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Archive for February, 2013

Review of The Hip Hop Dance Experience for Wii

At first glance, The Hip Hop Dance Experience seems to be another in a series of “Hey! Let’s squeeze yet more money out of people who like Just Dance” games from Ubisoft.

Usually when there’s a successful video game franchise, you’ll see a bunch of copycat games pop up to try to capitalize on the success. The interesting thing in the case of Just Dance is that most of the “copycat” games were produced by Ubisoft, the publisher of Just Dance, themselves. We’re reviewed most of these games on this blog, from Just Dance: Summer Party to Dance on Broadway to ABBA: You Can Dance to the Black Eyed Pea Experience.

What was annoying about most of these specialized games is that the gameplay itself was in most cases identical to Just Dance; in fact these games often contained much less functionality than what you’d find in the main Just Dance games. The Michael Jackson Experience was probably the best of these games, as it at least contained some original videos from choreographers who worked with Michael Jackson himself. But for the most part, aside from some unique graphics and dance moves (both of which could have been replicated in $5 downloadable content), these games were just thinly veiled attempts to get people to shell out another $40-50 to buy a few set of songs, rather than making those songs available via downloadable content. Ubisoft hit rock bottom when they decided to re-release a number of songs from Just Dance and Just Dance 2 in a full-priced new titled called “Just Dance Greatest Hits”.

So I picked up Hip Hop Dance Experience with some pretty low expectations. But I’m happy to report that this is not just a Just Dance clone, but stands on its own as a very good game that fans of hip hop music will enjoy, and which aspiring hip hop dancers can actually learn some authentic moves from.

The soundtrack right away tells you that this isn’t a typical Just Dance game. The songs feature the hottest artists from the hip hop, dance, and R&B scene, all by the original artists. Some of the songs are even pretty new and fresh off the charts.

Each song is identified in a menu by the song title, artist, and difficulty rating out of 5. Here’s a full song list:

  • 1 Thing – Amerie – 1/5
  • Airplanes – B.o.B. feat. Hayley Williams – 3/5
  • Creep – LTC – 2/5
  • Danger (Been So Long) – Mystikal ft. Nivea – 4/5
  • Day ‘N Night – Kid Cudi – 1/5
  • Down – Jay Sean ft. Lil Wayne – 5/5
  • Drop Like It’s Hot – Snoop Dog ft. Pharrell – 2/5
  • Funkdafied – Da Brat – 1/5
  • Hard – Rihanna ft. Jeezy – 1/5
  • Hip Hop Hooray – Naughty By Nature – 4/5
  • How in Herre – Nelly – 3/5
  • If It Isn’t Love – New Edition – 3/5
  • Ignition – R. Kelly – 3/5
  • International Live – Pitbull ft. Chris Brown – 2/5
  • Lean Back – Terror Squad ft. Fat Joe Remy – 2/5
  • Lollipop – Lil Wayne ft. Static – 4/5
  • Look At Me Now – Chris Brown ft. Lil Wayne & Busta Rhymes – 3/5
  • Moment 4 Life – Nikki Minaj – 3/5
  • One Two Step (ft. Missy Elliot) – Ciara – 3/5
  • Over – Drake – 3/5
  • Replay – Iyaz – 4/5
  • Return of the Mack – Mark Morrison – 3/5
  • Run It – Chris Brown – 2/5
  • Say Aah – Trey Songz ft. Fabolous – 2/5
  • Sexy and I Know It – LMFAO – 4/5
  • She Wants to Move – N*E*R*D – 3/5
  • So Good – B.o.B. – 1/5
  • Vivrant Thing – Q-Tip – 3/5
  • Wild ONes – Flo Rida ft. Sia – 4/5
  • You’re a Jerk – New Boyz – 5/5

The main menu options are:

1) Dance Party – Just like Just Dance, this is where you just dive into the songs and start dancing. One to four players can participate. Just as with Just Dance, you copy the moves of an on-screen dancer, but unlike Just Dance you can see both a dancer facing you and a dancer with his or her back to you. It turns out that watching the dancer facing you (like you’re in a mirror) is still the better choice to follow, but for certain moves, it’s definitely helpful to watch the dancer with his or her back to you to see the full range of motion for some of the more complicated moves.

This leads me to one of the first things I noticed about this game: while in Just Dance the dance moves are “authentic”, they tend to be on the more fun and frivolous side so whole families can play together. With this game, the target audience is decidedly more niche (if you can name a song from 70% or more of the artists named above, the game was made for you). So the moves are a lot more intricate, similar to what you might see in a dance club or on a music video. Each song has a unique set of dance moves that are specific to the song (the game even gives names to distinct dance moves) and similar to what you’ll see in the music videos or live performances of the song.

