There was a time when Konami was the Tony Manero of all dance games. Their Dance Dance Revolution kept ramping up the ante of what a videogame could be. It could be argued that Konami's use of the dance pad as an alternate controller set the stage for Nintendo's Wii and Microsoft's Kinect. But it wasn't Konami's dance game that was a launch title for Kinect, that honor went to Harmonix (creators of Rock Band) with Dance Central. Now, in the first wave of Kinect games since launch, Konami's Dance Masters seeks to regain the dance floor crown.
The launch titles that Microsoft promoted for Kinect were generally of extremely high quality, perhaps none more so than Dance Central. Even though it used a slightly nonstandard interface, even by Kinect standards, it was intuitive, great fun to play, and remarkably adept at seeing what you were doing on the dance floor and scoring you appropriately. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Dance Central is the way it teaches you to learn complex dances one step at a time, without being pedantic. From the first moment of this groundbreaking game you sense the level of polish in every detail.
Despite its Dance Dance Revolution lineage, Dance Masters gets almost all the details wrong. The interface, for instance, is the first one for Kinect that really didn't work effortlessly when we tried it. The written instructions for how to select an item did not match the action that we ultimately found worked. We were told to raise our hand to chest level, but that only would cause the selector to jerk about. Only when we raised our hands over our head was the selection accepted. It is essential in a controllerless game that the kinetic commands be unobtrusive and consistent, otherwise the game simply becomes too frustrating to play.
Dance Masters assumes that you will be able to pick up the dance moves just by watching and remembering what comes next. Our testers found the lack of instruction made the game overly difficult. There weren't enough cues given as to what was expected. Rock Band, proved that music titles make great party games, but there is a trick: you have to have a "no fail mode" that keeps the party going even if the players aren't very good at what's going on. For whatever reason, Dance Masters doesn't have a mode that keeps you in the action. If you fail, or your partner fails, you both lose.
Though the game is rated "E10+" I'd suggest it as a "T" rated teen title (exactly what Dance Central was rated, by the way). The rigor of the game will make it frustrating for most tweens.