If you're a youngster, hearing "The Hustle" may bring to mind wedding receptions and oldies radio stations. For the more seasoned, however, it brings to mind bell-bottom jeans, wide lapels, and spinning glitterballs. Harmonix knows how the power of music and dance can return you to another era. Dance isn't just an action you perform--it's a pop culture touchstone that recalls years, and perhaps entire decades.
Enter Dance Central 3, Harmonix's portal to the past. It's a celebration of past eras of dance, packaged in a cheesy tongue-in-cheek story involving the top-secret Dance Central Intelligence (better known as the DCI, of course). The evil Dr. Tan has returned as your nemesis, his hate of artistic expression far surpassing that of such staunch dance-despisers as Footloose's Reverend Moore and Dirty Dancing's Dr. Houseman. But how to defeat such a madman? Well, by learning dance crazes, of course!
So Dance Central 3 is clearly going down the nutty path, but based on what we saw when the team dropped by to show off the upcoming Kinect game, that can only be a good thing. The time-hopping story winks at the audience, the over-the-top cutscenes skewering every cliche in the book. It was hard not to giggle, and that's before the dancing even started. Harmonix's self-professed goal was to "bump up the ridiculous," and the cinematics we saw indicated that the statement was more than just lip service. The story begins with you receiving a mysterious invitation to a dance party, where you show off your moves to the tune of "Bass Down Low." Before you know it, the DCI is sending you into the past to defend against dance crimes (oh, what a terrible world in which criminals must use dance for the powers of evil).
The story might be crazy, but its goal is noble: to provide cultural context for your gyrations. When you return to the 1970s, you're not just dancing along with "Burn Baby Burn" or "I Will Survive"--you're doing it in an aesthetically appropriate roller rink. The layout then changes based on your performance, so roller rink becomes discotheque should you dance impressively enough. But your smooth moves do more than just immerse you in the time period--they also allow you to unlock crazes. These are iconic dances (think the Macarena, for instance, or The Hustle) that allow you to return to the present if you perform them well enough. Before you craze the night away, however, you need to do a little sequencing minigame to unlock it.
Even the 2010s have a craze, as it turns out: one created specifically for Dance Central 3 by Usher, who surprised Harmonix with his elaborate moves and considerable talent. In fact, should you feel that the previous Dance Central games just weren't hard enough, you'll be pumped to hear that Usher pushed the bar, and you'll encounter some truly hard routines. If that sounds intimidating, you can relax: the game has novices covered with beginner mode, which is really easy, but it lacks craze moves and so isn't available in the game's guffaw-inducing story.
That's OK, though, considering there are so many ways to play, and you're always gaining experience that lets you unlock new outfits and other nifty goodies. Make Your Move lets you butt heads with your friends in a game of Harmonix-style H.O.R.S.E., in which you create a move, and your buddy must duplicate it. Ultimately, these individual moves are combined into full dances, and hilarity inevitably ensues as each dancer tries to link their steps and lunges into a single fluid routine. Crew Throwdowns allow for even more self-expression, pitting teams of up to two players each against each other in full-on battle in which you build combos while trying to break those of your opponent. It's worth noting how easy the interface made it to get started in an instant: all we had to do was walk in front of the Kinect sensor, and it accommodated us--no fuss, no muss. Getting started? As simple as high-fiving your buddy. How appropriate for a friendly bit of competitive dancing.
If all this sounds exhausting and you'd rather strike a pose, you can do that too, though as it turns out, Madonna lied in the lyrics of "Vogue": there is, indeed, something to it. Players can compete by mimicking poses--some fairly simple, others more elaborate. A single stance sounds easy enough, but if you're not particularly in control of every awkward muscle in your entirely too clumsy body (not that this author would admit to such a thing), this requires more coordination than you'd expect. And of course, if you just want to have a good time (girls just wanna have fun, after all), then Start the Party mode gets the music going and the muscles moving. Just walk on and shimmy, shaking your booty to the tune of Shannon's "Let the Music Play" or TLC's "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." Want to have an '80s party? Then use the dynamic playlist feature to make it happen, and throw in songs from the previous Dance Central Games: they're all compatible with Dance Central 3.
But what's a party without laughter? That might be the magic touch here, depending on how well Harmonix pulls off its hysterically insane tale of time-traveling secret agents out to defeat a mad genius with the power of self-expression. The whole thing had us giggling, but this isn't a case where you're laughing at the game, but rather laughing with it. Expect to bust a gut, along with some moves, on October 16.