As with Just Dance, you’ll get feedback of whether you’re doing the steps right; if you do it wrong you’ll see “Busted” flash on the screen. Do it right, you’ll see “Nice” and “Cool”, and hit the move spot-on and you’ll get “Hype”, along with a buzzing of your Wii remote.

Motion detection is very accurate; the game uses the MotionPlus feature of your newer Wii remote (or a MotionPlus attachment on an older Wii remote) to get a pretty precise read of your hand position, angle, and motion.

Now don’t get me wrong; this is hardly the kind of precision you’d get on an Xbox; the game at the end of the day only reads your hand gestures. There were plenty of times where I knew I wasn’t hitting the gestures, but I’d still get a “Nice”. And conversely, there were times I was sure I was hitting the moves right, but got a “Busted”. Having said that, the more I practiced the moves with my full body, the higher my score got.

As you can see, songs have a “break period” built in for you to rest (or freestyle, if you have the energy).

Graphics are pretty good. You see the dancers in the foreground along with one of several pretty detailed venues, more of which you unlock throughout the game. The original artist’s video plays in the background.

I like that players can jump in any time by grabbing a Wii remote and pressing the “A” button. All players dance to the same steps–there’s no individual choreography as in other games.

2) Dance Battle – The game’s description of this mode says, “In this multiplayer mode, 2 or more players perform dance moves to boost their own scores while attempting to take away points from others. The player with the most points wins.”

Here’s a video of me playing the dance battle with the wife, playing through Replay, International Love, and Wild Ones. We weren’t exactly sure how to “take away points from the other”, but I’m guessing it means that if you hit a move and your opponent misses, the points go from his or hers to you. In any case, it was a lot of fun to compete head-on, and it was nice that unlike on the Xbox, you can put a little separation between the two of you so you’re not bumping into each other or smacking each other in the head.

Overall, playing with someone is a lot more fun than playing alone; it’s interesting how competition can motivate you to play more and play harder.

3) Dance Marathon – The game’s description of this mode is: “Dance as long as you can! Your moves will earn a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” depending on how well you do. If you get 4 “thumbs down” ratings it’s Game Over. Opening the PAUSED screen ends the routine.”

This is one of those “survival” modes that’s perhaps a little better on paper than it is in real life. I tried Dance Marathon to Amerie’s “1 Thing” and immediately got booted off the stage. But after playing a string of other songs, I’d collected over 75 “thumbs ups” and would have kept going if I hadn’t stopped. Despite their instructions, it’s a bit awkward figuring out how to exit this mode too; they could have used some help from some user interface experts.

At the end of your marathon it’ll tell you how many dances you got thumbs-ups to and how many Kilocalories you burned.

This wasn’t the most compelling part of the game for me, as it looked like it would just go on forever. But if you’re just looking to get exercise, it’s probably the closest thing to a “Just Sweat mode, as collecting “thumbs ups” is great motivation to keep going.

4) Power Skooling – This is one of the better dance tutorials I’ve seen in dance games. It lets you choose any of the songs and watch individual dance steps within any of them. There are literally hundreds of them, and it’s a great education for those who want to learn real hip-hop steps that they can use not just for this game but to show off in a club or party. Here are a couple steps from “International Love” that I learned which helped me when I played the song in both Dance Battle and Dance Marathon modes.

5) Options lets you adjust latency; if you find that you’re making all the right moves but consistently not getting credit for it, it’s possible that your TV is taking too long to render the image on the screen. You’ll be able to perform a simple exercise of adjusting your latency by watching a vertical line zipping across your screen and pressing the “A” button when it reaches the center; once this is one the Wii will compensate for any delays your TV is encountering.

Overall, granted while coming in with lowered expectations, I was pretty impressed with The Hip Hop Experience. This didn’t seem like just another clone of a dance game, but one that was designed from the ground up with its target audience in mind. Its focus on real hip-hop dance moves, a solid soundtrack with original artists, good multi-player capability, and excellent tutorial feature makes it a great buy for anyone who wants to learn more hip-hop moves, enjoys this music, and would like to have some “cool” workouts. 4.5 of 5 stars.

Review of Nickelodeon Dance 2 for Wii

A year ago I reviewed the original Nickelodeon Dance for the Wii. Well, a year later, Dora and all her friends from Nickelodeon are back with Nickelodeon Dance 2.

As with last year’s review, I’m going to try to review this game through the eyes of its intended audience: toddlers and young children who are in the target audience of Dora and her friends at Nickelodeon and who watch them on TV every day. And for those kids, this game is a really good one. For the rest of us, I’d stick with games like Wii Fit or Just Dance.

