Plucking up the courage to hit the dance floor can be difficult, but Dance Central 2 does an excellent job of getting you moving and shaking to some great tunes. Its multiple difficulty levels and in-depth tutorials make things accessible for newcomers, while expertly choreographed routines and some frighteningly technical moves mean even pros can be challenged. Dance Central 2 introduces simultaneous two-player competitions, letting you compete against a friend in exciting dance battles that are all accurately tracked by the Kinect. Even if you don't bring a friend along, the new Crew Challenge career--complete with its wacky storyline--and sweat-inducing fitness playlists are excellent and keep you engrossed. Whether you're an experienced dancer, a Friday night rocker, or someone with two left feet, Dance Central 2 will delight you with a slick, well-presented dancing experience that no Kinect owner should be without.
Part of Dance Central 2's fun is how easy it is to jump straight into a dance; you pick a song and mirror the actions of a dancer onscreen. Cue cards scroll along the right-hand side to show you upcoming moves, while the dancer's limbs light up red when there's a move you're not performing correctly. The deluge of information is a little overwhelming at first--particularly when combined with the flashy visual and lighting effects that surround the dancers--but it becomes second nature after just a few routines. Points are awarded for moves you perform correctly, which are totalled up to give you a grade on a five-star scale. The Kinect does an admirable job of tracking your movements so if you want to rack up some points, then you've got to put some real effort behind your dancing. Even if you perform poorly, it's impossible to fail out of song, but there are incentives for doing well.
Global leaderboards let you compare your score against others on Xbox Live, sorted by your chosen difficulty level. Scores from people on your friends list also appear within menus, enticing you to better them. The new Crew Challenge career mode takes things further and even includes a narrative to follow--albeit a rather silly one. You play as an up-and-coming dancer who is eager to earn the respect of various crews that are headed up by impossibly stylish, perfectly toned, and talented dancers. Though the avatars that represent the dancers are a little too perfect--the blond locks and incessant grin of surfer Bodie being the most grating--they fit within the flashy style of the game. You earn the respect of a crew by performing a dance with it. If you earn enough stars, you can take on a locked track, which unlocks other crews for you to dance with, as well as new outfits. Crew Challenge is a lot of fun, and the silly--if shallow--storyline about taking down a mysterious megalomaniac dancer encourages you to keep grooving.
You can ramp up the fun even more by getting a friend involved, with both Crew Challenge and the regular Dance mode supporting simultaneous two-player dancing for the first time. Your friends could always dance along with you in Dance Central, but actually receiving a score for doing so makes getting them involved a lot more compelling. A second player can jump into a song at any time, with the Kinect automatically recognizing him or her and letting you compete for the high score. If you want to get even more competitive, you can challenge a friend to a dance battle, where you perform in solo "spotlight" sections and in a Free-4-All minigame. During Free-4-All, various moves appear onscreen, which you and the opposing player try to perform. The first to do so correctly wins bonus points, as well as the satisfaction of outdancing your opponent.
Each mode is backed by an excellent set of routines, which are expertly choreographed and look fantastic. The range of moves on offer is staggering, from simple slides and claps to dramatic twists and booty shakes that wouldn't look out of place in a modern music video. If there's anything bad to be said about the routines, it's that they're a tad too serious, lacking the goofy attitude that makes routines in games like Just Dance 3 so much fun. A staggered difficulty level ensures you can have a good time regardless of your ability level, though. Progressing from easy to medium and then to hard is immensely satisfying because it gives you a real feeling of achievement as you see your skills develop. If you're failing a particular routine, the Break It Down tutorial automatically marks certain moves that you're struggling with, letting you practice them with a virtual tutor. You're asked to perform each move until you can do it correctly three times in a row, and if you're really struggling, you can slow down the music to half speed to make things even easier, which is a useful feature.
A strong tracklist ensures you've got some great music to accompany your dancing, with more than 40 tracks on offer. While mostly club and dance based, the tracks provide quite a range. They include older songs, such as Sir Mixalot's "Baby Got Back" and Digital Underground's "The Humpty Dance," as well as more modern songs, such Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and Rihanna's "Rude Boy." If you tire of the included selection, you can download more tracks from Xbox Live for 240 Microsoft points. Songs that you downloaded for the previous game are also automatically added to the tracklist, but if you want to import songs from the Dance Central disc, you have to fork over 400 Microsoft points.
Aside from downloads and leaderboards, there's not much else in Dance Central 2 when it comes to online features. The conspicuous lack of online multiplayer is a missed opportunity for Kinect camera-based global dance battles. You can upload pictures taken by the Kinect during your performance to social networking sites Facebook and Twitter if you're desperate for worldwide embarrassment, though. You might even look a little slimmer in them as well, thanks to Dance Central 2's fitness playlists. They range from quick 10-minute workouts to 50-minute epics and span several different tracks. Your progress is kept track of throughout, letting you know how many calories you've burned during the session and your lifetime total. Though it's questionable how accurate those calorie readings are, dancing is a form of aerobic exercise, and you certainly do work up a sweat.
The beauty of Dance Central 2 is its multifaceted approach. It excels at being a game that's great fun at a party, while also being compelling enough to play on your own. And it can help with your exercise routine, not to mention teach you a thing or two dancing. The superb choreography combined with the Kinect's full-motion body tracking means there's a real challenge in perfecting your movements, making it hugely satisfying when you achieve a five-star routine. The staggered difficulty level and excellent tutorials make it so that even newcomers can have a great time, and with practice, they may be able to pull off some impressive-looking moves. Smooth animation and a glossy presentation also help draw you in; thus, it's only your own inhibitions that can stop you from having a good time. Put any scepticism you might have about the "casual" nature of dance games aside: Dance Central 2 is an immensely entertaining game that is simultaneously accessible and challenging and is sure to delight anyone with an urge to hit the dancefloor.