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Just Dance 4 (Wii U) artwork

Just Dance 4 (Wii U) review

"You might not realize it, but even simple repetitive motions like lifting your arm and then lowering it can start to take a toll on a personómost particularly someone who spends his days sitting in an office chair and typing words about video gamesóand thatís even before you start lifting your legs up high, or twirling in circles like a rose petal caught in a whirlwind."

Fitness and dancing games go all the way back to the NES days, if not further. I remember when I was a kid and Iíd look at the old ďNow Youíre Playing with PowerĒ posters that Nintendo included in first-party games. I would snicker when I saw Dance Aerobics on that sheet, because clearly an aerobics game isnít a real game, right?

Fortunately, Iíve matured beyond the point where I thought I was the arbiter of what makes and doesnít make a game. Iíve seen Dance Dance Revolution come and go, along with a few clones, and Iíve seen the arrival of newer stuff like the Dance Central and Just Dance franchises. Whatever some people might think, thereís a real market for dancing games. There are people who love playing them.

One such person used to shop at the department store where I worked. She was probably 100 pounds heavier than she needed to be and she dressed raggedly, but she was always surrounded by younger girls--friends of her teen daughter, as far as I could tell--who were in much better shape and probably a lot more used to exercising. The lot of them would swarm the case where we kept Wii games, and they would pick up basically every dancing game we stocked that they didnít already have. Then, like a whirlwind, they would leave the store while still talking excitedly about all the fun they would have.

I used to watch them pick up a bunch of Just Dance stuff and Iíd think to myself that they should try a real dancing game instead. You know, one that required a special mat like Dance Dance Revolution, or one that gets your whole body in on the act, like Dance Central. Remember how I said I matured? I guess I have to take that back.

I might have gone through life eternally believing that the Just Dance games werenít really worth anyoneís attention, that they basically were just expensive CDs that sold strictly because they contained popular music, but then the Wii U arrived. Anxious to experience a wide variety of titles from its expansive launch library, I bit the bullet and picked up Just Dance 4, the latest in a series that continues to sell like hotcakes. I figured there must be some appeal to it that I wasnít seeing, and it turns out I was right.

If you play Just Dance 4, you probably wonít reach the end of even a single song before you realize that youíre in for workout similar to the one a Dance Dance Revolution title might offer. The way the process works is that you grip the required Wii Remote tightly and then hold it at your side as a song begins. From there, you watch the dancing figure on the screen and you try to mimic his or her moves, essentially striking poses or producing swift motions in time with the beat. There are scrolling figures near the lower right side of the screen that provide timing cues and also let you know when a pose can net you more points. Your goal is to secure enough points for a 5-star rating on each track.

You might not realize it, but even simple repetitive motions like lifting your arm and then lowering it can start to take a toll on a person--most particularly someone who spends his days sitting in an office chair and typing words about video games--and thatís even before you start lifting your legs up high, or twirling in circles like a rose petal caught in a whirlwind. As I began playing, I was hopeful that I could dupe the game into believing that I was mimicking fairly ambitious or sissified moves while actually exerting little effort, but the developers must have caught onto that little game that chubby guys like me play. Spoofing is still possible to a certain extent, but thereís no way I could find to fake your way to a commendable rating. You have to work for it.

The game delights in making you put in that work, actually. There are two main modes of play, with one of them being an exercise mode that initially provides you with four fitness routines. You can unlock additional ways to play by completing workouts, which are available in multiple durations depending on how many calories you want to burn. The easiest, a 12-minute workout, offers to burn around 45 calories.

Workouts do a good job of putting you through your paces, but theyíre also reasonably forgiving when itís advisable. Between individual songs that fall within a given genre (you decide which one by picking your workout option), there are interludes that let you cool down with stretches. The on-screen avatar will even lie down on the ground and perform knee stretches and such that you must mimic, so itís good to clear a nice space for yourself in front of the television. The game isnít as greedy for solitude as the absurd Xbox Kinect hardware, but you definitely want to move breakable items and light furniture out of the way (bonus: doing so might even help you burn a few extra calories).

If a structured exercise regimen isnít your thing and you just want to dance to your favorite tunes, the game can accommodate that easily enough. The main mode presents you with a list of songs you can cycle through. Itís a decent list, with a selection of more than 40 licensed tunes from Barry White, Cher Lloyd, Rihanna, Pink, Elvis Presley and others. For the most part, the selections are taken from the last few years, and they seem to have been chosen with an under-25 audience kept firmly in mind. Thatís to be expected, really, and it doesnít get in the way of some good fun.

My first session with Just Dance 4 lasted about a half-hour. I completed eight songs and then I had to stop playing because I was exhausted. As I set down the Wii Remote, I realized that I was drenched in sweat. That really surprised me, so I took a shower and resolved to take things easy the next time around. Then in that second session, I did one of the workouts--only the short one, mind you--and I came to realize that sweat is unavoidable. Itís no wonder you rarely see out-of-shape dancers. Moving to the music is hard work!

Maybe youíre like I used to be, and you think Just Dance is a dancing game for pansies. I can understand believing that if you havenít played it. In my personal experience, though, itís a challenging workout and a painful but fun reminder that I have a lot of work to do if I want to get back in shape. If you enjoy dancing or music and you donít mind looking like a fool (an outcome that is easily enough avoided if you simply play it alone), definitely give the game a chance. It might just surprise youÖ


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 29, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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