Do Dance Games Have a Place in Gaming Future?

Dance games: timeless? or done to death?

Music games are nothing new to the market.  They have been around since the golden age of gaming, sporadically rising and falling in popularity. A couple of those first games introduced a very basic way to create your own music, these being Otocky, and Miracle Piano.  While there are many kinds of music games, dance based games have always somehow kept popping up the most.  In the late 90s, it started with the Dance Dance Revolution series.  While the arcade was the first place to play this rhythm game, it made it’s way to homes using a plastic mat to record movement.  At first this dance game was very popular, but a bevy of sequels left people tired of buying a game that was essentially the same from version to version.

The dance game market was slowed by the introduction, and subsequent surge in popularity, of instrument based games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero.  They basically took the spotlight away from dance titles.  But that fame did not last, as a number of sequels eventually saturated the market and people got sick of them.  Games like DJ Hero ultimately suffered the same fate as their rock predecessors.  Are you seeing a pattern here?  Music games are notorious for flying too close to the sun, creating too many sequels and spin offs, and then collecting dust in the corner of stores.

Then there was Just Dance, a game that took what the Dance Dance Revolution series did to a whole new level.  Now you could actually dance without the constraints of a plastic map and four arrows.  This game released for the Nintendo Wii, and was very popular.  Its popularity spawned a sequel, as well as competitors like Michael Jackson’s The Experience.  While these games offered a new-found freedom, they were even more improved upon with similar releases on the Xbox 360.  One such game, Dance Central, grew in popularity in large part because you no longer needed a controller, and could dance quite freely.

While the mat-free games were quite popular last year, many are anxious to see if these games will fall into the same trend as all of the others.  Are music games just cursed in general?  Tony Key of Ubisoft (makers of Just Dance) doesn’t think so.  “The market is really unsaturated.  It’s big, and people want to do this.  Before Just Dance came along you had no good excuse to actually be dancing in your living room with a group of people.  We’ve created a reason for a home dance experience.”

This being said, that fundamental idea is flawed.  Gamers have seen this type of game before, albeit with a mat.  The technology has improved slightly, but in the case of the Wii…still falls behind.  If you have ever actually played Just Dance, you will quickly realize that the game is easily fooled.  For example, when playing the versus mode, you can trick the game by just standing and moving one arm.  Believe it or not, the person who was not actually dancing won this mode.  Although games on the 360’s Kinect have taken a new approach to the mechanic, they still have their flaws.  Interruptions to the camera can ruin the fun experience of a dance game.  If the dance genre wants to survive, it is going to have to bring something revolutionary to the table.

The problem with dance games in general is the core essence of the games.  While some can be fun, most of them come across as gimmicky.  Aside from the few isolated hits, there are a bevy of shovel-ware competitors on both systems.  These imitator games are creating the same pattern for new series, that sequels did for the old ones.  If an overabundance of sequels made consumers sick of  past franchises, wouldn’t games that are almost identical do the same thing moving forward?

Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities shares a similar view:  “I think dance is even more of a bubble than music. There is simply too much content out there and barriers to entry are way too low. When Majesco can have a modest hit with Zumba Fitness – average Metacritic 43 on Xbox 360 – it shows that anyone can succeed if the underlying music or IP is sufficiently compelling. I think that Ubisoft’s success with Just Dance will attract even more competitors, and think that the genre will fast become saturated.”

While sales in the dance genre have been promising, reviews of such games have been less than stellar.  Just Dance was attacked by Eurogamer, who called it “a stupid, shallow, garish thing”.  Michael Jackson’s The Experience was rated around the middle according to Metacritic, and fared a lot better on the 360 than on the Wii.  If band-based games are any indication of what is to come, this is just the top of a rollercoaster…and rollercoasters usually end up at the bottom.

While dance games are different than instrument based games, it is hard to ignore the downfall of another music title.  It does not seem that makers of these games are ever going to learn their lesson though, as the high sale numbers are certain to attract even more competitors than are already present.  If you ask me, there is a future for the dance genre but it will be riddled with failures.  The only obstacle that will prevent a future for dance outings is when people realize they can dance around in their living rooms without a game telling them what to do.  It’s okay dance games, we won’t tell anyone.


[Inspired by: GameSetWatch]

[Images courtesy of: GameSpot, Ubisoft, and Joystiq]

Jessica Weimar
Jessica Weimar
Jessica Weimar

MASH Veteran

Jessica is clearly a fan of video games, or she wouldn't be writing for this site. She attends college and like most other staff on the site, has a day job that she despises. She spends most of her free time playing games with her boyfriend.

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