Harmonix’s Dance Central series was one of the best reasons to own a Kinect for the Xbox 360. Even as Microsoft distances itself from its next-gen Kinect, a peripheral it once considered non-negotiable, Harmonix is ready to repeat its success with Dance Central Spotlight. Moving away from the full-price retail formula, Spotlight goes downloadable with 10 songs to start and a library to download. Taking full advantage of the newer Kinect’s upgraded body tracking and voice recognition, Dance Central Spotlight is the first Xbox One game to make a compelling case for Microsoft’s once-mandatory peripheral.

In slimming down from a retail game to a budget-priced downloadable offering, Dance Central Spotlight has streamlined many of its features as well. The menus are much simpler, with very little getting in between you and your dancing. In previous iterations, it always felt like there was a lot of hand-waving and menu-swapping that took place before making it into a song or playlist; now you can jump right into the action, choosing to dance to one of Spotlight’s included tracks or hopping over to the store to download more at $1.99 a pop.

Harmonix

Spotlight eliminates the story mode of Dance Central 3 for a much simpler approach: each song has eight routines, from the basic to the more complicated, with two of those reserved for calorie-busting fitness workouts. Only the beginning routine is unlocked the first time you play a song; as you make your way through, you’ll unlock more. In a new mechanic, performing moves flawlessly gets you more than just bragging rights: you’ll actually collect those moves, which lets you unlock more content.

While certainly pretty, Dance Central Spotlight is less visually interesting than the varying locales and time periods of Dance Central 3; the environments are much more generic, with nameless back-up dancers and nondescript locations. This echoes the entire game’s more simplified approach, though I can’t say it wouldn’t have been nice to have more visual stimulation. The stylized dancers look great, though, and the flashing red limbs makes it easy to tell when you’re doing something wrong.

My biggest hope for Spotlight was that the improved motion sensing would make it easier to play without rearranging my entire living room, and on that front it completely delivered. On the Xbox 360, the Kinect was unreliable—too much light, wearing the wrong pants, or my cat leaping onto the couch behind me could mess up my whole routine. I played Spotlight in two different environments, one of which was less than ideal and flooded with natural light, and had no problems with the Kinect. At home, even with a husband and pet wandering around, I was able to dance to my heart’s content without unwanted interruptions or unregistered movements. Voice commands worked flawlessly for me, as well; I could say “Hey DJ, practice that” at any point to go right into practice mode, where voice commands like “Hey DJ, slow down” and “Hey DJ, speed up” helped me master those moves. In general, I’ve had some trouble getting the Xbox One to be as responsive to my voice as Microsoft promised it would be, but I never had a problem with that in Spotlight.

Harmonix

Because of the newer Kinect, co-op play is also greatly improved. A second player can seamlessly jump in and out of any song without interrupting it or messing up the first player’s routine. Additionally, much less space is needed for two players, which is good news for couples with cramped living rooms. While the 360’s Kinect required at least eight feet of clear space for two-player action, I was able to play with a partner at just under six feet away from the Kinect. Keep in mind that at 5’3, I’m fairly short, so it may have been easier for the Kinect to see me, but the improvement was noticeable nonetheless.

Even though most areas of Spotlight have been streamlined, the exercise aspect has been beefed up significantly. As mentioned earlier, each song has two fitness routines: one for strength and one for cardio. Additionally, in Fitness Mode, it takes seconds to choose a time and have the game set up a playlist using songs from your library. You can also choose from a variety of playlists for cardio, strength, or both. Like its predecessors, Dance Central Spotlight can track the calories you burn, only now you can enter your height and weight so the game gets a better idea of just how much you’re sweating it out.

If you’re more interested in Dance Central Spotlight as a party game than workout helper, the extra fitness options may not be enough to justify some of the other omissions, but it’s hard to argue with the $10 price. As someone whose musical tastes rarely align with what’s currently popular, I’m perfectly happy to craft my own library instead of paying $60 for a song line-up that may or may not appeal to me. In some ways, Dance Central Spotlight feels more like the beginning of a game than a complete experience, but even if you download it and never buy another song, having so many different routines will help keep the core library from getting stale.

Microsoft may have stopped making all developers work around the Xbox One’s Kinect, but if you were an early adopter, Dance Central Spotlight will make you glad you were. It builds upon Harmonix’s winning Dance Central formula to bring the series into the next generation with motion sensing and voice recognition that blows the prior games out of the water. Some of the features have been stripped back, but for one-sixth of the price of a full retail game, you’re getting a heck of a lot more than a fraction of the content. As a base game to build upon with DLC or on its own, Dance Central Spotlight shines.

This review is based on a download of Dance Central Spotlight provided by the developer. 

8.5 out of 10 arcade sushi rating