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December 4, 2015

Just Dance 2014

Check out the (admittedly quite corny) review of Just Dance 3, which was posted way back in December 2013! It’s all in rhyme!

Well, Christmas will be rolling around soon. That means we’re soon gonna be stuffing ourselves on turkey, meat pies and mashed potatoes while watching the millionth adaptation of A Christmas Carol with the entire family. Christmas is one of those holidays where the food is one of the key elements, so a lot of people end up on January 2nd with a few more pounds than they had before December 25th. Hence the importance of exercise. You want these extra lipids to fly off? Gotta walk, gotta play sports… gotta dance!

So much color, it's a feast for the eyes.
I never hid it, I’m a fan of Ubisoft’s Just Dance series. In general, I tend to like games that offer a good workout on the Wii. It’s different from… well… everything else. I never felt like I was exercising much with Kirby’s Dream Land. Mario Super Sluggers, however, would tire my arms after two or three baseball matches. Same for the bicycle race in Wii Sports Resort. But that's not a problem; on the contrary, I like to feel like I'm exercising. However, very few – if any – of those games actually require moving the entire body; the arm holding the Wii remote will do most of the work, and in the case of Nunchuk-compatible games, both arms will work about equally. On that aspect, the Kinect Just Dance games had to be a lot more difficult, if only because you also have to move your legs. Call me lazy if you want, but personally, I see nothing wrong with the Wii version being restricted to the movements of the right hand. A lazy person wouldn’t be making 2,000-word posts every week, for your reading pleasure, accompanied by title cards, pictures, bonus articles and videos… like this one…

Okay, okay, Nicolas; focus. Just Dance 2014 is the umpteenth game in the Just Dance series, a series that includes Just Dance 1, 2, 3, 4, Kids 1, Kids 2, Kids 2014, Disney Party 1, Disney Party 2, and all the spin-offs (Michael Jackson, Black Eyed Peas, Broadway, Hip Hop, Smurfs, ABBA) and compilations of levels from previous games (Summer Party, Greatest Hits and Best Of). And in return, it’s being followed by Just Dance 2015 and 2016.

Yeah, Ubisoft has gained kind of a reputation for milking franchises. Ain’t that right, Raving Rabbids? Although, I take it that the Just Dance games are really easy to make; build the CGI models – who all look like Wii Fit Trainer, what with their white skin and otherwise colorful clothing – and get the rights for every song they want to include. Then create choreographies, program the whole thing, and also create new modes.

I know it sounds simple, but like any game, it’s definitely not. And with most games, you can feel the effort, you can feel the passion that went into the developments stages, you can feel the care for the audience-

…I thought you were on my side, Memory. That's exactly why I said "most games, not "all games". Why are you doing this to me…

So, Just Dance 2014 contains 47 different songs to dance to, but 89 actual levels, meaning that there is about 1.89 different choreographies for each song. That’s already pretty damn impressive. However, each of these songs can have between one and five choreographies. Yes, at least one song has five different choreographies, and it’s Rihanna’s Where Have You Been. On the side, Chris Brown’s song Fine China has FOUR different choreographies. Which, if you ask me, is four too many for a Chris Brown song.

But I’m getting sidetracked. What are the different types of dancing levels in this game?

The choreography for Psy's Gentleman involves quite
a few pelvic thrusts. Don't be too shy, do them.
-The Classic choreography, which stars one, two or four dancers (in the case of a Duet or Dance Crew level, you choose which dance to follow). It’s the basic mode, in which all that matters is to follow the movements as closely as possible, during the entire song.

-Sweat: A workout choreography of the same song, meant to be a better physical exercise than the original. Not present on every song, though one could argue that not every song is fit for workout… Hence why not every song has a Sweat mode. And thank God for that, I already sweat enough with all the available Sweat choreographies.

-Extreme: Not very different from Sweat, it’s just an alternate choreography with a high difficulty level. The dancer will make fast and complex movements, providing a greater challenge than the original dance.

-Mashup: You dance over the song, while numerous different choreographies are mashed up together and – by what I can only describe as programming magic - work perfectly in sync with the song! The dancers all appeared in this Just Dance game or the previous installments (and, thus, I see again some dancers that were in Just Dance 3). The tough part here is not to follow the movements on-screen; it’s to get ready for whenever the next choreography change occurs, and adapt accordingly.

