A fun dancing game that doesn’t really teach you anything.
I’m sure I’m not alone in often feeling uncomfortable and awkward whenever I have to dance in public, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it. Just Dance 2017 creates a social atmosphere where every dancer takes queues from a screen, and the embarrassment from utter lack of coordination is usually laughed at as a group as you watch video replays of your collective mis-timed moves. It takes a social convention, combines it with an effective cardio workout, and adds in popular, recognisable music for a party game that’s easy to pick up and play.
As a series, Just Dance is nearly nine years old and has a well-established, predictable formula: you dance to a library of new songs with an impressive variety of choreography and unlock some simplistic emblems and icons as you go. It’s flashy from the menu to the color-saturated videos that let you know what dance moves to imitate, though, in the case of the Nintendo Switch, you technically only need to match with one hand because that’s all that’s actually tracked. I played mostly in docked mode with both Joy-Con detached, but it also works fine in tabletop mode, albeit with a smaller screen that’s harder to share with someone else.
The tracking doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot, though. Sometimes you’re told a you mimicked a move “perfectly” and other times you can miss even though it feels like you’re doing the exact same thing. The difference isn’t clear, being that Just Dance 2017 doesn’t make effort to tell you what, specifically, you did incorrectly. I’d argue that correct Joy-Con holding form is the most important aspect. Given that it’s so imprecise, it’s a little weird that it assigns individual scores for you and the other three players you might be playing with or against.
The most accurate way to play is on the Xbox One with Kinect, which tracks your entire body and allows for more players by scanning the faces in the room, to the extent that even people who are sitting down are often scanned in and somehow manage to get points, too. The Kinect version does come with its own unique flaws, though: the menu is harder to control with motion, so it often ends with someone walking off to grab the Xbox controller at the end of each song. It’s a simple, tile-based menu that does manage to convey all of the information you might need about a song, but it’s still difficult to use with Kinect.
It probably won’t make you a better dancer.
All of that said, it really is a game about dancing to songs you know, with Just Dance 2017 including some major recent hits like Major Lazer’s “Lean On” and Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” If you suck at dancing, Just Dance probably won’t make you improve, but it is a lot of fun and the variety of different moves certainly lead to a good cardio workout. The professional dancers in their unique, colorful outfits are a delight to watch, too, and group dances particularly showcase creative, unpredictable, and fun choreography, including occasional some actual interaction between players, like high fives.
Unfortunately, a lot of songs are locked away behind Just Dance Unlimited, a paid subscription service that allows you to access songs from past games as well as some exclusive titles, for $39.99 a year. At this point, it feels like it might make more sense to have Just Dance exist as a digital-only game centered around Unlimited, because the disc itself offers few updates from previous years.