My E3 schedule for Wednesday had “Microsoft/Kinect” on it. I arrived for my appointment and confirmed I’d be seeing Dance Central 3.
I have a couple of lovely friends who work for Harmonix, back in Boston. I do not dance. Not even for them.
I went into a closed-door demo room with two other writers and a video guy. Waiting for us were one PR rep, one of the game’s producers, and one of the game’s choreographers. I had a brief glimmer of hope that the choreographer would be demonstrating the game for us, and I would be off the hook.
The demo required two teams of two. Four players. And on discovering that the other woman writer in the room and I had nearly the same name, it was universally agreed that she and I must therefore throw down, in Throwdown mode.
Well. Almost universally agreed. I have never been so badly outvoted in my life.
We stood before the solemn, judging eye of the Kinect as it sized us up and required us to strike poses for posterity. The machine duly assigned randomly selected names and avatars to us (as choosing and customising would take too much time out of a 30-minute demo window) and the game, alas, was on.
You have to high-five your opponent to start each round. Like bowing to your sensei, or saluting your fencing opponent, or a gladiator saluting his emperor as he heads into certain death in the arena. Particularly like that last one, in fact.
The first round was the kind of “standard” routine players will recognise from other Dance Central games. Avatars on-screen demonstrated choreography, and we tried as best we could to keep up. The game has not only an easy mode, but a Dancing for Dummies mode (not the official name) that engages when you are too terrible to keep up with Easy. I am fairly certain that I demonstrated the existence of that mode to my fellow writers.
The team proudly touted choreography brought to the game by Usher. Somehow, I had forgotten that detail from Monday’s Microsoft press conference, but on being reminded I felt my doom surround me. I mean. Usher can dance, guys. I cannot. It was perhaps the saddest, most forlorn attempt at breaking it down that has ever been seen by human eyes.
I did enjoy watching the two gents playing when it came to the Make Your Move round. Each player creates his or her own move: perform for the camera, repeat four times. It becomes a choreography card that your opponent must then perform. Players do two each, and then the cards get shuffled into an impromptu routine that both players perform for points, similar to the standard mode. The guys got exceptionally into it. Even a choreographer responsible for putting tons of moves into the game isn’t necessarily perfect in this kind of round (though he learned exceptionally fast). It’s user-generated dancing content, letting players let loose with their own creativity.
I was grateful not to have to play Make Your Move.
Just as I as sure that I was living through the most embarrassing day of my life since sixth grade, a ray of hope appeared in the most unlikely possible way. The next party mode, Keep the Beat, again required us to make up our own moves. I have no moves to bust. I have no groove to get down with. Things were looking grim.
But what I do have is rhythm. Eight years of marching band, the least cool way to move to music, made sure I knew that. I can find the downbeat of a moving subway train; I can tell you the time signature of a sleeping cat. And while my erstwhile competitor could indeed shake it, she couldn’t consistently shake it to the actual music. I had the beat; she did not. And I kept it. I swept the round.
On the last round, back in the well-worn standard mode, I went down in flames. Thanks to being paired with a choreographer, I was still on the winning crew. He, however, clearly carried the day.
Will Dance Central 3 ever make me dance again? Doubtful. Close to two decades of avoiding that particular kind of humiliation has become a habit that I don’t think I quite have the courage to break. But for anyone who actually can dance, or who just wants to let loose at home? The tech is sharp, the songs are sweet, and the choreography is arse-kicking in the very best way. I already plan to pick up at least one copy for a friend’s birthday gift, when it’s available. She will love it.
But I don’t think I’ll go to her her place to play along.