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Dance Central Spotlight review – The ultimate Kinect dancing game now on Xbox One

When the Xbox One launched last year with the Kinect peripheral included with every console, many gamers resisted the Kinect's inclusion. And why wouldn't they? The new Kinect had launched without what many consider the best Kinect game series on Xbox 360: Dance Central. That hole in the lineup has been filled now that Harmonix (maker of the upcoming Fantasia: Music Evolved) has unleashed Dance Central Spotlight exclusively as a downloadable Xbox One title.

For the low price of ten bucks, Dance Central Spotlight includes ten songs with multiple routines and a fitness mode. A variety of songs are available to purchase as DLC, too, with a few transferring over for free if you own them on Xbox 360. But does Dance Central Spotlight capture the magic of its Xbox 360 predecessors? Read on for the full word, plus our exclusive gameplay video and screenshots.

Dance away your sorrows

The Dance Central games are honest-to-goodness dancing simulators with some video gaming elements thrown on top. Every song has genuine dance moves that players need to learn and perform in order to succeed. The more moves you pull off correctly in a row, the higher your multiplier and score will soar.

Two visual cues indicate which steps to take. First, look at the on-screen dancers themselves. As they perform each move, it's your job to imitate them as closely as possible. If part of the dancer's body glows with a red outline, that part of the player's body is out of alignment. Closely following the dancer will get you better ratings, from Nice to Awesome and even Perfect.

Just following behind the dancer won't win you any awards. You'll also want to watch the dance cards that scroll up the side of the screen. These tell you the next few moves to come along, represented by a drawing and the move name. They can be difficult to rely on entirely because the drawings don't always represent every part of a move, plus they sometimes scroll by too quickly to read easily. You'll want to keep an eye on both the cards and your dancer if you can.

Unlike Dance Central 2 and 3, Spotlight doesn't have a story mode to tie things together. Instead, you just select your songs from the main menu and dance to them individually. The menu utilizes a new Modern UI-style interface that's much easier to navigate by motion than before. Like the previous games, all menus support controller navigation as well. You can't beat a controller for choosing songs and settings.

With the story gone, Spotlight brings in a new progression system. The first time you play any song (including DLC), you start out on the Beginner routine for that song. Beginner is intentionally easy and consists of a much reduced move set. Luckily for serious dancers, there are seven more routines (which function like difficulty levels) to unlock for each song.

To get a new routine, you'll first have to master each move from the previous routine. Performing a move perfectly (even once) will cause your dancer to glow gold while "Collected!" appears as the rating. You can tell whether you have previously collected a move by the color of its dance card; the card remains gold once that move has been perfected.

This new system puts pressure on the player to get new moves right. Luckily, you have a useful tool for learning to perfect moves: Practice mode. Instead of being a separate mode as in previous games, players now shout "Hey DJ, practice that!" to initiate practice mode. You can then perform any move from the song repeatedly, and even slow it down to get a better idea of how it works. Practice mode certainly helps, but I've perfected a move there only to have the actual song continue registering the move as less than perfect.

Fitness mode

Unlike previous games, Fitness mode is now a completely separate mode. First you set up your profile by adjusting the height and weight stats. Then you choose the type of routine you'd like, with Cardio and Strength joining the main game's selection of routines.

Finally, select the length of time for your workout, with lengths ranging from 10-90 minutes. The game will then create a mix of songs for you, all playing one after another with no need to select anything. The more songs you own, the more variety you'll get from your playlists.

Fitness mode is cool in theory, but it has some major drawbacks. The only way to see and track calories burned is through this mode, whereas past games counted calories everywhere. And perfecting moves in Fitness mode won't unlock those moves outside of Fitness mode, which is awfully annoying. Progress should be shared between modes, otherwise we might as well just stick to the main game.

Two dancers are better than one

Two local players can dance together during any song, and even in Fitness mode. Both players stand side-to-side, so you'll need a fair amount of space to avoid bumping into each other. The two players' combined performance determines their shared star rating at the end of the song.

