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.