All she wants to do is Dance Central 3! And in the past few months since its release, boy have I. I first fell in love with the Dance Central upon the original’s release when the Kinect launched in 2009. Since then I’ve incorporated the games into my fitness routine, the yearly installments inspiring new waves of motivation in my physical progress as a whole. Last year’s sequel added some much needed improvements to the series, like same screen two player and video feedback, but even a loyal fan such as myself had to wonder where Harmonix would go next. Does Dance Central 3 deliver enough challenges and new features to maintain my interest, or is the premise starting to wear thin? I gave myself several weeks of intense workouts before making the final call.

Dance Central 3 maintains the same formula as its predecessors, combining precise body tracking and inventive choreography with an energizing and varied playlist spanning Donna Summer to Daft Punk. Players earn high scores based on their ability to perform the moves in perfect sync. They can also make playlists, track calories and participate in dance battles against one or more opponents. Specific moves and routines can be broken down for rehearsal, with video feedback to correct misplaced limbs or poor timing. In this third installment of the series, a number of new modes have been added as well. Story Mode, more or less the Career Mode from Dance Central 2, is the most notable example, sending the agents of Dance Central Intelligence through four eras in dance history to defeat the evil Dr. Tan. Crew Throwdown, which combines new minigames Make A Move and Keep The Beat, pits four crews of two against each other, testing their ability to adapt to new routines developed on the fly. Party Mode, another newcomer, combines random songs and minigames to rank players as they go head to head in casual multiplayer.

The difficulty levels have been expanded to four tiers, catering to a wider range of expertise; Beginner encompasses the most basic of steps, while Hard adopts an almost vicious level of challenge. Over the course of the series, Harmonix has vastly improved the quality of the choreography, coming up with tougher and more inventive routines as time goes on. Whereas I was able to skip the Break It Down mode for most of the songs in Dance Central 1 and 2, it’s virtually impossible to do so in the later stages of Dance Central 3.

The game features an even wider cast of impeccably-rendered dance crews, some of which are unlocked through points achieved after repeated play. New outfits can also be earned, though bizarrely, not new stages, of which there are only seven. What they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality, each a detailed thematic take on the era or crew that inspired them. I’m especially fond of the Flash4ward’s setting, which takes a cue from House Party. I also like the glamorous Dance Central Live stage, though the flashing lights interfere with the timing bar. The soundtrack, with a total of 44 songs, is my favorite of the three games, spanning not just several decades of music but also a variety of tastes. I particularly like “Better Off Alone” and “Calabria 2008,” as they remind me of my old Dance Dance Revolution playlists. The Bollywood-style number “Beware of the Boys (Mundian To Bach Ke)”  is just a stroke of brilliance; the routine is among my favorite in the entire Dance Central catalog.

The flaws are few, but the ones that do exist can be deflating. As with the original and the sequel, the achievements are glitchy. I earned Walk In Closet for performing as every character in every outfit before I’d even unlocked three of the crews. A glance at Raptr reveals that few people have the achievement for 10,000 “Nice” ranked moves, even though its by far the easiest to earn. The pause command can accidentally be triggered during routines, and there’s no way to toggle the feature in options. Switching to a voice-command-only control scheme would be helpful, but noise pollution would make that difficult, as my brief Dance Central 3 experience with it revealed.

Dance Central has been an amazing fitness tool for me and helped restore a love of dancing that I long ago had to abandon due to illness at a young age. In teaching an audience who otherwise has no experience, I could not praise Harmonix more. It’s incredibly difficult to replicate the experience of a having a hands-on teacher, but as much as you can pull off with a video game, they have. As the series progresses and offers increasingly difficult routines, I’d like to see some supplementary teaching materials to touch on some of the finer points. As novice dancers progress through the game, they won’t have the benefit of an instructor to give them a rundown on pivot heels or box steps. With only a flat image to mirror, the player has trouble figuring out how to navigate their 3D dancing space. A few pointers in that area could save them hours of grief.

All in all, the flaws are few and Dance Central excels in ways that no other dance or Kinect game has. While the bar has undoubtedly been raised for the next game in terms of dance instruction and innovation, Dance Central 3 makes a solid entry to the series without exhausting it. If you want to turn your Kinect from a dusty accessory into a tool for fun and fitness I highly recommend Dance Central 3.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+Crew Throwdown provides a highly satisfying group gaming experience
+The increased difficulty is worth the admission price for seasoned fans alone
-The achievements are glitchy, so if you’re using those to motivate you through those days you just don’t want to dance, take caution
-The voice commands, while a nice idea, are almost useless

 

9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.

Dance Central 3 was developed by Harmonix and published by Microsoft Studios. It was released on October 16, 2012, at the MSRP of $49.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.