When you start the game you’ll hear some catchy music and see a startup screen with Dora, Diego, Molly from the Bubble Gumpies, and Bot, Milli and Geo from Team Umizoomi. If you don’t press anything, Dora will nag you by saying “if you want to play, just press the “A” button on your Wii remote over…and over…and over again every three seconds until you comply.

Strangely, you don’t see a cursor on the screen so you have to use your plus control pad to make choices. This probably eliminates some frustration for younger players who can’t point and click as easily as older kids, but I can also see a lot of kids who are used to every other Wii game in the world waving their remotes looking for a cursor.

Your options are Quick Play, Dance, Workout, Freeze, Achievements, and Options. If you don’t press a selection, Dora will chime in and explain what it is, and then begin nagging you to press a button every three seconds again. I’ve listed each of the choices below, as well as Dora’s explanation of what they are.

Quick Play. “Choose this to play a random dance or workout song”. Dora’s not exactly right here. When you select this option, it’ll randomly put you in a sub-menu under the “Dance” or the “Workout” menu, where you still have to scroll through it and select a song.

Dance. “This lets you choose dance songs to play”.

There are three sub-menus under the Dance menu that correspond to different difficult levels: Starting Steps, Smooth Moves, and Fancy Footwork. Next to each song, you’ll also see icons that correspond to the intensity level of the song (there’s an icon of something walking, running, and sprinting). Certain songs are locked, and you need to earn a certain number of stars to unlock them.

Here are the songs under each.

Starting Steps Songs:

Bubble Guppies Theme Song – Bubble Guppies (2)
Butterfly Dance – Team Umizoomi (1)
Get Up and Go Go – The Fresh Beat Band (2)
Team Umizoomi Theme Song – Team Umizoomi (3)
Tonight Is a Holiday – Bubble Guppies (2)
The Travel Song – Dora the Explorer (1)
Mary Had a Little Lamb – Dora the Explorer (1)
Shapes All Over the Place – Team Umizoomi (2)

Smooth Moves Songs:

At the Zoo – Bubble Guppies (3)
Freeze Dance – The Fresh Beat Band (2)
Here Comes Santa Claus – Dora the Explorer (2)
Hurry Home – The Backyardigans (2)
Just Like a Rockstar – The Fresh Beat Band (3)
Once Upon a Time – Bubble Guppies (2)
We Totally Rock – Bubble Guppies (2)

Fancy Footwork Songs:

Anything to Help My Friends – Team Umizoomi (2)
I Wanna Be a Cowgirl – Bubble Guppies (3)
La Bamba – Dora The Explorer (2)
The Piranha Song – Go, Diego, Go (3)
Stomp the House – The Fresh Beat Band (2)
Tweedily Dee – The Backyardigans (3)
Questing, Questing – The Backyardigans (2)
Reach for the Sky – The Fresh Beat Band (3)

Gameplay is pretty much identical to Just Dance and all the other copycat games that have come since it: your child holds the Wii remote in his or her right hand and mirrors the moves of the character on screen dancing. Icons will scroll across the bottom of the screen, which most will ignore.

Scoring is much, much more lenient than with more grown-up games–there are no numerical scores, and the goal is to fill up three stars. This is great for kids  2-6 years old who may be frustrated by more difficult adult-oriented games on the Wii and even worse, the Kinect. There are plenty of accomplishments to be collected.

Many of the songs will be familiar to those kids whose eyes are glued to Nick Jr. every day. The “dance” portion of the game actually does introduce kids to real choreographed dance moves, albeit much simplified. Dora will even shout out what dance move is being done.

Workout. This will take you to the workout dance songs. These songs are

Workout Songs:
Bananas – The Fresh Beat Band (1)
Go, Go, Go – The Backyardigans (3)
Good Times – The Fresh Beat Band (3)
Sing-Along Party Mix – Dora the Explorer (3)
The Band Plays On – Bubble Guppies (1)
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – Dora the Explorer (2)

The workout portion of the game really does focus on more aerobics-type moves rather than dance moves, and the highest difficulty songs really will get your kids to exercise and work up a sweat.

In a funny way, I actually think the way that Nickelodeon makes a very clear delineation between dance moves and aerobic exercise moves is better than even how Just Dance does it.

Freeze. “Choose this to play dance songs where you have to freeze at different times during the song”. This is a bit of a fun new feature that lets two players compete against each other.

