Just Dance is a baffling series, and Just Dance 2017 is no different. It’s always been available on consoles that have never quite nailed full-body tracking (the Wii comes to mind). When it did make its debut via the Xbox’s Kinect peripheral, the game improved slightly with the ability to include your entire body into the mix. The Switch’s iteration feels just as crippled as ever, with a release that didn’t really seem as though it had a legitimate reason to be made other than to cash in on the fact that Nintendo has released a new console. While it’s functional and includes a decent smattering of songs to dance to, there are also tracking issues, some bizarre design decisions, and the general question of “why does this exist when there’s better technology to play it on?” Despite all of this, I just danced.
Gonna Be Okay, Dah-Dah-Doo-Doo
Just Dance has been around for quite some time now, and this is one of annual installments over the past few years. This is, obviously, the first release for Nintendo Switch after Just Dance 2017 itself hit store shelves last October for all major home consoles. This version is dancing to the same track it always has been, and it’s the same as it ever was. You gather some friends (or play by yourself), pick a track, and follow the dancer onscreen as they perform a dance routine. At the bottom corner of the screen you’ll see the prompts you’re meant to follow in time with the star dancer, silhouetted colorfully against the screen. The prompts come fast and furious, but each step is generally repeated a couple of times for you to get the hang of things. You’ll earn points if you perform well enough, and depending on what mode you play in you’ll either come out a winner or you’ll amass currency with which you can unlock additional songs.
It’s a party game, through and through, and it’s obviously meant for you to jump in and enjoy with a gaggle of (presumably drunk) friends, who think the epitome of hilarity is dancing alone badly to Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” or the irreverent PSY’s “Daddy.” It’s not meant to accurately measure how good of a dancer you are, because if that were the case you’d need much more than one Joy-Con controller to dance with. Playing your standard Just Dance mode is the easiest way to get started, and you’re told you only need one to participate, or you can opt to download the Just Dance app and play along with your smartphone. The Joy-Con is the optimal control method here as it comes with the wrist strap so you’re not one flail away from sending the Joy-Con (or your phone) through the TV. It’s also responsible for smoother input and improved tracking, if you can indeed call what Just Dance 2017 (and the series in its entirety) tracking.
Spin That Record, Babe
That brings me to the most important point of this review: tracking. You use one Joy-Con apiece to play, or as previously stated, your smartphone, equipped with the Just Dance app. This isn’t new to the series, but it’s beyond me (unless you don’t have enough Joy-Con controllers) why you’d want to use the app instead of the controllers that came with the sweet new console you just bought. In any case, however, tracking is a major issue here. Yes, the Joy-Con will measure your movements, but only those relegated to the positioning of your arm.
For example, I was gung-ho about testing Just Dance 2017 and threw myself into routines, doing my best to mimic the dancers. I played my heart out. I even jumped a few times with the ridiculously choreographed “Chiwawa.” I did a decent job, though I’m simply not a proficient enough dancer to make my bodily jerking look anything like the seasoned professionals in-game. I did well enough to “beat” my CPU opponent (and in some cases the Joy-Con in my left hand) but by the end of a 30-45 minute set I was tuckered out. I decided to try the game sitting down, because while my lower body was spent, my upper body was still ready to party.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that while sitting I could perform just as well as long as I went along with the arm movements for each step. And by going along with the movements, I mean lazily waving my arms around and completely missing other steps. The Joy-Con simply isn’t able to figure out if you’re moving your lower body or even if you’re right on the money. That’s not the Joy-Cons’ fault, however, nor has it been the Wii’s fault or your smartphone’s fault. That’s the limitations of the tech, which has always been such that you can flail about like a fish and still perform reasonably well, receiving positive rankings by the end of the song.