-On-Stage: A special mode with one main dancer and two back-up dancers, making it one of the only modes with three dancers. Obviously the center dancer is the one with the best moves. But this type of level just makes me wonder: Who would willingly pick the back-up dancers? There’s none of the glamour that goes with the role. For multiplayer play? Then this means two players out of four get the lesser roles…

(Must be yelled in an exaggerated
deep incomprehensible voice.)
-Battle: My least favorite mode in the entire game; I like it even less than On-Stage levels. Two songs battle for supremacy. No, it cannot be any song against any other song; the Battle levels are predefined and cannot be changed. As for how it works: One of the two songs is selected at random, and a small part of it plays. Each time one of the dancers fares better than the other, a “life bar” over the other dancer’s head decreases. When that part of the song is done, we continue with the song from the dancer who has the most remaining life points. And so on, until one of the dancers has three victories. I hate that mode because you need to be better than the opponent if you want to hear the song you want to play. I find it kind of ironic that Just Dance is weaker when it introduces actual video game elements like life bars and competitive modes.

-Sumo/Charleston/Chair: Special one-of-a-kind levels. They each cost 50 Mojocoins to unlock, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re just like the other dances…just weird. The Chair level requires that you’re sitting on something, and Just Dance shouldn't require something else than the game and the Wiimote. Charleston and Sumo are just the songs with special thematic movements to them, and Sumo features an overweight Dance Crew.

They got Ghostbusters? AWESOME!
Most songs are between three and four minutes long, so only one of them isn’t too tiring, but play five or six of them in a row and you’ll start feeling it in your arms. And in your legs, if you’re one of those purists who also does the leg movements all the time, even if this isn’t the Kinect version. Otherwise, it still works the same as usual: If you miss a movement, you get an X. And the indicator changes depending on how close to the on-screen dancer you are (OK, Good or Perfect). Obviously, Perfect gives out more points, so try to aim for that. Sometimes, special movements, called Gold Moves, will appear (as advertised by the “upcoming movements” pictograms at the bottom right of the screen). Those particular moves are worth a lot of points and can sometimes tip the balance between two stars at the end of the song.

This is a "Sweat" alternate routine
for the song "Kiss You".
As is the case with every Just Dance game, there is a lot of unlockable content here. Most of it can be unlocked by picking up Just Dance points, also known as Mojocoins. What are those? Well, whenever you complete a song, you get Just Dance points equal to the number of Stars you got on a song. That’s in part why it’s so much better to play with other people to this game, as everyone’s stars will be calculated at the end and added to the Mojo “bank” (yeah, kinda like money earned with your sweat! Not all that different from a job, is it?). What’s more, there’s another feature here: the Bonus JDP notice. See, one song in the game will have a notice that says “Bonus” with the Mojocoin symbol. Playing that particular song choreography will net you JDP based on the number of stars you got at the end, plus a bonus, up to 5 additional JDP. This can help quite a bit when you are trying to unlock the more expensive dances… like, say, the Sumo, Charleston and Chair choreographies. As if 50 Just Dance points could be collected by one person in a single day! Plus, I’m gonna chalk it up to my bad luck, but it feels as though the “Bonus” Just Dance points are constantly being offered only for the few songs I hate in this game. Then again, I may be too quick to blame my bad luck.

The list of players is on the left. I wonder how many
picked the panda?
Mojo is also used to unlock avatars. Why avatars, you ask? Well, because of the World Dance Floor, of course! Introduced in this very game, the World Dance Floor is an online mode where you can compete against other owners of Just Dance 2014. Of course, since this game is a bit outdated by now (with 2015 almost over, and Just Dance 2016 which was released last October), you won’t find a lot of dancers there. In this mode, you’ll be sorted in a group of 8 dancers, after which you’ll pick a side (on debates as silly as “cats versus dogs”, because Ubisoft is quirky like that), and then dance. Afterwards, whichever side has the most stars wins. If you happened to be on that side, you get bonus Mojocoins.

Okay, okay, I have to admit it, “Mojocoins” just makes me think of this.

Admit it, you thought about it too.

