Just Dance 2016 Impressions: You Can Dance If You Want To

Just Dance 2016 brings the funk by making the game more accessible than ever, but using mobile devices as controllers and launching the Just Dance Unlimited subscription streaming service. Is dancing with a phone in hand as much fun as a console motion controller? Our impressions.


Considering how the first Just Dance game released in 2009, one would think that the formula for each annual release should be pretty much set. But this year, Just Dance 2016 manages to pull out a few great surprises. The first is with the new control method, which uses Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices like phones and iPod touches as motion controllers. The second is with the Just Dance Unlimited streaming service.

At its core, Just Dance 2016 is like all previous iterations of the game. The game has an extensive track list filled with current and past pop hits. There are live dancers dressed in costumes, with exaggerated colors and animated backgrounds. A line of upcoming moves scroll across the bottom of the screen along with lyrics on the bottom left corner for those skilled enough to sing and dance at the same time. For those who are into the game strictly for the workout, Just Sweat mode is making its expected comeback.

Past games relied on the Wii Remote Controller, PlayStation Move, and Kinect to sense the player's movements. While they are effective, the fact that they are optional accessories limited the game's appeal. Just Dance 2016 looks to change that by using some of the same technology that drives the free-to-play online game Just Dance Now. Instead of having to invest in specialized controllers, players can use their smartphones or other handheld mobile devices like the iPod Touch. The game uses the mobile device's built-in gyroscope to sense movements. All players have to do is download a free app (which is compatible with older generation iPod Touches and iPhones) and have their devices connected to the same local Wi-Fi network to be recognized by the game.

Having all the controllers connected to the same network eliminates issues with lag, so players don't have to worry about losing because they're playing off a mobile network. It's practically impossible to sense the difference between using a mobile device and a console controller to play. The main difference is that devices like the Kinect could also sense foot and body motions in addition to the hand motions, which isn't possible when using a phone. It is entirely possible to play Just Dance 2016 by only mimicking the right arm movements and pretty much ignore everything else, but that would also take away much of the fun.

I danced to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars, and didn't notice any problems with my score. Although I've played past versions of Just Dance, my skills just barely meet the level of following along to the Electric Slide. Despite having hardly any coordination, I managed to pick up an average score by simply keeping my right arm moving almost in time with what was happening on-screen.

Just Dance 2016 supports up to six players, and with the new mobile-based controller, it seems more likely to fill out a full dance party. But the real brilliance is in the Just Dance Unlimited subscription service that will be launching along with the game. Just Dance Unlimited collects together the songs, including the premium DLC releases, from all the previous Just Dance games (including the original 2009 game for the Nintendo Wii) and makes them playable through Just Dance 2016. There's no word on a pricing plan yet, but the service will be limited to current generation consoles like the Wii U, PS4 and Xbox One. There will also be 150 songs available at launch, with more to be added on a regular basis.

If nothing else, Just Dance Unlimited is a great way to get all the songs you used to enjoy dancing and working out to onto one game and console. It also serves as a kind of timeline to illustrate how the game's visuals have improved over the years. Plus, you'll be able to dance Gangnam Style once again, which I'm told is still the best selling song to date. The service might use a little organizing right now, since it's just a static unorganized list for players to scroll through. Hopefully, there will be a quick and easy way for players to jump straight to the songs that they want, especially as more songs releases for the service. Furthermore, all the content streams straight to Just Dance 2016, so there's nothing to download and fill your console's hard drive with. You just need a reasonably reliable internet connection.

With 11 tracks announced so far, and more to come, it might take some time for the Just Dance Unlimited service to catch on. Players will have to feel an incredible fit of nostalgia, or quickly grow tired of the long list of included songs. That's hard to believe with a diverse collection that includes All About the Bass, The William Tell Overture, and Ievan Polkka by the virtual singer Hatsune Miku, who is portrayed by a live actor in a video game. 

The important question is whether or not the Just Dance Unlimited service will replace traditional DLC for new song add-ons. Although Ubisoft hasn't announced plans to go one way or another, it's a real toss-up. On the one hand, selling individual songs must be very lucrative. On the other, there's no better way to attract fans to a subscription service than with potential savings. Ubisoft can't rely completely on Gangnam Style, after all.

Just Dance 2016 releases on October 20th, for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii and Wii U. The accompanying Just Dance Unlimited streaming service will be available on the Wii U, Xbox One and PS4 versions only.

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