PlayStation Move has seen six dancing games in its first year on sale, but none have hit the heights in the same way as Harmonix's Dance Central on Kinect, with Sony's SingStar Dance and Konami's DanceDanceRevolution the closest we've come to boogie bliss. The latest publisher to step up and try its luck is PQube with Dance! It's Your Stage, and it's clear it's going in a different direction than the competition.
For one, the game has its own exclusive soundtrack, without a single licensed tune in earshot: you won't be getting down to the Black Eyed Peas or Gloria Gaynor, but rather the anonymous artists behind the 20 tunes that make up the tracklisting. This is undeniably off-putting — most dancers want to pick tunes they recognise — but the songs on offer are surprisingly good, some sticking in your head even after you've shut the PS3 down. Still, in a party situation, the lack of famous songs compared to the competition is likely to bring the mood down.
While the tunes may be the biggest difference to the opposition, the visuals are pretty unique too. Whereas most titles use the PlayStation Eye camera to display video on your screen, Dance! It's Your Stage goes for stylised 3D dancers apparently rendered using the Prince of Persia engine. They may be slightly less cheesy than the grinning back-up dancers in Let's Dance with Mel B, but the motion capture is decent and the variety of backdrops — an airport terminal, underground bar and so on — gives things a bit of character.
For groups there's support for four-player simultaneous play in either co-operative or competitive modes, but as there's only one set of choreography for each song you're all thrust into the same moves together, with no scaling for less capable dancers.
If you want to learn to dance solo, there's a career mode that takes you around a city map to prove your dancing skills at a range of venues. Pass muster on the scoreboard and you can proceed, unlocking new songs and clothing along the way, and it's good to see a dance game that doesn't just focus on multiplayer. There's a training mode available too so you can learn the steps before you hit the stage, and you can customise your avatar with items unlocked on your travels. It's not exactly in-depth, but with three ranks to earn in each song and three songs per venue there's lots to do, at least.
Of course none of this matters if the actual dancing isn't up to par, and again the game has a mixed time here. For starters, there's no indication of what move is coming up next: you just have to copy your on-screen lead as best you can. Thankfully on early levels the choreography is fairly repetitive so you might only have to learn half a dozen moves, but not knowing what's up next becomes a problem the further you get into the game: while learning the steps has its benefits, it's unfair to fail a level because you had no idea what moves were on the way. Making two or three attempts at the same song feels less like learning the steps and more like indulging the developer for not including a feature that really should be mandatory.
Thankfully when you do get the steps right the game generally picks them up well, with decent detection of moves towards and away from the camera preventing players from staying rooted to the spot. Get it wrong however and there's no real feedback for what you're doing: a red, orange or green circle appears at the end of each step depending on how you scored, but it's no help to see if you were fast, slow or just completely missing the mark. The choreography – produced by professional choreographer Detleft D! Soost – is generally good and actually fun to dance along with, which ultimately counts for a great deal.
Dance! It's Your Stage isn't the breakout dancing game Move owners have been waiting for, with its qualities tempered by drawbacks. The choreography is good, but the lack of clear direction disappoints, while the music that's included is fun, but can't stand up to the competition's recognisable tunes. In the end, for all its potential, the game is destined to remain a back-up dancer on the scene.