The Just Dance juggernaut keeps on rolling, with the latest entry in the franchise soon to hit shelves on October 23rd. The Digital Fix attended a preview event to see what the series has in store for toe-tapping veterans and dad-dance newcomers alike (we’re squarely in the latter group).
Now that rival franchise Dance Central has stepped back from the spotlight (ba-doom-tish), Just Dance has become the world’s largest music game series. While dancing is a universal constant, it’s nevertheless interesting to see how great a focus Ubisoft places on localisation. Song lists are an eclectic and varied smorgasbord of familiar and entirely new tracks, with Just Dance 2016 throwing up some surprising curios. When your game contains the number one Russian dance track, a One Direction hit and Ievan Polka (aka leekspin) with a Hatsune Miku dancer, you know it’s barmy in all the right ways. It was also a surprise to hear that Ubisoft have released three Japan-centric Just Dance titles – the latest of which co-branded with Yokai Watch.
Of course, what’s the role of a dance game in a console landscape where motion control has fallen by the wayside. The Kinect has been thrown out with Microsoft’s dirty bathwater and the PlayStation camera is barely referenced. Ubisoft have therefore introduced a brilliant and convenient solution – your phone. Download the Just Dance app and your phone becomes the controller and it works pretty damn well. It makes the game even more accessible – something very important to Jason Altman, Director of Digital and Online Development.
We spoke to Jason about the future of Just Dance and another major new innovation – Just Dance Unlimited. A subscription service, it will allow players to immediately unlock all songs from Just Dance’s previous titles, all updated in HD for the new consoles. For hardcore Just Dance fans (and there are many) this radically increases the number of songs immediately available, allowing for whole sections devoted to one artist, region, genre or such. There’ll even be an exclusive song through the service – ‘Cheerleader’ by OMI – as well as 150 songs available at launch and a one-month free pass with Just Dance 2016.
We asked Jason if this might include some of the Japan-only songs – it’s something Ubisoft are moving towards, he told us, but licensing might take a while. Altman has also seen a change in players over the franchise history – it’s broadened, gathered more core players but remained equally balanced. Likewise, there have been more and more parents playing with their children – something Ubisoft have accounted for with a new scoring mode that allows for younger dancers in a less competitive manner.
On the other end of the spectrum, Just Dance is rapidly moving into the world of e-Sports, with the Just Dance World Championships now approaching their third year. They make for a different spectator event – these aren’t people sitting at a keyboard. Instead there’s a huge amount of showmanship, with the crowd often dancing along. Ubisoft is committed to bringing the competition to more countries, opening up the field of play to more entrants.
Just Dance 2016 also has the first original song composed specially for the game. ‘Chiwawa’ is a gaudy, weird earworm that will shake any hangover out of you (or maybe make it worse) complete with a video that’s also a sensory onslaught. Speaking to Creative Director Alkis Argyriadis about the song, he revealed it was a joint composition between Tom Salta (usually heard in Ubisoft’s military/action titles) and Reni Mimura. Argyriadis calls the song a little bit more ‘hipster’ than Ubisoft’s usual approach, being a little more tongue-in-cheek and a nod to the fans asking for songs like Chiwawa.
Everything about the song, done in the Kawaii style, recalls the conversation-starting work of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. Even the costume in the video (and seen on the front cover of the game) is similar in style. It is, however, exactly the batshit crazy type of song that works well at parties. Check out the video below – if you dare.
Speaking about the rest of the song choices, Argyriadis elaborated on the thin line Ubisoft must tread between keeping up with current trends and remaining family friendly. For all that twerking and grime is invading the charts, Ubisoft has to bear the kids in mind (won’t somebody please think of the children!) Saying that, one of his favourite tracks is ‘Hangover (BaBaBa)’ by Buraka Som Sistema, a slightly more underground track with a harder edge. Just Dance is very much seen as new platform for emerging dance/electronic acts, hence the inclusion of more esoteric or localised songs in the main setlist.
We came away from seeing Just Dance happy to see that Ubisoft isn’t sitting on the genre twiddling its thumbs. There’s genuine innovation here in a title many would write off. For dancers and house-party arrangers everywhere, Just Dance 2016 looks set to be a new beginning for the franchise. Just remember: accidentally throwing your Wiimote at the wall was an inconvenience. Throwing your phone instead will prove a tad costlier. Wear those wristbands, kids.