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Game Review

The thought of playing a dancing game has generally held about as much appeal for me as working on my taxes or, perhaps, taking a night class on the precise functionality of somatic cell nuclear transfers. But as casual dance game fans will readily tell you, my point of view isn't universal. And Just Dance 2 for the Wii proves it. Four months after its October 2010 release it's still hovering near the top of the charts. And it's already gyrated its way through 5 million copies.

All of which means that it's time for this Plugged In reviewer to finally get his groove on. So put on some comfortable shoes and help me move the sofa.

Doing a Happy Dance
One of the first things gamers will notice is that Just Dance 2 doesn't require any fancy mat or sophisticated new camera technology, as games of this type for other consoles have. In this case you just grab a Wii controller in your right hand and boogie. While colorful virtual characters dance to the music onscreen, you merely mimic their actions. The motion and tilt sensors in the remote do the rest by measuring how closely your movements match up. And even though that might suggest that the choreography is all a bunch of hand waving, the truth is that there's plenty of creative twisting, turning and stepping in the mix—and the remote does a great job of detecting it.

Awards are doled out based on your skill, with each successful move earning "Sweat Points" as well as being labeled with a Bad, OK, Good or Perfect rating. By song's end your points are tallied up and your friends get a new tap-your-toe total they can try to top.

And that's really where the fun is with this game: friends and family members competing, dancing duets and stepping through the moves together. Quickplay mode opens the floor up to four dancers. Dance Battle mode allows eight players to compete in a series of minigames.

Putting on a Sober Face
If you're starting to frown—something I did a lot of before I got started—thinking you'll be doing a lot more stumbling and sweating than actual dancing, don't worry. The game is very forgiving. The choreography is repetitive, simple and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Even the youngest hoofers can jump in and earn points without fear of failing. At the same time, the moves are quirky and fresh enough to allow the real dancers in the crowd a little hair-lashing joy. For instance, a Frankenstein shuffle step makes "Monster Mash" a goofy head-shaker, while a mix-up of the old mashed potato, ballet pirouettes and cheerleading moves turns Vampire Weekend's "A-Punk" into a chuckle-filled workout.

The routines are simple/creative in such a unique way that it struck me that this game could also be used by budding young dancers who're looking for easy steps they could choreograph their high school musical with. The only downside would be if they decided to actually use all of the artists represented here. Wham!, The Bangles, Elvis Presley and The Jackson 5 have to sometimes step aside for the likes of Ke$ha, Rihanna and The Beastie Boys.

This is an E10+ game, so there's nothing too raw to be seen or heard. But there are some lyrics parents won't want the kids singing along with. Ke$ha's " TiK ToK," for instance, has the party girl brushing her "teeth with a bottle of Jack" before hitting the club scene for the night. The Pussycat Dolls sing about growing their "boobies" on "When I Grow Up." Nastier words than that are removed and blanked out (one "h‑‑‑" makes it through), but that doesn't silence the sexualized themes. Supergrass brags that they "sleep around, if we like," on "Alright." And even Donna Summer's old disco hit "Hot Stuff" and Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas" tell of people longing for steamy one-night stands and "swinging times."

Accompanying that, some of the slinky, rub-your-body, backside-shaking choreography from the virtual dancers can be sexier than you'd expect.

As curmudgeonly as I am about this genre, I have to admit that Just Dance 2 has a lot of casual gaming fun to offer. (It's certainly more enjoyable than my still-waiting 1040 form.) But like every other music-rhythm game out there, its song list made me stumble.

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October 12, 2010

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Bob Hoose

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