Dance Central First Impressions

Whether you're a seasoned move-buster or a remedial rug-cutter, Dance Central and Kinect want to make it fun and easy for you to get down in your living room.

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While its efforts are still clearly dedicated to taking the Rock Band franchise to the next level (as described in our hands-on preview), Harmonix is also setting its sights on the possibilities for Microsoft's new Kinect device for the Xbox 360. Enter Dance Central. As the music plays, you follow the onscreen prompts to learn different dance moves, eventually stringing together an entire routine. Using the Kinect's ability to track your body movement, Harmonix appears to be leveraging its rhythm-game expertise to make Dance Central accessible, challenging, and (hopefully) a lot of fun.

It is definitely amusing to watch someone play Dance Central, regardless of his or her skill level, but a look at the screen reveals a lot more about the structure of the game. Much of the screen is taken up by your avatar. This isn't your round-headed Xbox 360 cartoon character, but rather a more realistic-looking, stylishly dressed person. We saw a range of male and female avatars with a diverse array of skin tones and outfits. Your dancer does the same moves as you, but it didn't appear to be a one-to-one correlation. Rather than moving exactly like you, it seemed that the dancer executed the dance moves depending on whether you performed them well or not. These pre-canned animations looked slick, and it's likely that seeing a stylish, competent dancer could give players a good example to emulate as they learn each new move.

Moves are displayed on individual cards that appear on the right side of the screen. Your current move is highlighted in the center, with the next moves queued up above it and the moves you just did cycled down below. We saw a number of familiar motions with titles like Swing, Loop, Crossdown, Guitar, Rock Out, Lean, Feel Good, and Elbow Throw to name a few. Harmonix claims there are more than 600 moves in the game, strung together into more than 90 different choreographed (by actual choreographers, we're told) routines, some of which are pulled directly from the music videos of the songs. We saw players dance to "Poison" by Bell Biv Devoe and "Hella Good" by No Doubt. We also caught a glimpse of the song "Galang" by M.I.A. and were told that songs by the Beastie Boys and Lady Gaga are also in the game.

Being a rhythm game, Dance Central does have a way of tracking how well you are doing, and we spotted the Harmonix's iconic five star rating system displayed along the bottom of a huge boom box sitting next to the onscreen dancer. Your performance on each individual move is tracked and reflected visually by a ring that encircles the avatar's feet. So if you nail a move, you'll see a flourish of light spring up around your feet and the word "flawless" displayed in the background. If your skills are far from flawless, Dance Central is happy to help you out. It seems to enter a teaching mode, stopping the music and letting you know you're going to try that one again. The song rewinds and replays at a slower tempo so you can more easily match the motions, and once you've nailed it, the song kicks back into gear.

Dance Central is certainly looking slick at this stage, making it easy for players to identify which moves to try and giving them a little extra help if they need it. Though there is an entourage of dancers pictured in the background whenever you play, Harmonix gave no indication of any multiplayer functionality. We'll be strapping on our dancing shoes and giving Dance Central a go in the next few days as E3 picks up, so be sure to check back for our hands-on impressions.

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