Also, the World Dance Floor works with a level-up system; whenever you play songs, you gain levels based on your performance. Is there a level cap? I think it’s one thousand. If your eyes didn’t widen at the thought of dancing your way to Level 1000, I have no idea what will.

Here are some of the avatars that can be unlocked if
you have data from Just Dance 3 in the Wii when you
start playing Just Dance 2014.
But that doesn’t answer the question: Avatars, really? Well, starting in Just Dance 2014, there are many, many, MANY avatars to be collected. How many? Well, does 168 sound enough for you? The large selection allows every player profile to have a different avatar. Similarly, those let you be different from the others when you’re playing on the World Dance Floor. Sure, one could say that they don’t really add much to the game, but it’s still a neat touch. The real problem is to unlock them all. See, Just Dance may be just a silly dance game, but it has its own continuity, as proven by the Mashup dance routines, which include dancers from all the previous games. And that’s also the case for avatars; if JD2014 finds out that you have save files of the previous Just Dance games, it will unlock some new avatars instantly, avatars based on the dancers from the previous games you own. Oh, but that’s not all. Most other avatars can be unlocked by spending Mojocoins, which means that aside from paying for new choreographies, you will also be paying for new faces to have on your profile. Thus, even if you do play every Just Dance song once, you still won’t have enough points to unlock every routine and avatar. Oh sure, for most avatars you’ll only need 5 Mojocoins, but some of them are sold at 50… and one costs 500. FIVE HUNDRED Mojocoins! Even if you got 5 Stars on every routine of every song in a single playthrough, you still wouldn’t have enough! I guess getting that one means that you are ready to play a lot to unlock everything.

Thankfully, not all avatars have to be bought; many of them are unlocked after you’ve played the corresponding song in JD2014. …The game doesn’t tell you about this, however. Other avatars are unlocked by reaching certain levels on the World Dance Floor. These avatars are unlocked by getting anywhere from Level 1 (which you get as soon as you complete one song on the World Dance Floor)… to 1000. Yep, there’s an avatar for being such a determined, one-track-minded completionist.

At the time of publishing, I only had 59 of those avatars.

In other words, play a lot to unlock everything, you will have to! And by this, I mean playing at least once every month. Why do I say that? Because Ubisoft had this brilliant idea for Just Dance 2014 (note the italics denoting a touch of sarcasm). See, 12 routines in this game are locked and cannot be bought with Mojocoins; instead, they are unlocked on a month of the year. Therefore, you need to play this game at least once, every month, to unlock these. It could all be fine and good, except I’m getting flashbacks to the goddamn Pokémon HeartGold Safari Zone. Seriously, what’s with these games that make us wait several months to get everything? It’s so much better to spend these months actually playing to unlock this stuff!

If you want some diversity when it comes to the modes, you can go to the main screen, the one that shows up when you start the game. There are five options there, including the song that currently offers a Mojocoins bonus and the World Dance Floor, but there are three other sections: Extras, Just Sweat, and Shop. Extras is just the Options mode, where you can watch the game’s credits (that’s the only way to, but who does that??), turn On or Off the Help before each song, the lyrics, or the pictograms at the bottom right of the screen, as well as a way to transfer the songs bought on the Just Dance Shop between your Nintendo Wii memory and your SD card.

Now, the Just Sweat Mode. Another simple but effective mode, similar to the Just Sweat mode from Just Dance 3… but completely different. Instead of setting up a “lost calories” goal, you instead select a period of time to dance on. You can choose between 10, 20 and 40 minutes. Sorry guys, no 30. However, if you don’t want to dance for X number of minutes but you still want to see how many calories you lose with each song, there is the Free Mode option that will enable the calorie counter in regular play, which is a very neat feature.

