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Just Dance 2017 (Switch) Review

by Carmine Red - March 29, 2017, 3:29 pm PDT
Total comments: 7

8.5

Just Dance's magic is in dressing up its rhythm party dance gameplay in such a way that everything else just melts away.

The Just Dance series weaves some very important magic that a couple other rhythm/dance games predating it have lacked: it can make you think you're just as good as what you're seeing on the screen.

This is of HUGE importance. I am not gifted in the aesthetic medium of dance, and what's more I am aware of it. That gnawing self-consciousness is an immense hurdle to overcome in both the real, and videogame, worlds.

But with Just Dance 2017, and the rest of the Just Dance series, this worry magically melts away. I credit the game's unique visual aesthetics for this: players watch an onscreen dancer and mirror their choreography. These dancers are professionals, so of COURSE they look like they know what they're doing. However, Ubisoft applies some sort of real-life celshading filter to them and, by virtue of gaining vibrant color while losing definition of all but the most basic facial features, the figures you're watching are dehumanized to the point of abstraction. From there it's a simple mental trick to think while playing that anyone, including yourself, looks as sassy, sexy, silly, or suave as the onscreen projections.

Helping the illusion is that while playing Just Dance your focus is occupied by what physical movements are coming up. Each song's choreography is actually composed of distinct, repeating moves, performed both by the onscreen avatar and previewed ahead of time by scrolling icons in the lower right of the screen. (The icons also emphasize the arm components of each movement which are the actual parts of the moves measured by the motion-sensing joy-cons.) These multiple cues work: the onscreen avatar(s) show the exact dance in full-body form, and occasional glances at the scrolling icons can keep you appraised of what's coming up. Choreography is also tightly synced to the music, so if you start really grooving to a song then everything, from the rhythm to the moves to the music to the lyrics, can just start to click.

The final piece of the puzzle is the music selection, and if the song list doesn't have at least a few selections that jive with you it won't be for lack of trying. There are 40 tracks on disc, and more than 200 additional songs available for streaming via the Just Dance Unlimited subscription service. Certain songs also have alternative visual and choreography versions as well. The most exciting alternative versions are, in my opinion, the "fanmade" versions where you dance to video of real people doing truly unique (and more challenging) choreography to specific songs. The songlist is predominantly modern tunes across the pop, dance, electronic, and hip-hop genres, with a selection specifically carved out suitable for kids as well. However, Just Dance also makes an effort to find interesting ways to choreograph other types of songs, like the "William Tell Overture" (in which you pantomime a pair of jockeys horse-racing), the "Tetris" theme song (with hilarious four-player choreography where players bend at 90-degree angles to link with each other), and - my personal favorite - Disney's "Under the Sea" where you, as a mermaid, are dancing from a seated position.

Let me tell you, when played properly "Under the Sea" gives your core a real workout since your legs are supposed to be "fins" and thus can't be used as leverage for any of your upper body's movements.

Another thing to note: Just Dance Unlimited is predominantly songs from previous versions. For brand new players this doesn't matter because everything will be new. However, as someone who played Just Dance 2016 extensively, this did definitely deflate my excitement somewhat.

Ultimately, it is true that the bulk of Just Dance 2017's extensive collection is locked behind the Just Dance Unlimited subscription plan, but that shouldn't deter you if you're curious: each copy of Just Dance 2017 for the Switch comes with THREE months of Just Dance Unlimited included. That's more than enough to either give the paid service a test drive or to incorporate Just Dance 2017 into whatever personal fitness program you've created. (That's a true story best saved for another article.)

Sure, strictly speaking the game only tracks the Joy-Con motion controllers so you COULD play the entire game seated, but where's the fun in that? You bought Just DANCE for a reason I assume. The game may not track your feet or your hips, it may not know whether you flicked your hair in the exact same manner the onscreen avatar does, and it will never give you bonus points for embodying an appropriate attitude for reggaeton, bollywood, or even gospel. But actually doing the dancing is fun and actually learning the choreography is enlivening. Leaning into the way this game is intended to be played and fully embracing the full energy of the music is transformative.

Oh, and yes, make no mistake, Just Dance 2017 will make you sweat. The game has a dedicated "Sweat" mode to count the calories you've burned in each song, and I never before had sweat actually streaming down my face and into my eyes until I had some epic Just Dance sessions. I personally estimate a non-stop hour of Just Dance play is roughly equivalent to an hour of light Zumba, but Just Dance has the advantage of letting you take it at your own pace in 3-4 minute chunks, resting between songs as needed or switching out with other players to keep the music going.

In truth the "Sweat" mode in Just Dance 2017 is mostly the same gameplay but with a calorie counter added. It's just a thin veneer to offer up the same core Just Dance motion-controlled musical gameplay in a different dressing. The game's other modes fit this theme as well, each only slightly re-organizing the context or setting in which the core gameplay is presented. Likewise, Just Dance tracks your gameplay and rewards you ways to unlock avatar icons and a handful of additional songs, but this in and of itself isn't compelling and happens so naturally through regular play that it's almost an afterthought. Ultimately, Just Dance 2017's other modes and game features are only a very thin veneer painted over the core dancing gameplay.

