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Dance Central goes VR for Oculus Quest and Rift

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Harmonix unveils Dance Central VR

A dancer performs a “flawless” move in a screenshot from Dance Central VR Harmonix

Harmonix is bringing back Dance Central, the company’s dancing game that launched alongside Kinect on Xbox 360, for a new virtual reality experience. Dance Central for VR will launch alongside the new Oculus Quest headset this spring, and will also come to Oculus Rift.

The new Dance Central plays much like its Xbox predecessors: Players dance to choreography in time to popular dance hits. But Harmonix is designing Dance Central’s VR dance routines with virtual reality headsets in mind. The VR game tracks your head and hands — it’s not the full-body tracking of Kinect — and limits the number of moves that require dramatic head movements. Scores are based on how accurate your dancing is, based on hand position and gestures, movement velocity, and head height — the game knows whether you’re matching your on-screen dance partner’s dips.

I played a couple of songs (the easy-to-groove-to “It Takes Two” from Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock and the much more challenging “Turn Down for What” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon) and found the transition to VR easy to grasp. A female dancer in a neon-lit club met me on the dance floor and instructed me to mirror her moves. A panel to the right of her showed the upcoming dance moves she expected me to do. It was easy to mimic her dancing on standard difficulty mode, which repeats many of the same moves. A “pro” difficulty option, which I didn’t try, will also be available.

Dancing in VR feels good, thanks to the lightweight, untethered Oculus Quest headset, which is easy to take on and off. The Oculus Touch controllers make it simple to perform gestures like thumbs up and finger points, which are included as part of choreography.

My dancer friend put her number in my virtual cell phone, Dance Central’s user interface that sits on your hip. From the phone, I could pull up music tracks, hit play and pause songs, and even move through the game’s various dance zones.

Harmonix, which has explored music games in virtual reality with Rock Band VR and rhythm shooter Audica, is doing some thoughtful things with its new Dance Central. Players can join with other dancers in multiplayer, competing or cooperating for scores. They can record “taunt videos” in VR that they can send to other players for asynchronous challenges. There are easy to control anti-harassment tools, like an instant mute — just double thumbs down the offending player — and reporting and banning options. Emotes, like a heart hands pose, can show love to other players. Players can even use their in-game cell phones to pose for selfies.

Players will be able to customize their avatars for Dance Central VR multiplayer with an extensive virtual wardrobe. Harmonix promises no gender restrictions on outfits, so anyone can wear whatever they want.

For players wary of showing off their moves, Harmonix is also developing a practice mode called the Studio. Here, players can learn dance moves by tracking a series of orbs that lay out the path of each move in 3D space. Players can even slow down dance moves to half-speed to better understand how the game is tracking them.

Expect 32 songs on the soundtrack when Dance Central VR launches. Here are the first six songs confirmed for the game:

  • Bruno Mars ft. Cardi B “Finesse (Remix)”
  • The Chainsmokers ft. Daya “Don’t Let Me Down”
  • DJ Snake & Lil Jon “Turn Down for What”
  • Haddaway “What is Love”
  • Pitbull ft. Ne-Yo, Afrojack, & Nayer “Give Me Everything”
  • Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock “It Takes Two”