stick those files in a specific folder. For those who have amassed a collection of SM and MP3 files on a different folder or a different drive, this can be problematic.

Graphically, Dance Magic is fine but nothing spectacular, even if you disregard the game's PlayStation 3 roots. The cartoon vibe of the character designs works well, as does their animations, which transition nicely between moves. The animated aesthetic also works well for the backgrounds, which fall between busy and sterile. It all comes in at a nice frame rate, but for some reason, the advanced graphical options are not only sparse but outright missing in some cases. While the rest of the game can be controlled fine with a controller or dance pad, you'll need a mouse to modify anything in this category.

In the end, Dance Magic lacks the sort of magic that makes rhythm games so mesmerizing. The mechanics for the battle system are fine on paper but boring in execution, as the free nature of attack execution means little variation in how battles play out. The additional Freestyle section is fine if you can get over the counterintuitive changes, and the meager song selection isn't helped by an economic model that encourages too much grinding for little payoff. Considering the lack of rhythm games on the PC, Dance Magic might seem like an appealing purchase, but that's only the case if you're currently ignoring games on other platforms.

Score: 6.0/10

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