Just Dance 2014 and the Power of Pop Music

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At lunch, we ate Quiche Lorraine and drank Coke (they said last time they had Americans in the office they complained about the lack of ‘soda’ and I think they were trying to be hospitable to the US PR accompanying us, Shannon). It was probably my favorite part of the day, because I love development stories. Any time you get developers of any game vaguely similar, mechanically speaking, to each others’ work together, you get a ton of interesting stories about bugs and problems—sit in the Game Developers’ Conference lunch room, for example, and you’ll hear the best stories. These are often the stories they don’t tell you about as part of the PR schpiel. Everyone likes to pretend that their development process has been smooth as a cut throat razor shave, nothing happened, nope, nothing here, we just made a game—poof! Like magic! Move along please. But my inner QA tester pops up and attempts to cause trouble. “What’s the silliest bug you’ve had?” I ask. “I mean I know you probably don’t get ridiculous physics ones, but you must get some odd ones.”

Xavier Poix grins and tells us about their problems with ghosts in Just Dance 2014. He tells us that he doesn’t really know why, because they don’t use the same data, but that some silhouettes from old Just Dance games popped up in the backgrounds of the new game for a while. It was a mystery to them as to why: There were no shared assets, nothing had been essentially copied. And the worst thing was that one of the ghosts was Rick Astley from Just Dance 4. The game was actually Rick-rolling itself, just doing the hand-tumble in the background like some shoulderpad-clad poltergeist jerk. They had to forcibly remove Rick Astley from Just Dance 2014. He is just never going to give it up.

And then we got down to the dancing. They switched on the Wii U.

The most outstanding part of Just Dance as a franchise is that it doesn’t really care much about you getting the moves right or wrong. Mechanically speaking, it just wants you to mirror what’s on screen in a vaguely similar way, and the dancers are not motion captured, they are filmed, giving the dances more finesse and more of an organic feel on screen. You feel like you’re doing that beautiful thing, even if your limbs are flailing all over the place.

“Maybe it’s not fair for Dance Central, but…” Veronique Halbrey would say later, “If you look at the screen, it’s really smooth. When you look at the dancer, you want to dance, because it’s really fluid, really smooth. You see them feel the dance move.”

And she’s right. There is a fluidity in the game that is pleasurable to watch, even from the videos—those outlines, the consistent outlandish style of them.

Xavier Poix says, “When we did the special Japanese version for the Japanese market with Nintendo, Nintendo produced the game. It’s the first time ever in Ubisoft history. It was a success in Japan. They called it the codename… I don’t know if we can talk about that, but the codename for Just Dance at Nintendo was ‘Mirror.’ I think they understood very well what we wanted to do. This is more of a mirror game. It’s not a real dance game. It’s more of a mirror game.”

“We don’t want to be exactly like real life, of course,” Halbrey says. “We want the character to have something in between… a little bit cartoony… We don’t want it to just be a picture up there, a movie. It’s a balance, something in between.”

And there was Ke$ha.

just dance 2014 screen.jpg

Just Dance 2014 thinks about the use of space, technology and, most importantly, other people, in a really involving way. There’s always someone who sits out and watches when these games are put on, but the Wii U version lets you gain extra points by singing the song at the microphone in the tablet. You can also direct a music video from the Wii U tablet whilst the dancing is going on, and upload it afterwards, something no doubt my dad would find hysterical and would tell everyone at work about my “wee Ke$ha dance on the internet” until I held his TV remotes to ransom. What’s also amazing is that in the One Direction “Kiss You” song, on the Xbox One (with the much-beloved Kinect) you can have up to six players dancing at the same time, and it ends with a human pyramid.

A word to the wise: When a potential human pyramid is on the cards, take off your massive giant black heeled boots. I possibly injured an Ubisoft tester quite badly on the leg. I certainly bruised him. He looked a bit like I’d stolen his quiche.


The dances also utilize other people fantastically well: In the Ke$ha track you do an arm wibble that connects up to your panda friend (in my case this panda was Keza Macdonald of the internets website Ai Gee Enn Dot Com) and it makes you feel like a massive genius for completing such a simple dance move with another person. This goes the same for the robot dance in “Get Lucky”.

Not only this: There are literally like, one hundred billion goofy modes you can play in depending on which console you own, and a new mode, World Dance Floor, which connects live to a song being played across the world simultaneously. As you see the world flags and nicknames appear down the left hand side, you realize that around the world other people are doing the same dance as you at the same time. You can compete for points against them if you like, but of course, largely, this is not the reason you play Just Dance. You’d play it just for the sake of dancing with the rest of the world.

The usual social-network gubbins comes with all this and fries: but the essential game, the tracks, the visuals, and the actual choreography itself, all of it is thrilling and really really fun to play. I’m fed up of games finding excuses for me to shoot virtual people, and I want more excuses to bring friends into the living room. If I could afford an Xbox One, which I can’t, I’d certainly be getting this game for it so that we could do a six-person pyramid. But perhaps that’s it: This game started its humble beginnings on the very console that people declared prematurely dead—the Wii—and embraced people that games never thought they’d embrace. Even my mother would be into this game. And guess what? This game is still coming out on the good old Wii. Dust it off! Dust it down. Forget the next generation. Dig that little sweetheart out.

And to the love affair of pop and games: to the safe space made that there wasn’t before, I salute you. I leave the final word to Ste Curran, ex-Edge magazine editor, game designer and unofficial broker of videogames and pop music:

“I am pretty sure pop was fine before games, and I am pretty sure games were fine before they had the bitrate to do pop music justice. But they can both benefit from each other and if games train people out of the teenage attitude that popular = bad… then that’s awesome too.”

Well, quite.

Cara Ellison wishes very much that she could be Veronica Mars, but she has very poor deductive reasoning and terrible hair. She lives in the UK and writes about games for places like The Guardian, Rock Paper Shotgun and PC Gamer.