Targem Games has dug into the previous catalog of Gaijin Entertainment to bring Steam gamers a new rhythm game to choose from. Dance Magic released on the Playstation 3 in 2013 and has been shoveled over to the Steam platform approximately three years later. Offered at a reasonable price, this version of Dance Magic offers a fair amount of content with solid execution, but it lacks the substance to be a must-have title.
Up front, the title presents itself with borrowed material – Dance Magic is heavily advertised using its one-on-one dance battles, which largely reflect the classic Enix series Bust-a-Groove. However, it also includes a freestyle mode, which adds in the traditional DanceDanceRevolution style of gameplay. With two gameplay mechanics running under the hood, Dance Magic presents some flexibility in offering different ways to interact with the title’s soundtrack.
The freestyle mode is very straight-forward, pressing players for high scores as they challenge themselves with a soundtrack that offers four difficulty level charts per song. The gameplay unfolds a little more similar to a title like Technika, as players activate steps when a continually moving marker passes over fields of stationary arrows.
Gameplay gets a little more unique in the battle mode, as Dance Magic attempts to lean heavily on strategic decisions while offering thinner rhythm mechanics than the freestyle mode. Unlike Bust-a-Groove, Dance Magic characters can completely knock each other out of the song, regardless of how far they are into the track.
Players only need to hit any direction on the beat, with a collection of four successful beats banking into a stun attack gauge and combo bonus. On top of that, each character has different arrangements of four specific directions to hit to trigger direct attacks, shields, and moves that break the opponents shields or combos.
Differing characters also have special maneuvers they can execute by performing three specific actions in order. Each character has a hit points meter, and winning comes from depleting the opponent’s HP or having a higher HP total if the song ends.
These game modes can be played offline and online, although, through all attempts I made to connect to a multiplayer match, none were found. The freestyle mode can be played with one or two players and the battle mode offers a single-player tournament (“arcade”) mode, and exhibition matches versus a CPU or human opponent. Different leaderboards for each mode are also available.
The flexibility offered by the game is interesting, but most of the content never really rises above being serviceable. Still, at the price point offered at launch ($10), Dance Magic can be a quick diversion. Originally releasing at the tail end of the Guitar Hero-induced music game craze, the graphics are presented as expected of a title attempting to draw in a casual crowd of players. A number of the elements are based on the stereotypes of different music genres and lack originality, but the visuals are clean and animate well. There isn’t a ton of variety in the character and background presentation, but it is understandable given the player will focus on the HUD’s rhythm elements for a majority of the title.
The sound in the title comes through well, and, ultimately, the player’s taste in the music presented will ultimately decide the game’s fate with players. Dance Magic assembles more than 20 indie tracks that can be played in the title’s two game modes. Most of the tunes have a “pop” vibe to them, but a range of genres including disco, Latin and rock are represented in the title. Outside of segments in the rock songs that didn’t feature drums, I personally wasn’t annoyed by any of the song choices. Dance Magic apes off DDR by featuring an announcer that spouts phrases every handful of seconds, but, those annoyed by the feature can turn it off in the options.
Once adjusted to the game, I found the controls to be on point, which is necessary for the genre. In-game, the player only needs to use four button inputs (with a fifth to activate the battle mode’s stun attack), which the player can map to keyboards or game controllers. The menus also allow players to use the mouse to quickly hover and click selections.
The HUD elements necessary to gameplay may be presented a bit smaller than in some other rhythm games, but, once accustomed to the gameplay, they don’t hinder the experience. This also means harder freestyle songs that incorporate the yellow 1/16 inputs and multiple freeze arrows tend to cram together the input markers and make them harder to read, but, again, continued play and recognition eases this. Putting in the time necessary to clear every track on the hard difficulty, I was able to achieve the M (highest) rating on most, so, I found once I adjusted, the controls and gameplay flow worked quite well.
To keep players coming back, a majority of the game’s content is actually locked away in-game. Songs, characters and character customization can be purchased with currency earned through playing the game’s modes.
Most of the content is reasonably within reach, especially if players tackle the battle mode’s arcade structure, which awards 20,000 credits for clearing it. There is a large chunk of content to unlock, but in taking advantage of the bigger rewards, it never felt like a long grind. There are also Steam achievements and cards to keep bringing players back, and three out of the four difficulty levels of the freestyle tracks tuck five hidden steps into the charts. Add in the online features, and there is a fair amount of content tucked into the game considering its price.