All that is left to look at is the Shop menu, where you can buy additional songs and choreographies with real-life money. That’s also where you get the monthly songs. There is one song for free, and it’s Katy Perry’s Roar. Meh, even free I don’t want of it. Before you ask, yes, this menu still works, even if the Wi-Fi connection was terminated. These games probably use something else entirely to access the Ubisoft servers. So yeah, if you really like dancing, and you’ve got some spare cash, head over to the Wii Shop Channel, buy anywhere from 10.00$ to 50.00$ worth of points, then download songs all you want! The new songs cost 300 Wii Points (3$), while alternate routines for existing songs, and returning songs from past games, cost 200. There is only one problem with this…

In Just Dance 3, you could access all of the songs you downloaded, regardless of where they had been saved. In your Wii memory? No problem! In your SD card? No problem! Sure, the loading time will be a little longer, but that’s not so bad, right? Well… In Just Dance 2014, it works a little different. See, you cannot play the songs if they’re on your SD card here. You need to transfer them back into your Wii memory first, using either the Wii’s options menu or Just Dance 2014’s Extras option. And this is much longer to do than the way it worked in JD3. And of course, since the Wii’s memory is rather… limited (for lack of a non-condescending word), you won’t be able to have a lot of songs there at once. So if you want to play the songs you’ve bought, you’ll have to switch them back and forth constantly. Sure, it gives you a break between two songs, but that’s still kinda bad.

Wished I was that good...
And now, I think I have discussed every aspect of this game. Phew, there was a lot to say. I’m not nearly as exhausted as I would be if I had just played 7 songs in a row… So, how is it? Well, why should it be a surprise? Those of you who play the Planned All Along drinking game, take a shot: I like this game!

There’s not much I can add about Just Dance 2014; I always liked the concept of the franchise in general, and even though there will always be modes – and songs – that I don’t like, the games as a whole offer enough diversity, again both in modes and songs, that it isn’t much of a problem. Just Dance 2014 probably had many major steps up from its predecessor, if only thanks to the World Dance Floor… which is now mostly empty, with only around 20 dancers. But that's because this game is outdated; at least two new Just Dance games have come out since. It’s normal that the bigger part of the fanbase will be playing on the later editions’ World Dance Floors instead of this one.

Gee, I wonder which song this is.
The movement detection seemed to me as more forgiving than it was in Just Dance 3, which is an improvement alright; there are very few songs here that I felt had a few faults in movement detection. Sure, there’s still the odd song here or there that doesn’t seem to work quite right, but it’s gotten much rarer. Plus, with all the downloadable content, all the unlockable songs and avatars, what’s not to like?

On a quick note, I find it amazing that Ubisoft still releases Wii versions of this game, along with Wii U versions. It shows that they don’t miss an opportunity to still make money with the owners of old Wiis – I mean, an opportunity to please their fans who either do not own a Wii U due to a lack of funds, or even due to a lack of interest. Dammit, whatever I’m saying here denigrates either Ubisoft or the Wii U. Maybe I should just stop discussing this point. All I'm saying is, Ubisoft still releases games for the old Wii, and that's awesome.

However, they still don't have a song in zombie-ese.
Picture: Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive.
Heh, a zombie, good one.
Another quick note: This Just Dance game is said to be the most diverse one yet. Not for the diversity of dancers, mind you (though that would help, nearly everyone in this game is pale-white like the Wii Fit Trainer – who sure would feel at home with them), but in song selection; the menu includes songs in English (of course), but also in Spanish, German, Serbian, French, Italian and Portuguese. …That’s what the Just Dance Wiki says, anyway. I also like how they stepped up their game when it comes to backgrounds – it feels as though there are even more details to look for when you’re just watching someone else play.

Another thing I noticed about Just Dance 2014 was that it had a lot of classic dance songs; old hits such as George Michael’s Careless Whisper, The Girly Team’s Flashdance, Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, ABBA’s Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!, or Village People’s YMCA. You can’t get any more classic than that!

My complaints are few. I hate that 12 songs are unlocked based on which month we are. That’s 12 songs I wouldn’t mind paying Mojocoins for, instead of waiting weeks and weeks to get. (Have I mentioned that, along with being unlucky and prone to anger, I was also impatient? I know, I’m a bag full of surprises.) Plus, miss a month, and you have to wait until that month rolls around again. I really don’t like how they decided to make it impossible for the game to play songs on the SD card, which means you waste a couple minutes transferring these routines back and forth from the SD card to the Wii memory each time you want to play them. Also, when avatars get unlocked, we receive no notifications whatsoever, something that was corrected in JD2015. Last but not least, I really hate the Battle mode. I just... I'll explain my distaste of it in greater detail in an upcomiong article. I’m also not a fan of On-Stage routines, but they’re already a lot better than Battle Mode.

Well, that’s all I had to say about this game. Tune in next Friday for… Just Dance 2015!