If you've read any of my other reviews of dance games, you already know that my personal philosophy about dancing isn't very jiggy. There are some people born to do it … and then there's the rest of us who really ought to avoid anything involving rhythm. So it is with some consternation that I have to admit the Just Dance games I've reviewed have actually begun helping me with my, uh, "groove thang." Certainly I have to say that there's something appealing and fun about all the bouncy beats and outlandishly cheery dance steps featured in them.
Once More With Feeling
As with the games numbered 1 through 3, No. 4 essentially offers us only two modes to choose from: Just Dance and Sweat. That latter is really an aerobics program that keeps track of the calories you could be burning if you actually did shake, rattle and roll to the game's rambunctiously choreographed tunes on a daily basis. It even has a calendar program that helps you set up workout dates for perspiring to your favorite tunes in the privacy of your living room.
But it's the former mode that's the real focus here. This music/rhythm title is a party game in its heart of hearts. And so it longs for you to gather the family and some friends and do a little raucous, laugh-filled perspiring together. Whether you're moving controller-free in front of the Xbox 360's Kinect system or handing out wireless controllers for a slightly older console, it all works pretty much the same: Choose one of the 40-plus songs (or a playlist of songs), stand in front of your TV and follow the moves of the male and female neon dancers on the screen.
The sensors of any given system will then pick up your moves and give you a series of enthusiastic thumbs-ups. Flashing stars, points and printed encouragements of "Great!" continually cheer on even the most fumble-footed players. (In fact, the only way you'll earn the game's displeasure is if you happen to flop down on the couch from exhaustion and fall asleep between songs.)
Shake, Shake, Shake, Senora
If you're wondering, "Wait. Where's the challenge? How will I know if I'm winning?" then you're barking up the wrong dance floor. There are scores and "record your moves" options. But this isn't so much a game of accomplishments as it is a fun, bouncy get-together. Just Dance 4 is packed with solo, duet and even quartet dance numbers, lots of loud catchy music and a caboodle of nearly absurd choreography that's as funny to watch as it is to try.
The colorful dancers onscreen wear a variety of bizarre outfits (some of them boasting short skirts) and gyrate (sometimes a tad suggestively) through tons of repetitive and wacky swivel, step, dip and shake moves. You see a quartet of lasso-swinging, arm-linked cowboys on Will Smith's "Wild Wild West," for example. And a group of random workers meeting in an elevator break into dance on Barry White's "You're the First, the Last, My Everything." A phone-clutching gal skips to-and-fro around nimble phone apps on Carly Rae Jepson's "Call Me Maybe." Halloween characters shake their hunchbacks on Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Time Warp." An Elvis-impersonating lobster dances crustacean-style to the B-52s quirky "Rock Lobster."
And the songs? There's rock 'n' roll and salsa, Bollywood bombast and pure country, bubblegum and hip-hop. Artists range from the aforementioned Elvis to Justin Bieber, from They Might Be Giants to Selena Gomez, from Skrillex to Carrie Underwood.
Scribbling on Your Dance Card
Of course, since you've already noticed a few red flags in the list above (I'm talking about you, Rocky Horror!) it won't surprise you that I now need to repeat the same sort of caution we've had to give for the other games in this series. Namely, that the eclectic dance floor song list can also be a kick in the shins from time to time. P!nk's snarling "So What" talks about hard drinking and fighting after a bad breakup. And A.K.A's "Hot for Me" is all about the sensuality of dance floor pick-ups. Alexander Stan's "Mr. Saxobeat" sports the line, "Hey, sexy boy, set me free/Don't be shy, play with me/ … My dirty boy." Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger" lauds making out and getting drunk. The spiritually skewed "Crucified" (by Army of Lovers) includes, "I've seen the deepest darkness/And wrestled with gods … I'm crucified/Crucified like my savior."
Then there are the songs that normally have profanity nestled in them, such as Rihanna's "Disturbia," Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass" and Flo Rida's "Good Feeling." Within the game, those crudities are blanked out, but should a young fan decide to download one from iTunes for more on-the-go musical "enrichment," they'll obviously encounter them head on. And that may actually be this game's biggest drawback: A catchy number can easily lead you to an artist's catalog that you wouldn't otherwise hit with a 10-foot disco ball.
Keep a discerning eye on that, though, and the game's more carefree songs can still keep both young and old tripping the light fantastic. Hey, even guys and gals like me—with too much beef and too little beat—can get their dancing lobster groove on with a little practice.