When you choose this, you see the same menu of all the songs above. When you play the song, gameplay is also the same as usual, except at random times in the song the narrator will shout at you to “FREEZE”, at which time you have to freeze in your tracks. It’s fun for kids to compete against parents or against their siblings and have fun as they see who can freeze the best. With scoring as lenient as it is, chances are both players will end up in a tie, which perhaps is the best outcome.

Overall, I was impressed with Nickeolodeon Dance 2 as a way for toddlers and young children to get some good exercise, especially on rainy or cold days when it’s hard to go outside. Parents will appreciate the wholesomeness of the songs and the dance moves, while children will appreciate that the game was made easier for them, and that they’ll have a game of their own they can play without feeling left out or frustrated. I highly recommend it for any parent of young kids, especially those who are fans of Nickelodeon.


Review of Sports Champions 2 for Playstation Move

Sports Champions 2

Another exceptional motion gaming experience for the PS3

Motion control games for the PS3 and Xbox Kinect have largely failed to rise to the expectations of being a true “second generation Wii”. The biggest exceptions have been Sports Champions and Sports Champions 2 for the Playstation 3. It’s just a shame that there are so few other Playstation Move games that exude this level of quality.

Rating by steve: 5.0 stars

sports champions 2 reviewThe Playstation Move and the Xbox Kinect were both launched with tremendous fanfare. Both motion-control mechanisms were supposed to revolutionize high-end gaming, bringing the active gaming, motion control experience the Wii pioneered to high resolution games. It would usher in a whole new world of virtual reality gaming.

Both Sony and Microsoft took very different approaches to motion gaming. Microsoft opted for motion sensors that detected the whole body’s movements from head to toe, touting a controller-free experience. Sony, on the other hand, basically mimicked the Wii’s use of a handheld controller, offering much more precision than the Wii could deliver.

As someone who’s reviewed a lot of games on both this site and its sister site XboxFitness.Org, I can say that the results on both systems have been largely disappointing. The Kinect has some impressive technology, but developers seem unable or unwilling to create much of anything but lumbering, sluggish games that require way too much playing space.

On the other hand, early games such as The Fight: Lights Out and the original Sports Champions for the Playstation Move were nothing short of extraordinary. High resolution graphics combined with highly accurate motion controls helped you really feel like you were boxing, or playing ping pong, or fighting with swords.

That was in 2010. Now, more than two years later, there haven’t been very many games that seem to really take full advantage of the Move. most game developers that use the Move seem to include it almost as either a gimmick or as an afterthought.

Sports Champions 2 is the first Playstation Move game in a while that’s been worthy of a five-star rating. Just like its predecessor, the developers showcase the Move’s full capabilities. It’s really a shame that other developers can’t follow suit.

The idea behind Sports Champions 2 is simple: think of it as Wii Sports for the Playstation. In fact, four of the sports (Tennis, Bowling, Boxing and Golf) were literally in Wii Sports and were most likely left off of the original Sports Champions because the developers wanted to avoid comparisons or accusations of them being derivative (which they were of course). In addition, they’ve brought back archery (which was also in the original Sports Champions), and added skiing.

You start out by calibrating one or two Move controllers by pointing them at the Playstation Eye one by one and pressing the Move and trigger buttons.

You can jump into playing the sports right away using “Free Play”, or you can select “Cup Mode” to play matches against progressively harder opponents and earn Bronze, Silver, or Gold prizes for completing a certain number of matches (including challenges and “boss matches”) and collecting points for achieving objectives along the way. Finally, you can select “Party Play” to play as a group.

As with the original Sports Champions, after you finish playing you have the option of taking a “victory photo” of you holding an augmented reality piece of sports equipment. They also added the ability for your to save your photo or post to Facebook.

Bowling is pretty much the same as the Wii Sports game, of course with much higher resolution graphics. The one big difference is when setting up your shot, instead of using arrow keys to position your player, you can press and hold the Move button and actually walk to your left or your right. Other than that, it’s just a matter of holding down the trigger button, making a bowling motion with your arm, and releasing it at the right moment. You can also make the ball spin by twisting your wrists.

Obviously, there’s not much of a workout in this, and in all honesty other than the improved graphics it really doesn’t feel much different than what we were playing on the Wii years ago.

Boxing, on the other hand, is obviously much improved over the “fling your arms wildly” boxing games you find on the Wii and even the Kinect. It uses two Move controllers to let you control both your hands.

The obvious comparison is going to be to The Fight: Lights Out. The graphics in both games are excellent; while The Fight: Lights Out presents a gritty street brawl-type environment, the environment here is more like traditional boxing. Also unlike The Fight, there’s no blood or guts in this one, it’s very family friendly.

