LOS ANGELES — “Do you want to dance?”
As I stood among the crowded booths of video game displays at E3 in the Los Angeles Convention Center, I felt a bit reluctant. It was my first day of E3 2015, and my first E3 in general. I was a fish out of water; I felt awkward, exposed, out of place and hyperaware of the fact that I was not male. Although there were some women there, it felt as if every man that looked at me was sizing me up and somehow knew that I wasn’t of the proper breed.
But when a French man asks you to dance, you don’t say no. No matter how out of place you feel.
But when a French man asks you to dance, you don’t say no.
This man turned out to be Matthew Tomkinson, the game director for Just Dance. I had seen him previously on stage during the demo for Just Dance 2016.
I’d been feeling a bit apprehensive about the game. Since I played my first Just Dance game at a friend’s house in 2011, I’ve been a passionate fan. Once I played Just Dance 2 in my dorm room on mute while my college roommate and her boyfriend were asleep on her bed. I am that kind of fan.
So as I watched a demonstration of two songs off the new title, I was a little disappointed. The dance crew played Jason Derulo’s “Want To Want Me” and Megan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.” But as I watched, I grew bored. After Just Dance 2015 came out, I still found myself playing the older titles because they focused more on the choreography and less on the distracting backgrounds in the game.
My rule of thumb for Just Dance is the more popular the song is, the worse the dance will probably be. As much as I love dancing to Katy Perry on the dance floor in real life, the choreography for her songs in previous Just Dance titles, is a little, well, lame. A lot of stereotypical booty shaking and prancing around like an idiot. Many of my favorite songs on the charts are often my least favorite dances on the game.
But two dances are hardly enough to judge the entire game by, so I decided to give Just Dance 2016 a try.
When I walked into the demo room, I informed Tomkinson “Rasputin from Just Dance 2 is my favorite dance, and I would like to play the hardest track you have.” At this point, I didn’t know I had just asked the director of the game to show me what he got. In hindsight, this was probably not smart.
My rule of thumb for Just Dance is the more popular the song is, the worse the dance will probably be.
He selected “William Tell – Overture” by Rossini and informed me not many other people wanted to play it during the demo because it was “crazy.”
The dance was themed like a horse race, and we started off mimicking jockeys as they ride off through a derby. Not too bad.
But the horseplay doesn’t end there. As we danced around each other with our hands in the air, I had to bend down as he horse jumped over me. Then to counter his move, I was instructed to jump on his back. I paused for a second. Do I jump on the Ubisoft Game Director’s back while I’m wearing a dress and there’s a window behind us where people are watching us?
This really did feel like a horse race. But, I’m a competitive person, so I took a running leap and jumped.
“I would shake your hand, but I’m too sweaty,” he said at the conclusion of the track.
Song choice and satisfying the masses
Everyone has their own favorite song to dance to in the Just Dance games, mine just happens to be one of the weirder ones.
“We need songs that lots of people will want to dance to at a party,” Tomkinson says. “But we also need the crazy songs, like the William Tell song that we played, to bring crazy experiences. If you have weird friends, then we have stuff for you.”
The Just Dance creators try to pick different types of songs to satisfy different preferences, oftentimes picking top billboard tracks, such as “Hey Mama” by David Guetta. After that, they have to pick which of their 30 choreographers and dancers they want to use for the song.
If you have weird friends, then we have stuff for you.
“It’s really the songs that tell us who we are going to work with,” Tomkinson says. “We know that we have some choreographers that are a bit crazy that can come up with new ideas. But for some songs we want a more trendy style of choreography.”
Songs are the lifeblood of Just Dance, and that’s why the new installment of the game is going to rollout Just Dance Unlimited, a Netflix style streaming service that will include all of the songs from previous games. It will replace the current online store model. Now instead of purchasing new individual songs, you will have to subscribe to the service to play any new songs released after the game.
Tomkinson says they aren’t releasing the price for the service yet, but there will be an option to purchase a yearly subscription, which will be a much better deal.
It’s really the first console game that you can fully play with your phone.
“It’s an all you can eat offer and you pay one price to get all of them,” Tomkinson says.
The other new feature coming to Just Dance 2016 is the ability to play using your phone on PS4, Wii U and Xbox One. Simply download the Just Dance controller app on your phone for free, and anyone can play.
“It’s really the first console game that you can fully play with your phone,” he says. You can browse menus, dance and do everything from your phone. The game is also increasing the amount of dancers you can play at one time from four to six.
“We stop at six because we believe that more than six is going to get out of hand,” Tomkinson says.
Afterward, we played another track from the new game, “Hangover (BaBaBa)” by Buraka Som Sistema, which he also assured me would be crazy. But then, I requested to play a title available on Just Dance Unlimited, my love, “Rasputin” by Boney M.
Two other people ended up joining us for this one, and about halfway through the game, the crown indicating the highest scorer switched from his player to mine. By the end of the track, I had beaten him at his own game.
“You’re the first person to beat me all day,” he said.
You’re the first person to beat me all day.
And for the first time at E3, I felt maybe there was a place for me in the gaming world after all.