Through almost 20 different iterations, spin-offs and sequels, the Just Dance series has gone from strength to strength over the years - and while various tweaks have been added in the form of downloadable songs, online multiplayer, and even an attempt at a levelling system in Just Dance 4, the core formula has stayed pretty much the same since 2009. And why shouldn't it? As the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it - and Just Dance certainly isn't broke. There was, however, one little problem. With so much going on on screen, and some rather complex routines, some of the littlest of the little 'uns, who may not have the fine motor controls needed to enjoy the game properly, were having a few troubles joining in the fun - not to mention some of the songs were a little bit on the risqué side for young ears. Step up Just Dance Kids 2014, a simplified, child-proof version of the dance-'em-up that'll get the little ones grooving.
As with its older brother, things are kept nice and easy here. All you have to do is choose a song, grab a Wii remote, a Playstation Move, or simply stand in front of the Kinect sensor on depending on your console of choice, and dance along to the song, following the moves of the dancers shown on screen in order to earn points. With support for up to four players, the person with the highest score - a product of accuracy and timing - is declared the winner.
With simpler routines and a much more child-friendly soundtrack , the likes of Jessie J and Katy Perry have been replaced by a diverse line-up to say the least, with some auto-tuned goodies from the Nickelodeon/Disney camp, such as Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez and Victorious, a few oldies like 'Walking On Sunshine' and 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot', and even a couple of nursery rhymes for the youngest of the young. There's a pretty decent mix of pop tunes on offer, and while the backgrounds/settings aren't quite as fantastical as your regular Just Dance game, it's all still bright and colourful enough as you prance around pirate ships, whirl through the wild west and frolic through fairytale castles. As is now standard for Just Dance Kids, they've opted for real-life kids in costumes rather than the stylised cartoon performers of Just Dance - a move which, in theory, should make the routines easier to follow, but in actuality seems to make it more difficult to know which hand you're supposed to be following. As all that really counts in Just Dance is your hand movements (after all, it can't track your feet), the Just Dance games usually colour in one of the characters' hands to show which one your Wii Remote/Move controller should be in - yet Just Dance Kids 2014 has them leave a harder-to-spot sparkly trail instead.
While the vanilla 'Just Dance' mode (essentially a "quick play" mode, where you just pick a single song and start dancing) is likely to occupy the bulk of your playing time, Just Dance Kids 2014 does come with a few extra 'modes' to try out. 'Team High Score' does exactly was it says on the tin - up to four players work together for a high score, with a spotlight moving from one player to the next to signify a solo, while the other players shake their controllers as fast as possible to collect the stars that appear. Meanwhile, 'Freeze & Shake' adds a little bit of Simon Says to the mix, with icons popping up on the screen at regular intervals to show when you need to stand still like a statue or shake your controller like a mad thing for bonus points. The final mode, 'Balloon Pop' has players inflating a balloon in the middle of the screen as they dance, which eventually gets too big and pops, leaving a load of stars in it's wake - all you have to do is waggle the controller to pick up stars for extra points.
For the Wii U, an exclusive 'Dance Director' mode is on offer too, which works in a similar sort of way to the Puppet Master/Party Master modes of the main series Wii U games. A fifth player is able to wield the Wii U GamePad and choose a theme for a brief interpretive dance session at random intervals during the song - silly styles such as dancing like a conductor or a shark. With often hilarious consequences when a group of kids are told to dance like wizards, these sections aren't scored on accuracy and timing, but are instead left up to the GamePad player to dish out the points however they see fit - maybe even rewarding everyone equally for acting silly to avoid arguments.
As is always our gripe with the Just Dance games aimed at a younger audience, Just Dance Kids 2014 seems a little light on content. While the grown up game boasts some 46 songs, many of which having multiple routines to choose from, Just Dance Kids has just 31 in total - no different choreographies and no option of expanding it with extra downloads either. There may be a handful of other modes to try, such as the Simon Says-style 'Freeze & Shake' or a simple 'Team High Score', but none will make you stray from the core 'mimic the on-screen dancer' Just Dance mode for long.
Cementing the child friendliness, the game even has an entire section dedicated to parents, letting them tweak how their kids play. Those who don't mind a bit of competitive-ness can choose to display scores on the screen during songs, while those who don't feel like breaking up arguments when Timmy finds out the hard way he has no rhythm whatsoever can choose to hide them from view instead. There's also a menu where you can check out all sorts of statistics as to how the game's being played - how long it's been played for, the most popular songs and even an estimate of the calories the players have burned.
While it may not have the big budget flashiness of it's bigger sister, Just Dance Kids 2014 is still a cheap and cheerful alternative for the younger crowd. More songs and features would have been welcome, but what remains is a pretty solid entry in the franchise aimed squarely at that oh-so-awkward-to-buy-for pre-school contingent. And for it's target audience it's flaws probably won't matter, as they boot up 'I Like to Move It' for the fifth time in a row.
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360