Three years ago Harmonix introduced us to Dance Central, a franchise that has since then exemplified the power and potential of the Kinect and has continued to evolve with each new title. It’s no surprise, then, that our third trip to the dance floor is perhaps the best example of what a Kinect game should be. In fact, it’s safe to say Dance Central 3 is perfect embodiment of what the series was always meant to be.

One of the welcomed additions to Dance Central 3 is its silly Story mode that works to justify why you will be dancing to various songs from different time periods. Dance Central Intelligence, an underground organization fighting off dance crimes, recruits you to go back in time in an effort to learn the dance crazes of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and so forth to stop the villainous Dr. Tan from stripping dancers of their freedom of expression. It’s very similar to the old Crew Challenge, which has players dancing to a list of songs alongside the game’s various dance crews, but it’s structured in a way that follows an actual plot leading to a fitting dance-off against the bad guy.

Developed by: Harmonix
Published by: Microsoft Studios
Genre: Dance
Platform: Xbox 360
What works: Varied and technical choreography | Impressive modes that exemplify Kinect technology | Great selection of songs
What doesn’t work: Obligatory photos in Crew Throwdown
★★★★★

In fact, Dance Central 3 feels more like a traditional game in the sense that players will feel that their dancing is paying off somehow. Aside from the challenge of getting 5-Stars in every song in the game, you will also be gaining skill points after every dance, letting you level up and unlock costumes, characters, and stages. There is also a Live Challenge section that lets players gain extra skill points for beating a song’s score set by Harmonix or by their peers. This is the closest thing there is to getting online multiplayer as it lets you flaunt your scores and challenge your friends to beat them. Sharing photos is also easier as they can now post directly to your Facebook wall with a tap of a button. While previous games simply rewarded you with a score, DC3 actually gives you many reasons to show off your dance moves.

And you’ll be doing lots of dancing, or rehearsing, at least, since Harmonix has stepped up its choreography by enlisting professional talent (such as Usher himself) to create some of the most elaborate and technical dances yet. In fact, if you compare the easiest song from the original Dance Central to “Y.M.C.A.”, which is the easiest routine on the disc, you’ll see how far the choreography has come from simple arm pumps and symmetrical moves. Songs have gotten fresh choreography, and while you may recognize a few moves from past games here and there, the majority of the songs feature new moves that involve your whole body making dances feel more varied and less predictable. You’ll feel like you’re dancing and not just playing a dancing game.

Visually, Dance Central 3 features an improved interface. Menus make songs easier to find and sort by different criteria, complementing the improved voice commands that make playing hands-free all the more enjoyable, granted you’re yelling loud enough at the Kinect. Even tracking your calories is easier as a fitness ticker now appear on-screen at all times. Characters are dressed in era-appropriate costumes and the various stages will take you back in time to house parties, roller rinks, and a TRL-inspired TV show. Venues are still as colorful as ever and shift into a lightshow of purples and blues when you’re dancing flawlessly.

All that traveling through time will let you experience dance crazes of those eras such as the “Macarena”, which come with moves everyone is familiar with, inviting a wider audience of players to the fun. The game even includes a new Beginner mode that is great for people who have never played a dancing game before (and are newbies to dancing). Helping you improve, your character’s limbs will be highlighted red to indicate that your movement or positioning is off. Its ever-helpful Rehearse mode also breaks down the more difficult routines and lets you practice them at your own pace. While game does require fancy footwork in its highest difficulty, it also teaches you how to dance like a pro if you spend time honing your skills.

Of course, the party game atmosphere of the series is alive and well with the inclusion of a new Party mode showcasing some of the most impressive uses of the Kinect we’ve ever seen. Players can jump in or drop out whenever they want and play through an endless, customizable mix of modes including Strike a Pose, Perform, Battle, and two others that are perfect for quick matches with friends. Make Your Move, for example, lets you go up against a friend and take turns creating moves to stump each other when it’s that person’s turn to perform them. The Kinect is essentially tracking your movements and creating the framework for your moves on the fly, which is quite impressive. Additionally, the new Keep the Beat mode is like an advanced version of the old Freestyle mode allowing the Kinect to track your movement and score you on how well you dance to the beat of a song. Both of these modes give players a chance to dance the way they want, but don’t sacrifice on the quality of the series, and instead elevate it to a new level of sophistication.

These same modes are also found when playing Crew Throwdown, which is a tournament-style competition for two teams of up to four players each. At the start of each throwdown, both teams need to pose and take photos, but having to do this each time does get time-consuming especially when all you want to do is just play. The scoring of Battles has been improved allowing for more combos during songs and the chance of earning extra points by successfully striking a string of poses at the end of each song. These improvements make battles the most competitive they’ve ever been.

It’s clear Dance Central 3 tries to be many things, but it manages to succeed where other rhythm games have failed. It’s an educational tool for those who want to learn to dance like the pros; it’s a great party game with plenty of impressive modes and challenges; and it’s also a prime example of what a Kinect game should be. Your body may be sore from so many dances, but this third installment of “dancing in front of your TV” is one you don’t want to miss.

About The Author

Giancarlo Saldana is Blast's Gaming Editor. Follow him on Twitter @giansaldana to read his daily musings about the world of video games.

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