It’s easy to hate Just Dance.
Not just this latest iteration, but the franchise in general. Each annual full-price release features a bunch of new songs but nothing much else in terms of innovation. Gating additional content behind a subscription service always feels a bit dirty, particularly as the core audience is impressionable (and persuasive) kids.
Just Dance is also a bit of a relic from an era many ‘hardcore’ gamers would choose to forget, when waggle controls were shoehorned into everything and filthy casuals started exerting their buying power on our precious little industry.
The fact that there was a Wii version of Just Dance 2019 is proof that the casual market is still very much active. In fact, they walk among us and look just like you and I, except they wear sensible clothes, have a balanced diet and are generally successful, happy people. The bastards.
So why did I – a fan of ‘proper’ games – jump at the chance to take a look at Just Dance 2021 on Nintendo Switch? Well, to paraphrase the late, great Ol’ Dirty Bastard; Just Dance is for the children.
As I write this, I’m currently homeschooling my 7 year old son since his class has a case of covid-19. Squeezing English and Maths lessons in between conference calls is all well and good but PE lessons are a challenge when I have one eye on my emails and we’re stuck in a relatively small flat. And this is where Just Dance 2021 has been a godsend.
The boy is a big fan of the series, so he’s much better placed than I am to pass judgement on the game itself. Initially he was a bit underwhelmed by the song selection, which resulted in him cherry picking one song in particular and playing it on repeat. Over and over and over again. For the record, that song is Kick It by NCT 127 who are *checks notes* a boyband from South Korea. For better or worse, this has been a gateway into K-Pop for my son and you know what? I’m ok with it.
In fact, many of his favourite songs and artists have been introduced via Just Dance, so I’ve got to give it credit for cultivating his love of music and dance. Back when we were allowed to leave our homes, he enjoyed weekly street dance classes – a nice, healthy hobby which, again, was born from playing Just Dance.
Nothing made me more proud however, than him turning his nose up when he found Without Me by Eminem on Just Dance 2021 – correctly identifying the song as “rubbish”. I like to think that, perhaps subconsciously, he recognised it as the start of a downward trajectory for old Marshall’s creative output. Well done, son. Well done.
Music history lessons aside, it’s the physical activity and coordination that Just Dance 2021 demands that most eases my parental guilt. One new feature in 2021 is the breakdown of your score after each dance – in past versions you’d get an overall score, but this latest version shows how many perfect or not-so-perfect timings you achieved for each dance.
This is a feature he loves as it gives him something to aim for next time, and a bit of a steer in terms of how to beat his high scores. Score chasing is a massive part of the replayability in fact, just like the good old arcade days. Take THAT, gaming purists.
I have occasionally got off my arse and joined in the fun too and I can confirm it’s a decent workout. We’ve also had games where all four family members have got involved which is a guaranteed laugh while the stamina holds out.
If your family is bigger than mine, Just Dance 2021 supports up to 6 players at a time and as an added bonus, it will prevent you from having more children as I’ve found that my partner watching me dance is a 100% effective contraceptive.
Another handy feature is that you don’t even need to remortgage to buy more Joy-Con as you can use your mobile device as a controller. In fact, my son insists that using my old mobile (a comedically large iPhone 6 XL) is more accurate than the Joy-Con. Your mileage may vary though as this could all be part of his elaborate ploy to claim that phone for himself.
Overall then, while Just Dance 2021 doesn’t do anything really new, and the ugly cash-grabbiness is as insidious as ever, in what’s been a uniquely challenging year I can’t think of another game I’d be happier for my children to play while I TRY TO SHARE MY SCREEN ON THIS BLOODY CONFERENCE CALL FFS.