So similar it's like an old friend; a staple of your Wii library that you turn to when you need to burn off some energy, a perfect party pick-me up, and an exercise game all rolled into one. Yes, with a whole year gone since the last game worked its way into our disc tray and refused to come out, Just Dance is here again - and even with a few tweaks to the tried and tested formula, it's basically the same game with different songs. But where Just Dance is concerned, that's not a bad thing. In fact, after a year of Katy Perry's 'California Gurls' greeting us every time we start up Just Dance 3, it's a welcome change.
Veterans of the series know what to expect - with a few friends in tow, everyone straps themselves into their Wii Remotes, you argue over which song to play first, and then you copy the on-screen stick figures to gain points. After a few giggles at Dave's superman impression and a couple of mid-move collisions, the winner is declared, based on who accumulated the most points. And that's all there is to it - simple, yet oh so addictive, you rinse and repeat until you can dance no more.
Of course, any Just Dance game is only as good as the selection of songs it brings with it, and here Just Dance 4 doesn't disappoint, even if there are slightly fewer songs with an all round appeal this time, in favour of more modern pop. From Carly Ray Jepsen's annoying "Call Me Maybe" and the equally teeny-bopper One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful", to the all round cheese of Barry White's "Your The First, The Last, My Everything", even good old Ricky Martin getting a look in with "Living La Vida Loca", giving Just Dance 4 a song list that's packed with enough cheese to feed the whole of France.
Previous Just Dance games have brought with them big changes - most noticeable was the jump from the original game to Just Dance 2, which added much more impressive background videos, greatly improved the Wii-Remote waggling, and reworked the scoring system to make it more fair. Just Dance 3 pretty much perfected the formula, adding in a whole host of unlockables and awards to reward the players who kept coming back, and gave the game a much needed single player push. For Just Dance 4, then, the focus has turned to the 'Just Sweat' exercise mode, which has been turned from a frivolous extra, into a full on mode of its own.
Never really any more than a running total of how many 'sweat points'/calories you'd managed to burn over a series of songs, the 'Just Sweat' aspect of the Just Dance games was never much to write home about. After all, playing songs in the normal 'Just Dance' mode got you just as hot and bothered as Just Sweat, as you were doing the same routines, to the same tunes, making Just Sweat nothing more than a menu option that never got pressed. For Just Dance 4, however, things have changed.
Now coming with a series of 'Sweat Classes', Just Dance 4 lets you strut your stuff in a more exercise-focus way, with a number of routines designed to get you moving, and burning calories in a slightly more serious manner. Of course, this being a Just Dance game, it's still all very light hearted - there's no proper stretches, jogging and lunges in sight, and certainly nothing on the scale of a game like Your Shape. Instead, Just Sweat's all about having fun. With classes like 'Aerobics in Space' to the songs of the 80s, a 'Swinging 60s Workout' full of funny routines and a 'Cheerleaders Boot Camp' to the so-called punk of Pink et al, there's a fair amount of variety for a scant five routines. You can choose to go for a short ten minute session, medium 25 minute go or a marathon 45 minute exhaust-athon, if you really want to shed the pounds. Starting out slow with a warm up, you'll then alternate between songs from the game, complete with their normal, matching choreography, and proper exercise routines, like aerobic boxing (still with a definite dance vibe though), before a quick cool down and stretches, all with a running counter of your calories burned and the time you've spent so far ticking in the background. But easily the coolest (and most useful) feature is that the game now tracks your 'energy' across your entire workout, and uses it to decide on the next part of your routine - bounce around like your pants are on fire and you'll get a more intense song to follow, whereas struggling souls get an easier 'cool' song to catch their breath.
Of course, there are a few other new additions to the main game, too - each song now has it's own list of five objectives to complete, ranging from getting a specific number of stars for your performance, to grooving with a certain style (the game gives you a "style" rating depending on how you're dancing, rather than how well, although the criteria for each is a mystery) to hitting certain dance moves as specific points in the song. Replacing the general achievements system from the last game, the new goals expand the game's single player offering that much more, giving completionists yet another reason to come back and retry songs, all while accumulating the 'mojo' points that debuted in the previous game.
Much like before, each song you complete earns you a certain number of "mojo" points, which contribute to your overall level, and in turn unlock new stuff - including new modes, alternate choreographies and more. For example, one of the cooler things you'll unlock are the new Versus Battle songs, which pit two tracks (and two teams of players) against each other to see which one reigns supreme. After randomly choosing which team's song you'll be dancing to first, each team gets a health bar, and by performing the moves better than your opponent, you'll knock off a chunk of health - the person with the most health at the end of the song section is declared the winner, and play then switches to their song of choice, until the other team manages to claw back a win.
A special mention should go out to the choreographies for the songs, too, which are full of the usual Just Dance daftness, and nowhere near as serious (or complex) as those found in other dancing games, like Dance Central - whether it's Rick Astley's clumsy superman, a train-surfing, hairier Juan Sheet-alike from Livin' La Vida Loca or The Final Countdown's wrestlers, jumping and rolling over each other (which really should come with a 'don't try this at home' warning), there's a lot of funny, over the top dances to try. There's also Will Smith's cowboy-themed, line dance lasso-fest, a leather jacket and shades clad 'Rock Lobster' and a cheesy prison break for 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' - as well as a ghoulish monster party for the Rocky Horror Show's 'Time Warp'.In all, then, Just Dance 4 does exactly what it set out to do, and it does it well. Letting you and your friends prance around to the cheesy choreographies of another 40+ songs to your hearts content, it's another great game that anyone can pick up and play, and that everyone will want to have a go at. Which is probably why it's so successful, we guess. The odds are if you loved the old ones, you'll love this one too. Roll on Just Dance 5.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii