My family was late to the party with the Just Dance franchise, but once we were in, we were all in. We first latched on to Just Dance in the early days of the pandemic, playing the game on Stadia to burn off some of that trapped-in-the-house energy that was so prevalent before we all settled in for the long haul. But after that game eventually fell out of our family rotation, I found myself returning to Just Dance annually, knowing that we could get a few weeks of entertaining fall exercise out of it. Just Dance games never go away entirely; they resurface throughout the year whenever the mood strikes. Our family turns to Just Dance at holiday parties, just because it produces such laughter and fun, and even non-gamers can instantly understand the gameplay.
I was intrigued earlier this year when Ubisoft announced that it was making a major effort to push Just Dance 2023 forward with some new features and UI. Though I’ve loved the game for some time, there was very little that changed from year to year beyond the addition of new songs. And after spending many hours with Just Dance over the last few days, I can say that the overhaul has been mostly successful, with cleaner menus, dramatically improved multiplayer, and a very noticeable visual upgrade in the dance videos themselves.
Just Dance is a dancing game, placing the player in front of a television and asking them to mirror the dance moves of the professional dancers on screen. The player uses a mobile app to track their movements, matching the motions of the arm holding the phone with the one gloved arm of the performer on screen. The dances – which use a surprising array of catchy popular music – range in difficulty from beginner to (for my skill level) ludicrous.
The phone app works reasonably well tracking the players’ movements, but it is possible to spoof the motions, resulting in scenarios like the one where I carefully performed my very practiced version of “Disco Inferno” and only received four stars, only to have my six-year-old stand up and deliver his…interpretation, to five-star results. Whatever, stupid phone. Still, while you can sometimes succeed by flapping your arms like a duck, there is definitely a skill level needed to perform well consistently. The tops of the leaderboard for each song are all filled with the same obviously-talented names. Bottom line, you can fool the phone some of the time, but you can’t fool the phone all of the time. The only way to really rule the Just Dance charts is to actually get good at the dances.
The dance videos themselves have become steadily more elaborate over the years, but this year’s crop really represents a leap forward in terms of both dancing creativity and production value. The videos still have the core element of digitally-enhanced dancers performing in front of a green screen, but the digital backgrounds this year feel much more elaborate than in the past, and the camera seems to move much more than it has in former entries. Though you can still clearly focus on the movements of the dancers, the videos are much more dynamic, unique, and varied. If you want to see how much the series has evolved, check out the three versions of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” that are included in the game, starting with the version from way back in Just Dance 2. The increase in technical prowess is pretty jaw dropping.
As usual, my family has played through the 40+ available tracks (and a few of their more-difficult variants) and locked onto some favorites, which we will mess around with until we have mastered them, before slowly spreading out into the rest of the game. As an arthritic old man, I’ve found that the aforementioned “Disco Inferno” is appropriate for my skill level. The nine-year-old enjoys Ava Max’s “Sweet but Psycho” and Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License”. And the six-year-old is enraptured by the Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile video of Sean Mendes’ “Top of the World”.
The entire family also enjoys the cool three-man dance for Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”, which is frankly cool just to watch, let alone to try to perform. And the kids absolutely flipped for the inclusion of “We Don’t Talk about Bruno” from Disney’s Encanto, which frankly led me to wonder how much Ubisoft is paying for the rights to some of these songs. It’s not like these are almost-rans or knockoffs; there are a lot of legit gigantic hits tucked in here, along with the usual assortment of left-field, just-for-fun randos. I also wanted to call out the “16-bit” video for “Danger! High Voltage” by Electric Six, which is a pixel-art animated hoot.
So yeah, the videos are really good this year, and as usual, you can get a 30-day free Just Dance Plus trial that unlocks a huge list of historic tracks from the franchise, expanding your playlist exponentially (after 30 days, you have to pony up some cash to keep it going). It seems that Just Dance Plus is going to eventually add some new play modes and songs, but how that will all shake out is still a bit murky.
I can only hope that one of those new play modes that gets added onto the base package will be the return of the series’ “World Dance Floor”, which is sorely missed in this year’s edition. World Dance Floor has been a mode that allows players from around the world to simultaneously dance to a never-ending playlist online, ranking players in real time against the horde by performance.
World Dance Floor has been eliminated this year in favor of more specific, modern, and robust multiplayer options (cross-play, hosted sessions with friends), which I’m sure a lot of folks really enjoy. But as the lone Just Dance player among my online friends, I really enjoyed the World Dance Floor as a way to feel like I was part of a greater whole. And my kids went bonkers for it; there was a lot of bitter complaining about its absence when we first booted up Just Dance 2023 (though it was reluctantly decided that online leaderboards were an acceptable but clunky substitute).
The other new features in Just Dance 2023 are indeed improvements over past entries; the menu navigation is much smoother, and the suggestion algorithm is functional and accurate, even if it drawing from a pretty small pool to make suggestions. The entirety of the game feels newer and fresher; now that it has arrived, you can clearly see that this new coat of paint was sorely needed. There is also an entertaining new "story" mode that introduces players to this year's crop of songs. It's light, but fun enough to play through.
If you find yourself wondering if Just Dance is for you, my suggestion is to pick up one of the older editions to see if you enjoy it. I just hopped online and saw that you can get the 2022 edition for ten bucks. Play around with that for a while, and I’m fairly certain that you will find yourself creeping the PlayStation store for the newest version. Like a lot of Ubisoft franchises, once you are in, you are in.
In addition to being fun, Just Dance is also great exercise. As a steadily aging person with some rapidly accelerating physical challenges, I find Just Dance to be a fantastic way to get some aerobic exercise, even if I look like a damn fool while doing so. No, I’m not spinning when the on-screen characters spin, and I’m not dropping to the ground or jumping. But I am waving my arms around enthusiastically and kinda dancing around in place; this organized flailing is similar to VR boxing in the surprising way that it gets your heart pumping.
Beyond the facelift, Just Dance 2023 delivers the same, expected core of fun and creative gameplay. There are few games that cause my family to tap the brakes on all other media we are consuming to gather together in the living room and play. Just Dance pulls off that magic trick, year after year, which makes it utterly invaluable. The fact that it gets me huffing and puffing is a bonus, but the time spent with my kids is the real prize here.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host Spielberg Chronologically, where we review every Spielberg film in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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