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.