To the surprise of absolutely no-one Just Dance is back, and just in time for Christmas, with its… we're-not-really-sure-how-many-th iteration, bringing more of the multiplayer mayhem, daft dancing, and pop-tastic tune selection we've come to know and love over the years. It may be pretty much the exact same game we've played every year since it's inception (and, spoilers, it is), but as the old saying goes, if it ain't broke don't fix it.
Much the same as it ever was, Just Dance 2016 retains the same addictive, easy to pick up and play silliness of its predecessors, with an all new list of chart-topping hits, cheesy oldies and a few odd inclusions for you to dance along to. All you have to do is pick a song, and grab a Wii Remote on the Nintendo formats, a Move controller on the Playstations, or stand in front of your Kinect sensor on your Xbox, and copy the dance move diagrams as shown on screen - the closer you match, the more points you'll get. This year's game also comes with the option of enlisting your smart phone as a controller, bolstering the number of players from four to six - assuming you have a living room large enough!
Of course, while the base formula may be the same, there are a few tweaks under the bonnet here to keep things feeling fresh. Dance Party, the standard Just Dance experience, now comes in two flavours - Rival and Co-op. Rival is your bog standard, every man for themselves versus mode, where players compete for the highest score, while the new Co-op mode sees you working together instead of against each other, making a nice change of pace. And for those of you that like to think of Just Dance as your workout game, Sweat mode returns too, letting you tailor songs to your fitness goals - whether you prefer a short three song list of random tunes, or fancy taking the endurance route with non-stop shuffle. It's not especially in depth, with nothing in the way of workouts tailored to specific problem areas or the like, but as a fairly bare bones way of keeping track of the kinds of calories you're burning, it's passable.
Also new for this year's game are the new 'Dance Quests', which string several songs together into a longer play session. Over the three or so set songs, you'll need to dance well enough to place in the top three of a virtual leaderboard of computer-controlled opponents - opponents whose skill level can be set to one of three increasingly challenging levels before you start. Dance Quests do give you a bit of a different way of playing Just Dance, but in practice it still feels very much like the standard mode, just with a short playlist of songs to play through instead. Perhaps mixing things up with a wider range of objectives, such as hitting all of the gold moves in a song, finishing with a certain number of stars or the like would make the Dance Quests seem like more of a thing.
World Video Vs Challenge meanwhile, lets you challenge other Just Dancers around the world by facing off against their playthroughs and scores remotely. Essentially, someone, such as good old Minifigureman11, uploads what they presumably think is their best run through of a song, and you can take on the challenge, and 'download' his play through and try and beat his score. It's not that bad an idea we suppose, particularly for those who lack real life dance companions, but it still can't hold a candle to the main game. Showtime is another gimmicky new addition, which sees you freestyling your way through a song of your choice, filmed via the Wii U Gamepad's camera, to create your own music video of sorts. Kind of like the Just Dance Autodance app of a few years ago, which made your dances into stop motion-esque shorts, crossed with one of those sticker photobooth things popular in Japan, you'll find yourself jigging along alongside photographs of kittens, inside cut out stars and or surrounded by pandas on a virtual dance floor. The results can then be saved on your console locally or shared over the internet, and you can watch other people's 'masterpieces' - but to be honest, once the novelty's warn off after a song or two, you likely won't bother to come back.
It's always worth mentioning the track list too, because Just Dance is one of the few music games that manages to have something for everyone, whether they're teens who want to bop along to the latest hits, like Uptown Funk or Katy Perry's This Is How We Do, little ones who prefer Disney's Under The Sea or a song from TV show Violetta, or the oldies who would rather groove to Hit the Road Jack or (a cover of) Nancy Sinatra's These Boots Are Made for Walkin'. Dance routines are the usual mix of suitably over the top and silly, from superheroes to rave pandas and cavemen, with about a dozen or so alternative choreographies to be unlocked as you play.
Over the years, many games have instated what they call 'season passes' that let fans of the games in question pay more to access more content - extra map packs for online shooters, new game levels and characters for more single player games and the like. Effectively turning a £50 game into a £80+ one, it seems the phenomenon has now spread to Just Dance, with Just Dance 2016 being the first entry in the series to add the option for a 'Just Dance Unlimited Pass', which grants you access to a library of 150 songs (and growing), all of which can be streamed at your leisure over the internet - at a cost. The additional £29.99/$39.99 for a year's subscription, or less if you just want a few months, is now the only way of getting access to additional Just Dance songs after launch, replacing the traditional individual song downloads of past games. We don't know about you, but while we might put down a quid or two for a particularly good song download, we're not going to fork over £30 to 'stream' it over a service that could be turned off at a moments notice, perhaps even as early as next year's game, rendering the remainder of your subscription invalid - and without knowing what songs we're getting into first either. We're also not a fan of how sections of the game, most notably a segment of the aforementioned Dance Quests, are locked off to the numptys with more money than sense either, which feels like Ubisoft have kind of stepped over the fine line between supporting a game after launch and locking stuff off that should have been in the game to begin with.
Essentially, Just Dance 2016 is just more of the same - if you're looking for some simple fun bopping around to your favourite tracks, then it's unlikely to disappoint. Just don't go in expecting anything new or revolutionary, and please, for the love of god, don't buy into the whole Just Dance Unlimited Pass fad either; you'll only encourage them.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii