Posted on August 5, 2013 AT 03:20pm
Partying the pounds off
Some people came to the EGM office recently. And they came to dance.
OK, so maybe things didn’t quite devolve into dance-based throwdowns like in Step Up or Stomp the Yard. Maybe the people who came to the EGM office were representatives from publisher Majesco, and maybe they were just showing off the latest installment of their Zumba franchise, Zumba Fitness World Party. They still came to dance. Just…not to challenge my honor, but rather help me get healthier.
For anyone who, like me, must live in a cave and somehow hasn’t heard of this dance-fitness phenomenon that apparently some 14 million people take classes in across 140,000 locations worldwide, here’s the skinny on Zumba: Various music genres and their respective dance styles (ranging from salsa, merengue, cha-cha-cha, and reggaeton to samba, axe, hip-hop, Brazilian funk, and more) come together in patterned, blood-pumping routines that combine the fun of full-body dance with the level of exertion required to get a good sweat from a cardio workout.
For the most part, Zumba is pretty straightforward. Part of its appeal is that it’s easy to pick up and get into the rhythm through the program’s use of patterned routines designed so that every time the chorus hits, you know what to expect. Same thing with the verse or the refrain. Every section of a song is slotted with a specific dance move that transitions seamlessly from one to the next, and then back.
Of course, how seamlessly that transition looks when you’re shakin’ it is entirely dependent first on how much effort you put in while playing, and second how much natural rhythm and inherent dance skill you possess. But like all skills, practice makes perfect. It’s not unlike learning the specific flow of Simon-colored onscreen notes in Rock Band. It’s equal parts pattern memorization and rhythmic execution. And like Rock Band—or any music and rhythm game, I imagine—it’s easy to get sucked into the addictive challenge that comes from getting a routine down better and better, to return to Zumba for the game-y challenge. But unlike Rock Band (or even something more directly analogous, like Dance Central or Just Dance), because Zumba Fitness: World Party is structured around routines meant to actively exert you, there are real-world benefits that come out of the workout hidden in the simple joy that is dancing.
This pushes Zumba Fitness somewhere in between a dance game in which the gameplay exists solely to facilitate fun—something to be busted out at parties and social gatherings—and a workout tape you pop into the VCR (DVD player? DVR? Oh, god, I’m old…) to burn some cals alone in the comfort of your own home. And the way I understand it, as informed by the game’s executive producer, Lisa Roth, developer Zoë Mode and publisher Majesco embrace Zumba Fitness’ in-between existence.
One of the major changes being introduced with Zumba Fitness World Party is the shift from polygonal dance instructor models to live-action versions. This decision came largely at the behest of Zumba Fitness‘ core fanbase, who found working with the human emulations alienating. They wanted something more relatable—something more real, more immediately identifiable—dancing with them, instructing them.
In this way, Zumba Fitness World Party looks, at first glance, like an interactive Jillian Michaels fitness DVD. The instructors (including Zumba creator Alberto “Beto” Perez, Gina Grant, Tanya Beardsley, Dr. B and the BhangraBros, and 10 other known, celebrated Zumba instructors) are the actual instructors themselves—not imperfect digital interpretations—so none of their skill, their talent, or their personality/charisma is lost. Said instructors teach players across seven globe-spanning environments, juggling over 30 dance moves to the thumping beats of 40 tracks (45 for you soon-to-be Xbox One owners).
Like any new installment, Zumba Fitness World Party is comfortably familiar, introducing a handful of new elements (namely, new forms of music and new dance styles, such as Hawaiian and European flavors) while still catering largely to its established fanbase. This isn’t to say that World Party is in any way inaccessible—it’s not. Despite rightly proving, for the umpteenth time, that I have no business being on the dance floor, I was able to jump right into the game and have fun. But I think that Zumba’s value is found less in what it offers as an experience similar to Dance Central and more as a genuine Zumba experience, in which, yes, I’m dancing. Yes, I’m having fun. But I’m also getting my heart rate up. I only awkwardly flailed about beside an actually talented Zumba instructor for two tracks, but by the end, I could tell that a solid 30-, 40-minute block on Zumba Fitness World Party would probably be as effective a workout as the 20-minute jogs I take three to four times a week. And World Party accommodates this by having a series of workout regiments built in so that players get what they probably came to Zumba for: exercise first, fun second.
That’s what makes Zumba Fitness World Party so appealing, I guess. It dispels the notion that only through pain can there be gain. World Party is, at its core, as fun as any other dance game, but it isn’t trying to go toe-to-toe with them. It exists in a lateral space where, really, anyone whose interest is piqued by Zumba—and I’d be a liar if I didn’t say mine was after participating in my brief session—and anyone looking for new, fun ways to workout from home maybe ought to give it a try. Prior to playing Zumba, I didn’t think the Xbox’s Kinect had any real value. But now, after having tried my hand (read: body) at World Party, I’m pretty OK with peripherals like Kinect trying to alter the gaming landscape by expanding the notion of “videogaming” beyond the confines of the limited definition we everyday gamers so doggedly adhere to.
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