Like The Fight, you have pretty precise control over your fighter. You can punch to the head and to the body with jabs, uppercuts, hooks, or quick combinations. You can block punches to your head and to your body by holding the Move controller over either, and you can dodge by using the trigger buttons on either hand. The harder you punch in real life, the harder you punch in the game. As you increase in difficulty, you do need to employ a certain level of strategy, such as being able to anticipate what combinations your opponent will be using, tiring out aggressive opponents with good defense, or even faking out opponents by having them block fake punches before you counter with real ones.

This sport is by far the best fitness activity on the entire disc. You’ll get a pretty good aerobic workout each time and build some pretty good arm muscles.

Archery is pretty much the same sport as in the first Sports Champions; as in that game, you hold two Move controllers, one being the bow and the other being the arrow; you simulate an archer’s shot by “reaching into your quiver of arrows” with your arrow arm and then line up your shot as if loading your arrow and drawing it back on the bow (you can use the Move button to zoom into your target). As with the former game, controls and game play are excellent and very precise.

Sports Champions 2 adds an interesting twist to the game by allowing two people (or one person and the computer) to play on the same field and shoot for the same targets, which doesn’t just include regular targets but also things like balloons. You compete for the highest score.

Again, I wouldn’t exactly call this the most intense fitness activity, but after a few minutes of playing you do end up moving quite a bit. Add some hand weights to your Move controllers and you’ll actually be getting a pretty good arm workout.

Skiing is an interesting new game. You hold your Move controllers like ski poles, but unlike real skiing you don’t move your body to turn, but your Move controllers. To move faster, you sweep your Move controllers as if they were ski poles. To jump, you lift up the Move controllers and make sure they’re angled properly for a smooth landing (you can even do a couple flips if you have some good hang time).

The result is actually a much more realistic experience than I thought it’d be. It certainly doesn’t have the same workout intensity that skiing on Kinect Sports has, where you have to twist and turn and jump with your whole body, but it definitely has much, much more precision than the Xbox; when skiing on the Xbox I never really feel like I’m in control, while with the PS3 the turning and jumping are incredibly precise. Again, not a very intense workout, but a fun game nonetheless.

Golf, again, is much more precise than on other systems in many ways. It’s not necessarily going to help you with your golf swing (whether you use a technically correct swing or just wave your arms, the system will treat the shot the same). But what the game lacks in realism of mechanics, it makes up for in terms of precision and accuracy of your swing; a bar on the screen will show you the strength of your swing from 0% to 100% and your target strength given the ball location and your club, and you need to swing the club with precisely the right force.

Putting is also the closest I’ve felt to the real game on any system, from lining up the shot to using the precise right force to get the ball in the hole.

Finally, tennis is probably the most realistic tennis game I’ve played on any system. Some parts of it are amazingly realistic. Just like with ping pong in the original Sports Champions, when you can move your hand in any direction, tilt it, or twist it, the on-screen racquet will respond with uncanny precision.

This precision carries over to the gameplay as well; unlike Wii Sports or tennis on the Kinect, playing tennis is not just a matter of flicking your wrist wildly with the right timing. The position, angle, and velocity of your swing all matter. What’s more, you can apply things like top spins and lobs very similar to real life.

Granted, when you first start the game it’s not all that realistic, as a trail of your opponent’s returns are displayed to you visually so that you know where it’s going. Plus, shots will tend to land magically within the lines. But as you progress deeper into the game, some of the aids you get early on the in game start to disappear and the game starts to feel more and more like real tennis.

I can’t say you get too much exercise in this one, as you’re really just moving your arm (you can move your body left and right when setting up your serve by pressing the Move button and walking to the left or right, but otherwise the running is done for you automatically). But if “get into the game” by doing a little footwork as you’re playing, you might be surprised at how good a workout you get.

You’ve probably seen a few recurring themes through this review. Every sport is definitely a lot of fun and makes great use of the Move controller to simulate playing the actual sport. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them real simulations or virtual reality experiences, but they definitely are polished games and give you a nice feel for the real thing.

As far as workouts go, I’d say the only real one is the boxing. Tennis and skiing may give you a bit of a workout if while you’re playing the game you’re also moving your feet. As for the rest of the sports, if you use Weighted Training Gloves you can get a pretty decent workout from even those.

It’s tough for me to review this one. From a pure gameplay point of view, it’s easily a 5, one of the best games yet for the Playstation Move. But if I were reviewing it strictly from a fitness perspective, I’d probably give it less. Still, given that it’s one of the only decent motion games to be released for the Playstation Move in the past year or so, I’d say it’s a worthwhile purchase and a good choice to supplement your aging PS3 fitness games.