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Review: Dance Central 3

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Harmonix's Dance Central was pretty much the killer app for the Kinect when it was released (and in fact was the main reason why I wanted Microsoft's Xbox 360 peripheral), and then Dance Central 2 refined the gameplay while adding awesome new songs. So what was left to improve for Dance Central 3?

Somehow Harmonix has made a great game even better, totally justifying the purchase of the sequel beyond the 45 songs included on the disc. Make the jump and find out why!

First of all, the story mode is hilarious. The second game had a kind of story, but this time, they just jumped right in and made it as ridiculous as possible. Basically, you're an agent of DCI (Dance Central Intelligence), and have to go back in time to retrieve the DCI agents who were sent back to learn dance moves of various time periods to defeat the evil Dr. Tan. For each era that you journey to, you'll be required to dance a handful of songs and pick up some specific hidden moves that you will then combine to create a dance "craze" and power up your time travel boom box to return to the present. No, seriously.

The craze is a period dance routine, like the Electric Slide, The Hustle, or The Macarena. So you're doing actual recognizable choreography this time around, not just brand-new moves created just for the song. And when you face off against Dr. Tan at the end of the story, you'll need to make sure you've got all of them under your belt. Story Mode uses 25 of the songs in the game, so after you finish it, you'll still need to go back in and dance all the rest of them as part of the Master Quest to unlock extra content in the game. Every time you perform, you'll get points, and when you've earned enough of them, you'll unlock new characters, outfits, and areas.

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Rehearsal mode is pretty much the same as DC2, with the helpful voice commands and ability to choose which moves you want to rehearse if you'd rather not go through the entire song. This time, though, they've added Usher as a coach, to give you encouragement as you go. That's about it.

Party Time is the big new mode this time around, which turns DC3 into the ultimate party game. The game will cycle through songs for you, so if you see something you like, you can just jump right in without having to scroll through the menus. They're trying to eliminate all the menu browsing. Of course, you can create your own playlists if you'd rather eliminate certain songs from the rotation. You can perform together with a friend or battle them, in addition to three new modes. Make Your Move is a special mode where you create choreography that your opponent then has to perform. You trade moves back and forth and then compete against each other as all the moves are strung together into a routine. It works better than I would have expected it to, and the game even generates flash cards for each move on the fly. Strike A Pose isn't about dancing, but simply matching the pose on the screen. If you can get a combo going, you'll score bonus points and wipe the floor with your opponent. I struggled with this a bit because I wouldn't always mirror the pose, and would end up doing it backwards. And if you want to keep things simple, you can just play Keep The Beat, which lets you just dance the beat however you like. The game tracks your movements and can tell if you're on the beat or not!

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To make sure that DC3 is accessible to as many people as possible, Harmonix not only added a new difficulty level, Beginner, but created an adaptive difficulty system in Party Time. This way, if someone is playing on Easy, and struggling, the game will automatically drop them down to Beginner. But it does it quietly, so the person playing doesn't even realize what's happening, and instead thinks they're actually getting better at it! (Sneaky, but it keeps it more fun!)

There's also a new battle mode called Crew Throwdown, where two crews can battle it out. Each crew can have anywhere from one to four people on it, so you can have eight people throwing down in an epic dance battle. First, you take a crew photo, posing as ridiculously as you like, and then when your picture comes up on screen, you know it's your turn. (although we struggled getting the Kinect to recognize everyone on our crew) Each round features different songs and gameplay, so it mixes up regular dancing with the other Party Time modes. And then at the end, the best players on each team face off for final domination of the dance floor! It's the ultimate in DC multiplayer.

Fitness mode has made a return, with the ability to set fitness goals for yourself such as time played or calories burned. You can now upload your embarrassing photos directly to Facebook instead of having to go through Kinect Share as a middleman. And while you can issue challenges to your friends via the Facebook app, now you can also do it directly from the game. You can flaunt your high scores to your friends or issue them challenges. In addition to challenges from friends, you can also compete for medals in challenges directly from Harmonix that will change over time. They've also enhanced the voice controls by highlighting the words on screen that the game will recognize, which is kind of helpful.

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But one of the best things I found about Dance Central 3 is that when playing songs from the original Dance Central, it recognizes them perfectly! I found that in DC2, whenever I danced one of the first game's songs, it seemed to struggle to recognize my movements and my score suffered. It was really annoying, and kept me from playing a lot of the songs. But whatever was causing that seems to have been fixed, and I can now get great scores in the DC songs again! Of course, you'll have to re-dance everything from DC1 and DC2, because while the DLC carries over into your song list, your old scores don't. I wish they would, but I guess that's their way of getting you to play more. Oh, and if you've already imported your DC1 songs into DC2, they'll automatically show up in your DC3 song list. You'll just have to enter the code from DC2 to import those, and it'll cost you $5.

Basically, Dance Central 3 continues the streak of awesomely fun dancing games, adding new features and refining the gameplay to a science without a single misstep. If you have a Kinect and love this series, you should already be playing this! It's the best one yet!

A copy of Dance Central 3 was provided by Harmonix for the purpose of this review. Story Mode was played through to completion, and practice and all multiplayer modes were sampled.

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