And yes, this game can be engaging alone, but it is also wonderful in multiplayer. The Switch Joy-Cons work perfectly fine as motion controllers, and Just Dance 2017 supports up to 6 players at once. The game also allows players to use smartphones as controllers via a dedicated Just Dance App as long as they're on the same wifi network (which worked absolutely fine on my home wifi). I even tried the game in Tabletop mode, which proved every bit the same console-level experience, just now on a screen so small that more than two players would be hard-pressed to keep track of it. Just Dance 2017 really came into its own in bigger venues, like after work at the office when myself and a couple co-workers hooked it up to a big screen TV and took turns in workplace gaming sessions that threaten to go on for hours. (With the Facebook friday night compilation videos to prove it.)

It's worth taking a moment to note something significant from past years that's missing: a camera. Since the Nintendo Switch doesn't have a camera then Just Dance 2017 simply doesn't support it. without that feature you don't get a whimsical recap of your own performance after each song like in the 2016 version nor can you stream yourself video of yourself competing with other players live over the internet. If you're considering streaming videos of yourself playing Just Dance 2017 on the Switch then that's a definite blocker. (Look it up on youtube. This is a thing.)

Just Dance 2017 is, simply put, fun. It's fun with others. It's challenging both mentally (to learn the choreography) and physically. And it has a lot of music to offer. Just Dance 2017 gets that way not by being a technical program obsessing about judging the details of your physical movements, but by doing everything in its power to make you forget everything but the music, the choreography, how they intertwine, and how you're ever going to be able to catch your breath in time to keep up with it.

Summary

Pros
  • Get the right people together and this is great multiplayer fun.
  • Just Dance 2017 burns calories.
  • The dance choreography is lively and engaging.
  • There are TONS of songs available when counting the bundled Just Dance Unlimited online service.
  • Using smartphones to play works.
Cons
  • If you're not actually going to get up and dance, why are you getting this game?
  • Just Dance 2017 on the Switch lacks camera input and all the community features it afforded.
  • Vibrations from hard dancing can interrupt the Switch's TV connection if it's on the floor.

Talkback

ForgottenPearlMarch 30, 2017

I've long exercised using the Wii Fit series.  After reading this review, I think I want to try this game out: I haven't played any entry in the series yet.  The soundtrack doesn't sound that appealing, but I do like the dance exercises in Wii Fit U, so I might enjoy this anyway.

Quote from: ForgottenPearl

I've long exercised using the Wii Fit series.  After reading this review, I think I want to try this game out: I haven't played any entry in the series yet.  The soundtrack doesn't sound that appealing, but I do like the dance exercises in Wii Fit U, so I might enjoy this anyway.

Yeah, I'm a big fan of Wii Fit as well and I absolutely ADORE step aerobics! That said, I finally picked up Just Dance when Wii Fit wasn't quite doing it for me after a three-month weight loss stint last year and I've been on a Just Dance kick ever since (wearing my Nintendo Fitness pedometer of course!).

If you're interested, you can find the full Just Dance tracklist (40+ on the Just Dance 2017, 200+ on the unlimited service) online. In all honesty I only recognized 2% of the songlist when I started, but I had a ton of fun finding new favorites as I played more of the game.

Also, while the Switch game is currently full price, the Wii U and Wii versions have been out since last fall and are almost certainly cheaper, and much more likely to be on sale if you're looking to try this out without the full retail price commitment.

DonkeyBilly KongMarch 31, 2017

Nice review!  As someone who has purchased many of these games, I can see why people would rate them highly or poorly.  It is all about perspective.  For those wanting full body tracking, you can get a used 360 with Kinect pretty cheap now, and they are still releasing the games for it.  That would also give you access to Dance Central games, which are very different... less about pure cardio fun and more like Guitar Hero with body positions.  I like both.

After doing P90X and Insanity, I didn't expect much of a workout.  After just a few minutes, though, I felt like I was going to pass out.  If you really try to dance (even awkwardly), it is one of the best ways to exercise and fun too.  My favorite method is to just put it on shuffle and let it run.  I gradually worked up to being able to dance for longer periods without feeling too gross.

ForgottenPearlApril 01, 2017

How well do the Wii Remotes work for the Wii U version as compared to the JoyCons for the Switch?  The U version is just $24 versus the $50 Switch, so I think I'll test that out if the controls are comparable.

Quote from: ForgottenPearl

How well do the Wii Remotes work for the Wii U version as compared to the JoyCons for the Switch?  The U version is just $24 versus the $50 Switch, so I think I'll test that out if the controls are comparable.

I can't speak for Just Dance 2017, but comparing the JoyCons to the Wii Remote Controllers I used playing Just Dance 2016 on the Wii U I really didn't notice any difference. There may be something, but my perception of the experience was the same. In fact, I find that the Wii Remote Controllers might be slightly more comfortable to grip while dancing, and maintain in the proper position, due to their larger size compared to the diminutive JoyCons.

Pay special attention to the Just Dance Unlimited Offering on the Wii U version. I suspect that what you're looking at is a 48 hour trial there instead of the three month subscription on the Switch version. However, if you DO like it, a three month subscription looks like it will only cost $9.99 USD so you'll definitely still come out ahead on price.

ForgottenPearlApril 01, 2017

Nifty.  Thanks for the info!

DonkeyBilly KongApril 03, 2017

Yeah, Wii remotes work fine.  They are just bulkier to hold.  I still prefer it to using my phone, which is an option in modern versions of the game.

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Genre Rhythm
Developer Ubisoft
Players1 - 6

Worldwide Releases

na: Just Dance 2017
Release Mar 03, 2017
PublisherUbisoft
RatingEveryone 10+
eu: Just Dance 2017
Release Mar 03, 2017
PublisherUbisoft

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