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Dancing with the Stars

(Activision; US: 31 Oct 2007)

Think about it: if you’re dancing, what parts of you are moving?  Your feet and your legs, most definitely.  Unless you’re a stiff, you’re probably shaking your butt a little bit.  And then, maybe, you’re moving your arms, if only because it’s tough to move your legs and butt to the beat while holding your arms perfectly still.


Granted, those assumptions apply largely to dancing in the club-going sense.  On the opposite side of that spectrum is professional ballroom dancing, in which effective iterations of the waltz, the quickstep, and the paso doble require nearly as much graceful movement in the upper body as in the lower body.  At least, that’s what those wise, world famous judges on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars keep teaching us.


Perhaps this is why somebody at Activision decided it would be prudent to release a game based on Dancing with the Stars based entirely on arm movements.


Two versions of Dancing with the Stars are now available in wide release, one for the PlayStation 2 and one for the Wii.  The PlayStation 2 version functions exactly as intuition dictates it should, since the primary input device is a dance pad.  A dancing game that uses a Dance Dance Revolution-style dance pad makes sense.  Perhaps playing the PlayStation 2 version is an entertaining experience, very much akin to the Dance Dance Revolution games themselves.  The Wii version of the game, however, is not.  The Wii version of Dancing with the Stars is interesting in very much the same way that a car wreck is interesting: fascinating to look at, as long as you have no part in it.


So, fine, you get past the fact that the entirety of Dancing with the Stars is played with your hands.  You even accept it, figuring that you’ve always wanted a game where you play the drums without making any noise, and this is about the closest you’re going to get for a while.  What then?


Eyes up, Lawrence!

Eyes up, Lawrence!


Well, there are two good things about Dancing with the Stars that are immediately apparent.  One, the graphics are occasionally really impressive, particularly when the stars are actually dancing.  Somehow, developer Zoe Mode managed to work dancing animations in that look graceful and realistic, particularly if you’re familiar with the dramatic, made-for-TV style that you get on the show.  Of course, those animations should be fluid and impressive, given that they never change.  You could be playing the maracas with your Wiimote and nunchuck, and our videogame Emmitt Smith and Cheryl Burke will keep waltzing.  You could miss every single step, and your video counterparts will keep chugging along as if you are putting on a display of unparalleled mastery.  The visuals are the same every time, which leads to an offputting disconnect between the action and the experience.  The other good thing is the fact that Zoe Mode seems to have at least put some time into tweaking the responsiveness of the controller—the Wiimote and nunchuck are responsive, and never do you get the feeling that you can blame the game for your own inadequacy.


That said, the problems are almost too many to count, so I’ll stick with the most egregious: the challenge.  Dancing with the Stars features two difficulty levels, “Amateur” and “Professional”.  Let’s just say that “Professional” isn’t exactly Guitar Hero-on-expert hard.  Hell, it’s not Guitar Hero-on-medium hard.  There are ten couples to choose from, and each couple has four dances (after the fourth dance, hooray, you’ve won the trophy!).  It will take a decent player under two hours to successfully complete all of them, on the “Professional” difficulty level, unlocking everything available to be unlocked.  Under two hours.  This game costs $49.99.  For a game to reveal all of its secrets in its first two hours of play is inexcusable.


The non-dancing graphics are nothing to write home about, either.  Bald Joey Lawrence looks kind of like Billy Corgan, and gosh, look up the uncanny valley in the dictionary and there may just be a picture of the game’s rendition of the show’s flamboyant judge Bruno Tonioli.  His eyes don’t line up.  He’s freakin’ creepy.  He sounds like Bruno, but…gosh.  Something’s wrong there.  Speaking of the judges, they don’t have nearly enough things to say, meaning that you’re going to hear an awful lot of canned responses over…and over…and over again.  Oh, and the dancers hug too often when they’re happy.


They're doing the paso doble, you're doing the locomotion.Something's missing here.

They’re doing the paso doble, you’re doing the locomotion.
Something’s missing here.


And seriously, where’s Master P?  The opportunity to turn the show’s most famous failure into a fleet-footed master might have been worth the price of admission alone.


When a game based on a television show or a movie or any other sort of hot trend makes its way into stores, it is usually easily dismissed by those serious about their gaming.  Labels like “cash-in” and “quick money grab” are muttered, and the games sit, untouched by all but those most devoted to whatever trend is being cashed in on.  Yet starting such a game for the first time still brings with it a sense of hope—that this one will be different, that this one will be quality.  Dancing with the Stars for the Wii is no such exception.


Dance Dance Revolution: Hottest Party, while not a perfect game necessarily, at least showed how Wiimote/nunchuck controls can be incorporated with some success into a game based on dancing.  Dancing with the Stars would do well to take notes.  There is no reason that a game called Dancing with the Stars should be entirely devoid of actual dancing.  Yes, it makes you hand jive, do the mashed potato, and wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care, but it does not make you dance, and what it does make you do fits in just a little too well with the rest of the lackluster presentation.  Save your 50 bucks for a real dance lesson.

Rating:

Mike Schiller is a software engineer in Buffalo, NY who enjoys filling the free time he finds with media of any sort -- music, movies, and lately, video games. Stepping into the role of PopMatters Multimedia editor in 2006 after having written music and game reviews for two years previous, he has renewed his passion for gaming to levels not seen since his fondly-remembered college days of ethernet-enabled dorm rooms and all-night Goldeneye marathons. His three children unconditionally approve of their father's most recent set of obsessions.


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Dancing with the Stars Game Trailer
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