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'Dance Central 3' is a tale as old as time

Step Up to the 70s

Dance Central 3
Dance Central 3
Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

Dance Central 3's story is a mash-up of Back to the Future, League of Extraordinary Dancers, Men in Black 3, Austin Powers 2, and every LMFAO music video.

Dance Central 3 has yet another thing in common with the Step Up franchise: a truly bizarre story.

As to not surrender the attention of its teenage audience to their smartphones, the Step Up series and its contemporaries have filled the gaps between choreographed set pieces with melodramatic plots about winning college scholarships, saying no to drugs, and shoring local funding of the arts. The typical dance film story falls somewhere between schticky porno and after school special. Like the latter, its broad, over-the-top, and life affirming. Like the former, it's not really what you're there for.

Dance Central 3 will follow the steps of its filmic predecessors. Recruited by the Dance Central Intelligence, DCI, the player will travel through time, learning the dance crazes from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s, before returning to the present to do battle with the villainous "Dr. Tan and his mind controlled minions." Tan, you see, is a dance fascist, a hater of originality and self-expression.

This is a hodgepodge of pop storytelling, with a definite nod towards The League of Extraordinary Dancers, a dance advocacy real world counterpart to the DCI. Discerning palates will also taste notes of Men in Black 3, Austin Powers 2, and the most recent Step Up Revolution, which solved wealth disparity to the beat of LMFAO.

The player will travel through time, learning the dance crazes from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s

Harmonix style, shorthand for art that is genuinely beautiful and hip, fills up the screen and blasts out the speakers. No simple task. Music and dance trends are fluid, and yet the characters, costuming and art design always feel fresh, like they've been transported from the latest YouTube videos.

Especially impressive are the sets—like an '80s NYC street corner and '90s house party—are flecked with pitch perfect minutiae. Details like wood paneling and cardboard break dance mats make the spaces feel lived in. These venues now react to many parts of songs, not just the beats per minute, but the drums, kick pedal, and snare. Each pop and snap spray colorful light across the room.

The goal is to learn each era's craze. The player will first collect bits of the craze nested within larger dances. After collecting all of the part, the player will perform the moves together, "decoding" them. And finally, the player will dance the craze to its iconic song, mastering the move before traveling back to the present.

The example shown, was a dancer picking up bits of the Hustle in songs like "I Will Survive" and "Disco Inferno," before actually hustling to, what else, "The Hustle."

Separate from the story are the multiplayer party modes.

"Make Your Move" is a fancy way of saying "dance H.O.R.S.E." Players alternate creating challenging moves that their opponent must imitate succesfully, and as these moves accumulate, until players must string the various moves together.

"Crew Throwdown" divides players into two teams of four for one-on-one, two-on-two, or asynchronous dance battles.

"Party Time" rotates through the song selection screen, until two players high five one another, launching into a dance session. From then on, the game plays one song after the next, keeping away cumbersome Kinect navigation controls.

Harmonix compared [pose mode] to Mortal Kombat's fatalities and "Vogueing." And lastly there's a pose mode, which Harmonix compared to Mortal Kombat's fatalities and "Vogueing." Two players strike character specific poses, stringing them together to net combos and the highest score. We're told these specialty poses also show up in other dance modes, giving players a reason other than appearance to choose a specific character.

The ersatz Just Dance series has found tremendous success without compelling story or even loyalty to its litany of dance moves, simply a motivator for bopping around the living room. That is one end of the spectrum, on the other is Dance Central, which as a brand, is focusing more on the authenticity of the culture, from the look to the story to the actual moves. The more noble of the two, we'll see on October 16, when the game is released exclusively on Xbox 360, if the extra work pays off.

Meanwhile, to become a fully playable dance film, the Dance Central series must retrieve a final missing piece: the Tater. Watch the trailer for Dance Central 3 below.

The next level of puzzles.

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