Reviewed: November 13, 2007
Released: October 31, 2007
If you remember the American Idol version of Karaoke Revolution that was released early this year, you probably understand the idea behind Activision’s Dancing with the Stars game for the PS2. Nine celebrity couples from past seasons – including dancers Emmit Smith, Mario Lopez, and Stacey Keibler – are represented in this title based on the television show, allowing you to play as your favorite dancer and proceed through the competition, either by yourself, or partnered with a friend.
Dancing with the Stars is no Dance Dance Revolution, and it doesn’t try to be, but it does manage to be a mostly competent dance game for one or two players.
To play, you’ll need a PS2-compatible dance pad (or two, if you plan on playing with a second player). Any dance pad that works with the DDR games will do, but you’ll have to buy this separately – the dance pad isn’t included with the game, though reportedly, a limited-edition party bundle to be released on November 13 will include a pad.
Dancing with the Stars includes four play modes: Single Player, Quickplay, Multiplayer, and Practice. The Single Player and Multiplayer modes are virtually identical, simulating the dance competition from the television show and allowing you (and perhaps a friend) to complete up to four different dances and hear the three judges’ comments after each one. The four songs you must dance and the order in which you dance them are set depending on which couple you choose, and each song has a “lead” and a “follow” set of steps, depending on whether you choose to play as the female or male dancer in the couple. In the Multiplayer mode, you can additionally choose to play either competitively or cooperatively with another player.
Quickplay mode allows you to freely choose and dance to any song that you have unlocked so far. The game includes 36 licensed songs from the show – including “Bailamos,” “I Like the Way,” “Independent Woman,” and “She’s a Lady” – each of which is associated with a particular couple. You start out with two couples available, and additional couples are unlocked as you go through the Single Player game, which, in turn, makes more songs available. The two difficulty levels (Amateur and Professional) of each song must be unlocked separately, however.
Well, the dancing part is where things get a little hairy. Just like in DDR, the player is given arrow signals that coincide with beats at which the arrows on the pad must be stepped on. There are even steps similar to DDR’s freeze arrows that ask the dancer to hold an arrow for a certain number of beats. It also took some cues from the Karaoke Revolution and Guitar Hero games in that it allows players to boost their scores with sparkling “Flair” segments that award score multipliers when completed successfully. That is, however, just about where the similarities end.
Dancing with the Stars attempts to introduce a different mode of using the dance pad. The game presents steps for the left and right foot separately, probably in an effort to encourage players to use steps that more closely mimic the different dance styles (such as Mambo or Paso Doble or Viennese Waltz) seen in the TV show, but it unfortunately doesn’t seem to work very well for two reasons.
Firstly, because the step arrows for the left foot come in from the left side of the screen, while the step arrows for the right foot come in from the right side of the screen, I found myself getting walleyed while trying to simultaneously follow both sets of directions from opposite edges of the screen. The arrows didn’t fill the entire screen as they do in DDR and allowed unobstructed viewing of the dance animations, but it simply didn’t make for a very natural player interface.
Secondly, instructing the player to take certain steps with certain feet was sometimes merely inconvenient and at other times even dangerous. Any veteran DDR player knows that returning to the center of the dance pad in the middle of a song is usually folly, and that stepping directly from arrow to arrow is much more fluid and natural. Dancing with the Stars, however, basically forces you to unnaturally return to the center of the pad after most steps, especially since you will sometimes need to step on the same arrow with two separate feet, one after another, and if you don’t step back into the center after the first step, the second step on the same arrow won’t even register.
This choreography quirk makes for some awkward movement that was, at times, somewhat hazardously unbalancing when executed in the very defined space of a standard dance pad. Sadly, separating directions for the two feet didn’t seem to make movement on the dance pad look any more like ballroom dance maneuvers, either.
Discounting the often-ungainly step choreography that I mentioned earlier, neither the Amateur nor the Professional grades of difficulty seemed to be particularly hard to pick up, but the game does seem to be rather picky about step timing. In fact, if you’re just a fraction of a second off, the game often tells you that you missed the step completely. This isn’t necessarily a problem in of itself, as it simply increases the challenge level for precise step timing, but relatively easy steps with strict timing could possibly make for a frustrating combination for both beginning players (who might not be able to time their steps so perfectly yet) as well as for advanced dance game players (who might yearn for more complicated step patterns).
Still, despite its flaws, Dancing with the Stars still manages to be a playable and competent dance game, especially for beginning to mid-range dance game players, and I applaud the developer for at least trying to bring some creativity to the genre. In fact, the two-foot format that seemed so awkward on the DDR-style dance pad may have even worked well with a different kind of dance pad – but until such a dance pad is made, I suggest caution when trying out this game!
The game interface is smoothly modern and brightly colored, the text and icons are easy to read, and, during the dance numbers, the animated character models – especially the women’s swaying hair and flowing skirts throughout various fabric-rippling moves – really look superb. It’s only watching the other animations that reveals the unfortunate woodenness of the otherwise decent-looking character renders, especially since some of the less realistic animations (such as that of the couple hugging like a pair of clumsily manipulated marionettes after any given judge’s positive comment) are repeated far too often to look even remotely natural.
Dancing with the Stars’ audio – which, besides including 36 licensed songs used in the television series such as: The Final Countdown, Bailamos, These Boots are Made for Walking, She's a Lady, I like the Way You Move, Put Your Records On, Independent Women Part 1, and many more , also includes various clips of the three judge’s comments and miscellaneous crowd sounds – is crisp and clear.
At $39.99, Dancing with the Stars would probably not be my first choice when looking for a dance or rhythm game, but that may just be my personal preference, since I’m a longtime DDR player with a taste for faster music and steps. It’s not necessarily a poor choice, especially if you’re a fan of the Dancing with the Stars TV show, or if you’re newer to games in the dance genre. Mostly, though, what you might want to consider is your taste in dance steps.
Compared to the DDR games, Dancing with the Stars generally offers simpler dance steps at a less frenetic rate and with less jumping, which may make it more approachable for more beginning players. The awkwardness of the choreographed movements on the dance pad still applies, however, so do be careful!
Dancing with the Stars plays a bit like the lovechild of Dance Dance Revolution and Karaoke Revolution, and it has some design flaws, but it’s certainly not unplayable. The attempt at some innovation in the DDR-dominated dance game genre is a positive step, but it needs some work to match up to the polish of its competitor. Overall, it’s a competent dance game, but be sure to watch your step if you plan on playing it.