Ubisoft hits a home run with a game that’s fun and gets you fit.
January 13, 2010
The exercise game from Ubisoft I had most been anticipating this year was Your Shape. As you can see from the review of Your Shape on the blog, I was less than impressed. Apparently, Ubisoft felt that in order to compete with EA and its Resistance Bands and Nunchuk Leg Strap and Nintendo with its Balance Board and MotionPlus, it had to introduce its own peripheral. So, it valiantly tried to introduce a Webcam which did a horrible job of tracking movement.
Ironically, the best exercise game of the year so far is by Ubisoft, but the only controller it uses is one, count ’em, one Wii remote. And it’s not an exercise game at all. It’s called Just Dance, and it’s a winner. I placed an order for the game after Dianska mentioned it in the comments section of the best Wii Fitness Games page, and I’ve been particularly looking forward to it after reading positive comments from Partingsorrow and Mindy.
I admit, I wasn’t expecting much when I first heard about Just Dance a few months ago. I figured it’d be just like another one of those games like Dancing with the Stars and High School Musical where you see characters on screen dancing, but all you’re doing is waving your remote to match the visual cues on the screen. Ho Hum.
The first thing that struck me when I popped the game into the Wii was that these were fun songs from every era. They’re all family-friendly, and there’s something in the track list for everyone, from baby boomers to Gen X’ers to Gen Y’ers. Here’s the entire track list. Most of the songs are not covers, but original tracks from the original singers.
- Girl Just Want to Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
- Ring My Bell – Anita Ward
- A Little Less Conversation (JXL Radio Edit Remix) – Elvis vs. JXL
- Cotton Eye Joe – Rednex
- Surfin’ Bird – The Trashmen
- Heart of Glass – Blondie
- Womanizer – The Gym All-Stars
- Groove Is in the Heart – Deee-Lite
- Jerk It Out – Caesars
- I Live to Move It (Radio Mix) – Reel 2 Real feat. The Mad Stuntman
- Not N Cold (Chick Version) – Katy Perry
- Mashed Potato Time – Dee Dee Sharp
- Girls and Boys – Blur
- Fame – In the style of Irene Cara
- Lump – The Presidents of the United States of America
- Kids in America – Kim Wilde
- Pump Up the Jam – Technotronic
- I Get Around – The Beach Boys
- Le Freak – Chic
- That’s the Way (I Like It) – KC and the Sunshine Band
- Louie Louie – Iggy Pop
- Funplex (CSS Remix) – The B-52s
- Jin Go Lo Ba – Fatboy Slim
- DARE – Gorillaz
- Bebe – Divine Brown
- Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
- Can’t Get You Out of My Head – Kylie Minogue
- Acceptable in the 80s – Calvin Harris
- Who Let the Dogs Out – Baha Men
- Wanna Be – Spice Girls
- Step By Step – New Kids on the Block
- U Can’t Touch This – MC Hammer
The second thing that impressed me was that this game features actual dance moves to the songs. In other words, not only are you playing the game, you’re learning actual dance steps. You’ll learn the “Mashed Potato” that was all the rage in the 1960’s to Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time”. You’ll learn the bestd disco moves of the 70’s with songs like “That’s the Way I Like It”. And my personal dream come true–you can make your own “Hammer Time” with “U Can’t Touch This” (parachute pants not included). You can’t do Dance Dance Revolution steps at a wedding (ahem, not that I’ve tried), but you can bust these moves.
Admittedly, the one thing I was skeptical about when I first saw the game was that it only used one Wii remote. That’s it. No nunchuk, no double Wii remotes, no MotionPlus, no balance board, no camera. They went for a decidedly simpler approach. For using one Wii remote, the controls are pretty accurate as far as detecting whether you’re dancing correctly or not. For each move, you’ll be given a grade of “Great”, “Okay” and “X”.
Now, I won’t lie and say the controls are the most precise in the world. There’ll be plenty of times you’ll be doing the moves precisely, but the Wii will tell you you’re not. But where this game triumphs is that even though the controls may be off, the game is so fun that you really don’t care. You’re not really “scolded” for getting an “X”. This is a refreshing change from other games like Your Shape or Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatim, where I swear I want to put my fist through the TV each time Jenny McCarthy or Jillian Michaels yells at me when they should be yelling at the people who programmed them.
And you also find that the more you practice the moves and “feel the music”, the better your scores become. You may never get to 100%, but you learn to take 60% to 70% “Great” or “Okay” as a major accomplishment. Here are some hints to improve your changes:
- It helped me to remove the Wii MotionPlus from the Wii remote so it fit in my hand.
- The best position for the sensor bar was at waist level so it could detect a full range of movement up and down.
- It helped me to try to make sure the front of the Wii remote was facing me (i.e., the back was to the sensor bar) through the whole game.
- Before you start playing the game, move your Wii remote around to see where the boundaries of the cursor go. Try to keep your movement within these boundaries.
- Timing is everything. Practice until you learn the moves, and then be very precise when making them. Your right hand should be exactly where the character’s left hand is; if its hand is high above its head, make sure yours is too; if it’s at its hip, make sure yours is too, and so on. And it’s just as important to keep still in the parts you’re supposed to keep still as it is to move in the parts where you’re supposed to be moving. If you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve memorized the dance and are just doing the moves to the music, your score will be great.
The game is simple. You choose a song, and then after a countdown from 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, you’ll see a silhouetted character on your screen doing the dance moves. The character is generally dressed appropriately for the song: a disco dude will lead you through “That’s the Way I Like It”, a cowgirl will do a two-step to “Cotton Eye Joe”, and a dog (yes, a dog) will dance to “Who Let the Dogs Out”. You basically just have to do the mirror image of the character’s moves.
Oh yes, the exercise value. With virtually every song, I ended it panting because I was out of breath. Now granted, because it only uses the Wii remote, you could probably “cheat” by flicking your wrists at the right points. But why would you want to? It’s a blast to learn the real dance moves, it’s hugely entertaining when moving your whole body the way it’s supposed to be done.
To sum up, Just Dance is an instant classic “exercise game that’s not called an exercise game”. And even though I was constantly out of breath, I invariably still wanted to try it again and again until I got it right. To me, that’s the sign of a great exercise game.