Upon subsequent testing to ensure this wasn’t a fluke, I was able to complete a good majority of the songs available to me by sitting on my butt on the sofa the entire time. My arms got a good workout, but I think that’s because I was putting a little too much energy into the songs I knew. The point of the matter is Just Dance 2017 still suffers from the very same placebo effect the series always has. It’s there to make you feel like you’re dancing without actually teaching you the intensive choreography like games such as Dance Central or even Dance Masters could. Again, those were full-body experiences, and games that Just Dance will never be able to touch unless it completely revamps its entire approach to the genre.
Just, Just, Just Dance
Just Dance 2017 is very much a game for casual audiences, and people I’d wager who would never actually want their dance moves scored. That’s why Ubisoft was able to get by with including only a paltry 40-something songs, many of which include some of the most boring pop hits I could imagine, such as Maroon 5’s “Don’t Wanna Know” and the worst Hatsune Miku song of all time, “PoPiPo.” The rest of the mix is eclectic to be sure, filled with some hilarious routines and classic tunes, but it’s not what I’d call repayable, in most cases. You’ll groove along to familiar hits, but after you’ve exhausted most of the list during a night of solo play or with friends, you’ll wish there were more to choose from.
That’s where Just Dance Unlimited comes in, Ubisoft’s push for a subscription service with additional songs you can pay to use in your game. It’s $4.99 a month, $9.99 for three months, and $29.99 for the entire year if you want access to 200+ additional songs You get a free 90-day trial with your purchase of the Nintendo Switch edition of the game, but you’ll need to sign up for a Nintendo Account to use it. Locking additional songs behind a paywall like this is understandable for the ecosystem of Just Dance going forward, but for a game that hardly scores you on your performance to the point where you could look up videos of each song on YouTube and get a similar effect is a bit shameless. If you’re going to play for the long haul, however, it’s an option so that you don’t get tired of playing the same songs over and over.
There are other dance modes to partake in addition to the garden variety “dance to song X” for a good time” mode, including Dance Quests, where you play three songs in a row against AI, Sweat mode to convince you that you’re putting together a viable workout, and weirdly enough Just Dance TV. This mode is meant for you to watch others dancing in their living rooms and share your own video. But without a camera on the Nintendo Switch, it’s hard to imagine how you could participate in this mode and are instead forced to remain a Just Dance voyeur. World Dance Floor is an interesting addition, however, where you play against others around the world to see who can place at the top of the leaderboard while everyone grooves along simultaneously.
The most worthwhile addition is the Just Dance Machine mode, where you have to aid aliens in getting back to their home planet by playing a bunch of short song clips in rapid succession to help fuel their ship. It’s interesting and fast-paced, but in the end it all comes down to dancing in front of your TV to the same old songs and doing the same old things.
I’ve Had A Little Bit Too Much
For one of the earliest Nintendo Switch experiences I’ve had with the console, Just Dance 2017 was a disappointing departure. Though its slick and easy to use interface combined with the Switch-centric Tabletop Mode are boons for those looking to dance, there’s little substance here, certainly not enough to recommend shelling out cash for Just Dance Unlimited or even playing this game instead of just turning on the radio and dancing to your own routines. It will likely please casual fans who don’t know any better, but if you really want to learn how to dance wait for the inevitable full-body VR trainer or just roll it on back to Dance Central, the undisputed dance trainer of the last decade. You’ll surely learn a lot more, and it’s still great at parties.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch copy provided by the publisher. Just Dance 2017 is available now for $59.99. The game is rated E-10+.
Just Dance 2017
- Some fun, upbeat song choices.
- Different game modes to try out.
- Polished menus and responsive UI.
- You don't even have to stand up to do well.
- Tracking isn't always accurate.
- Exorbitant pricing for Just Dance Unlimited.
- Some strange song choices mixed in.
- You could get the same effect watching YouTube routines.
Brittany Vincent posted a new article, Just Dance 2017 Review: You Should Be Dancin', Yeah
Lol, that is great review. I love it, now I just want to dance!!
I want you to dance, but I don't want you to waste your money!