Co-op dances work the same way as single-player; there aren't any special co-op routines (something Just Dance has over Dance Central). But it's so much more fun to get up and moving with another person. Multiplayer makes Dance Central Spotlight the party game your Xbox One Kinect has longed for. And unlike Just Dance 2014, both players can earn Achievements!

Note that Spotlight does not have the competitive modes, such as Dance Battles, from previous games. This one is all about the co-op.

Song selection

Spotlight comes with these 10 songs:

  • "Counting Stars" – OneRepublic
  • "Diamonds" – Rihanna
  • "Happy" – Pharrell Williams
  • "I Wish" – Cher Lloyd
  • "Royals" – Lorde
  • "Show Me" – Kid Ink ft. Chris Brown
  • "Talk Dirty" – Jason Derulo ft. 2 Chainz
  • "#thatpower" – will.i.am ft. Justin Bieber
  • "Titanium" – David Guetta ft. Sia
  • "Wake Me Up" – Avicii

I wouldn't listen to all of those outside of the game, but they really are perfect for dancing.

Dancing to ten songs might get old before too long. Good thing then that Harmonix already offers 50 songs to purchase as DLC. New songs cost $1.99 each, with several 2-packs selling for $3.49. The selection is outstanding, with several of my favorites such as A-ha's "Take on Me" and Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" joining newer club-style songs.

Achievements

You'll find 35 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 GamerScore in Spotlight. Don't expect to get them all unless you're a great dancer and/or devote a ton of time to perfecting the base game's songs. The game has multiple Achievements for unlocking every routine and perfecting every move, which adds up to over 900 moves. That's going to take some dedication!

Start your own Boy Dance Party

Dance Central Spotlight is the first and only must-have Kinect game for Xbox One. The core dancing game is as great as ever, offering plenty of fun for gamers and non-gamers alike. The core game is a great value, and the ability to pick and choose from such a sizable selection of songs makes it possible for anyone to build their own dream dance library.

On the other hand, the new move collecting system is more challenging and less beginner-friendly than Dance Central 3's excellent leveling system. The new Fitness Mode is kind of a bust – I hope Harmonix updates the game to allow move unlocking within that mode.

Still, those issues prove to be only minor annoyances when weighed against the limitless fun factor, party friendliness, and exercise opportunities within Spotlight. No Xbox One Kinect owner should go without it.

