The Dance Central series has been a role model for other Kinect games since the launch of the motion sensor back in 2010. Though the original Dance Central was a solid game, the best example of what Kinect could do, each new version is still a significant improvement over the last. With Dance Central 3 Harmonix has added even more features to make a more involved game that'll appeal to a broader audience while still retaining what made Dance Central and Dance Central 2 so great.
Naturally, the core concept of the game is still there, that feature that made up the solid base of not only Dance Central and Dance Central 2 but Harmonix's other music games like the original Guitar Hero and the Rock Band series: a big list of tunes to groove along to. In Dance Central 3 you can find this in the 'Perform' mode. The songs can be organised alphabetically or by difficulty or decade (you even get an achievement for changing the view), so you can easily pick one that takes your fancy and start dancing straight away.
Swiping through the menus is fast and easy – clearly no small feat given the clunkiness of the navigation in several other Kinect games – and serves as a good indication for how the Kinect holds up in the actual meat of the game. All you have to worry about is trying to make your body mirror the dancing character on screen, while the Kinect monitors your movement and matches you up to the game's expectations. If you get it wrong, the offending limb or limbs will glow red. A little model of you in the corner shows you what the Kinect sees, so if you can wrap your head around the whole thing you can even adjust your motions to make that image match the larger one you're supposed to be focusing on. Different difficulty levels will make harsher demands on your accuracy, but even beginners won't be able to get away with flailing around at random if they want to score points. Kinect is clever here.
Before you start trying to learn the steps to songs like In Da Club, however, you can't go wrong by turning on Fitness Mode. You don't have to bother with any of the extra fitness features, but it can't hurt to have the game track your calories burned, and Harmonix should probably just leave this on by default for future games. If you are interested in more than just seeing a number go up to make you feel like you've achieved something you can set yourself goals or create your own workout playlist to get you in the mood. Pre-built playlists are included, split roughly by genre, but the ability to do your daily exercise only to your favourite songs is a welcome addition, even if the fitness mode in general isn't as well thought out as in Just Dance 4.
If you want a bit more context for your dancing Dance Central 3 has pushed the limits of narrative a little further with a plot involving time travel. The story is actually a continuation of the previous games: you've been summoned to Dance Central Intelligence because of your reputation (built up in Dance Central 2) so that you can travel back in time to help other DCI agents in their mission to stop Dr. Tan. Your task is to find the “dance craze” for each decade starting with the '70s, so that they can be used against him. Each craze is split into four moves, two of which will be hidden among the choreography of one song, and the other two in another. You can't progress until you've both built up enough star power – awarded for doing particularly well in a song – and found all of the craze moves, and you're not told which two of the four or so songs for each decade they're in, so you'll end up having to dance through a few.
This plot is obviously not supposed to be taken very seriously, which is good because it's pretty ridiculous, though it's nice to have a little direction and a reason to play songs you might not otherwise, like the The Hustle and Da Butt. Here's where the broader audience comes in; with several songs for each decade, there's a bit of appeal for players of any age. That does also mean there's not as much modern music as there is in other games, but it was recently announced that Gangnam Style and Call Me Maybe will soon be available for download, and more will follow. And you can import your songs from Dance Central and Dance Central 2 if you're really getting tired of what's available, ending up with a huge library to choose from.
You can also play through the campaign with another player, if you can face doing the Y.M.C.A. when you've got company. Dance Central 3 doesn't have online multiplayer, but then Dance Central couldn't even manage more than one local player at a time, so the series has come a long way. In fact, Dance Central 3 does a better job of multiplayer than most Kinect games out there, with plenty of different game modes that actually make it a joy rather than a hassle to make it a group activity.
For a quick bit of one-on-one competition, you'll want the Dance Battle mode. Here, you're just following the choreography side by side like you do in the campaign, but rather than working towards the same goal you're trying to score the most points. If your friend is vastly better (or worse) than you, you can play at different levels, which is a welcome touch. Extra features include a spotlight that focuses on one player at a time and a section in which you are taken away from the mirror reflection and shown squares with some of the moves on; performing these moves quickly and before your opponent will win you more points.
These features also appear in the other multiplayer mode, Crew Throwdown, which is – unlike dance battles – new to Dance Central 3. In this mode, the goal is still to score the most points, but you can play in two teams (or “crews”) of up to four players each, though each team will still only be able to have one player in front of the Kinect at a time and swap in and out. You'll face a mix of performances, dance battles, and mini-games until one team has amassed enough points to win. The “Keep the Beat” mini-game measures your ability to move in rhythm, but it's the “Make Your Move” mini-game that is really genius. Players take it in turns to make up moves, which the Kinect tracks and then turns into dance cards for the other player to attempt to match. It's cleverly done, and adds a bit of variety to the game.
Finally, there's Party Mode, which can also support crews of multiple players, but is less structured. You don't have to plan anything; just switch it on and songs and mini-games will be selected at random. When Kinect games often involve a lot of waving your arms to navigate menus, it's a relief to have a game that you can just jump into when you've got a big group of people round.
And that's the best thing about Dance Central 3: it has a mode for everything. Were it limited to just the Perform mode, this game might quickly become boring, but whether you’re dancing to get your heart working or just for fun, alone or with a whole group of friends, there’s plenty to do. Harmonix has built on the successful foundations of Dance Central and Dance Central 2 to create a packed all-rounder of a game.
With a time travel plot that takes you back to the '70s, Dance Central 3 is hoping to add an older generation to its fan base.