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

32 Comments
  • You put "hey jd, practice that" instead of "hey DJ, practice that" but it's all good
  • Thanks for catching that. Fixed. :)
  • Ill be able to dance naked in the comfort of my own living room once again! Posted via Windows Phone Central App
  • What's the process for importing songs into this from previous games?
  • From what I read they said any song downloaded before will be free when it's released on the Xbox One. 
  • If it detects that you own a song from the 360 versions, that song will simply show up in the in-game store and Xbox store as costing $0.00. The game currently has issues detecting that people own songs from DLC packs though, so some DLC might not properly show up as free right at the moment. They are working on fixing that.
  • Ah, so it's just DLC from the previous that can be imported, not the songs on the discs themselves? Good to know the DLC will eventually work, at least. Thanks!
  • Damn, this sounds like a weak release. I've been waiting for a good full featured Dance Central.
  • Bot bad for $10 though. I'm sure there will be song packs.
  • It's not weak. 8 routines per song now. Songs only cost $1.99. Less reliance on practice and more focus on just learning by playing. A battle mode would be nice though. Hopefully they will add in new modes over time.
  • Not weak at all: this is the best $10 game I ever bought in ,my life. It's crazy good fun, especially in 2-player mode. And the ability to hand-select individual songs to buy (I dropped another $20 on new songs--but only songs I actually wanted, which is hugely awesome), and the much more accurate Kinect 2 makes this one of the best games by value ever made. There's no reason not to buy this game if you have a Kinect. And, now that this game exists, there is no reason not to have a Kinect.
  • Not weak. Check my impressions below ^_^
  • It's not superior to the retail releases in some ways, but still a very good game that will only get better as more DLC is released.
  • I think just dance 4 or 5 is a little more interesting
  • As a huge fan of DC games I find Just Dance intolerable to play. The gameplay and design of JD just grates me.
  • Nice to see the review Paul, and thanks for mentioning that the achievements can be earned for multiple players. Makes a big difference. I think this and Xbox Fitness are good, but such a shame there is not more. The price is superb, if it ever goes on sale, then it is a no brainer. I'd like to see a follow up to Child of Eden, I heard it was really good. Did I miss the leaderboards bit? Are there any?
  • Yes, this! I've been bugging the hell out of Ubisoft to make a Kinect-controlled Child of Eden sequel for Xbox One. Also have been bugging Sega to make a Kinect-controlled Rez sequel on Xbox One.
  • Thanks Peachy! I'll have to look for the leaderboards tomorrow - they definitely aren't displayed prominently if they're there. Child of Eden is okay. I like the weird stuff, but the actual gameplay didn't hold my interest like I thought it would.
  • I'm loving the game, having skipped the previous ones (didn't have a 360) this one is a ton of fun for me and my girlfriend.   I love the pricing scheme, I don't want a $60 release where I like only a handful of songs. Now I just buy the songs that I really like, it's a great solution.   Too busy to spend too much time with the game right now, but I'm looking forward to spending lots of time with the fitness mode.
  • I liked the game.. of course it's not "complete" like just dance.. but at the same time the price is much smaller... and the "core" part of the game is there... that is a dancing game. I think they will do like Microsoft did with Killer Instinct.. they launched it only with the "core" part that is a fighting game.. then they added a history mode and this year they will launch new characters and other improvements...
  • Just Dance doesn't have a story mode either, although it does have co-op moves and it supports 4-player dancing. I like both games but much prefer Dance Central.
  • One more thing, achievements are available on the demo!
  • I had a great time playing it with my Fiancee last weekend.
  • I already have collected 125 moves in my first week, so 900 will be easy. Love this game. The fitness mode is great, but I agree it should be connected to the main game progress and calorie tracking. The price of the songs is really good now that you get 8 different routines per song. And the fitness mode turns everything you've unlocked into a semi customizable playlist which gives it nice replay-ability. Hopefully future updates will give this game even more features and options. I would really like the ability to use Game DVR with DC Spotlight, but its currently blocked.
  • I love the game. But still has many bugs on it.
  • Is it possible to use Spotlight DLC in DC3?
  • No, unfortunately. I really wish we could at least important the main Dance Central 1-3 songs into this one. I'd pay another export fee for the privilege!
  • Yay
  • A fairly good dancer over here :D . I got the game yesterday and I must say, very nice review you wrote. I was against the same cons you mentioned like not being able to "collect" some moves in practice mode, also not being able to track calories spent outside fitness mode. Other than those, I frankly am extremely satisfied with my game purchase and the few other tracks I purchased! I mean increasingly difficult and varied routines per tracks, I never asked any better! I had owned many dance games on the wii and most were from Ubisoft like Just Dance, and I complained about the routines being too repetitive. Now I finally got to own a kinect and try Dance Central (yes my first in the serie) and I am sold!! Also the fact that I don't have to pay full price($50+) for songs I would never play (girly songs/choreographies etc loll), it is a brilliant idea to let the user choose the songs he desires, just like Killer Instinct did with its characters. This is how similar games in the future should be offered in my opinion :)
  • Thanks for the comments and sharing your own impressions. I'm glad you're enjoying the game as well. :)
  • How is the game for small children?
    I mean, can an awkward 6 year flail around on it and actually score something?
  • Yes! My daughter has been playing this series since she was 3. I think around age 5 or so they should be able to 3-star songs. We also have a toddler who dances along for fun, not caring about score. Even if you don't get a good score/rating, it's still fun just to play.