I will confess up front, I've never watched "Dancing with the Stars." I hear my mom and her friends talk about it at lunch, but I've not tuned in myself. I spend my precious "me" time on games, not television. (OK, I do record and watch "Survivor," "Amazing Race," "Heroes" and "CSI Las Vegas.")
There are four basic modes of play in Dancing with the Stars — Single, Quick Play, Multiplayer and Practice. Whichever mode you choose, you're going to start with the same two couples and same eight songs until you master all four songs of a given couple. At this point, you'll unlock another couple with their four songs. Dancing with the Stars has nine couples total with four songs for each couple — but you need to unlock them before their identities and play lists are divulged.
Just a note: Each couple gives you an option of dancing at Amateur or Professional level. According to the manual, if you unlock a couple by winning at Amateur level, you will only unlock the next couple at Amateur level. Their Professional level won't be an option. This isn't an issue for me, but it might be something for you expert movers and shakers to keep in mind.
When you first begin the game, you can play as Emmitt Smith and Cheryl Burke, or you can play as Brian Fortuna and Monique Coleman. Emmitt and Cheryl dance to: "I Like the Way You Move" (cha cha), "Palasi Tango" (tango), "Roses from the South" (waltz) and "No Sweat" (jive). Brian and Monique dance to: "Independent Women Part I" (mambo), "Walkin' Downtown" (jive), "Sambasca" (samba) and "She's a Lady" (cha cha).
Single mode is basically playing the show. You'll pick your couple and then pick which partner you want to play. The lead and follow characters each have different moves, so even with just two couples, you have four different options of moves. Once you've picked your dancer, you'll choose if you want Amateur or Professional level. I always pick Amateur. I know my limitations. If you choose Amateur, you need to earn at least 20 points from the judges for your performance. If you don't make at least 20 points, you can quit (and lose all progress with that couple) or try again. You cannot progress to the next song until you earn those 20 points.
Quick Play mode has a few different options. You still only have the unlocked songs and couples to work with, but you can pick which couple/song combination you want to try. This is handy if you're stuck and can't get past a song in Single play but really want to try a song further down their list.
Multiplayer has two options. You can play against the other player in a one-dance showdown, or you can play cooperatively with one person playing each partner for a full four-song set. You apparently also have alternate and simultaneous modes. I didn't really test multiplayer since I haven't a hope of getting my husband to dance, virtually or otherwise. Again, you can only play with unlocked songs and dancers.
Practice mode is probably where I should spend more time. You can practice any of the unlocked songs and even narrow it down to a specific piece of the song to practice. You also can practice the specialty moves. Your specialty moves are The Hand Jive, Locomotion, Maracas, Mashed Potato, Twist, Wave and Stir It Up. I've actually done pretty well with everything but the Wave without needing extra practice.
Dancing with the Stars does have an options screen that lets you adjust the audio, load a profile, save a profile or view the credits. I haven't really needed this function, mainly due to one of my biggest peeves with the game — my inability to save a profile. Allow me to explain.
You'll be using both the Wii-mote and Nunchuk when you play Dancing with the Stars. This is a rhythm game that demands quick reflexes as well as the ability to have each hand doing different motions. I struggled with that back when I took piano lessons — long, long, long ago — and I haven't gotten any better since then with lack of practice. I do fair (not great, but not totally awful) when I'm alternating between hands or even when both hands are doing the same motion. When I have each hand simultaneously doing different motions, I will inevitably fail to match both beats.
My first go at Dancing with the Stars has been kind of fun but also rather frustrating. I started with Emmitt and Cheryl and am dancing as Cheryl. It's taken me several tries to get those magic 20 points on my first dance (at Amateur level) and a few more tries to get through my second dance. I've tried the third dance a few times, and it's gotten quite a bit more demanding with having each hand do a different move at the same time, and I'm tired at this point. I'm 45 minutes into my gaming session, and I want to take a break. I can't find any way to save my game. I started in single-player mode, and I know from reading up that you have to succeed in four dances with each couple to unlock more content. I have to wonder if you also have to succeed at all four of those dances to earn the right to save your game. If I can't improve my hand/eye coordination, I may never find out.
I really feel the designers made a mistake by not allowing you to save your profile after each dance. As it stands now, if I'm too tired to get through four dances in a row, or don't have time to get through four dances in a row, I have to start from scratch every time. That gets to be annoying. I want to progress in chunks — not in one heart-attack-inducing marathon.
As with the TV series, you will face judges in Dancing with the Stars. You'll be (brutally) critiqued by Carrie Ann Inaba, who is quite a perfectionist; Len Goodman, who is a bit gentler in his criticism; and Bruno Taniolo, who comes up with the craziest analogies. I've had him compare my dance to a fruit salad — that I threw a little of everything in. Happily, you can skip their critique if you want and go straight to the scores. If I know I did a bad job, I really don't want to hear their recap. I'm glad I don't have to.
I guess my other little peeve with Dancing with the Stars is that the dancing on the screen doesn't really reflect how well or bad I'm doing matching the rhythm. I will hear cheering or groans, but the couple dances on — always exactly the same. And the special moves, like doing the Mashed Potato or Wave, have nothing to do with what they're actually doing in the dance. I guess it was easier just to program in the couple doing the dance one way than it would have been to make them actually respond to your moves. I still don't like it. If I'm playing really awful, dang it, I want to see them looking bad, too.
I have had some fun playing Dancing with the Stars, but not being able to save my progress at my current skill level is really frustrating. I think this could be a fun party game, and I know it's something I'll come back to because I really want to improve my hand/eye coordination, but you'll want to keep these things in mind if you decide to go out and buy the game. You have to unlock the vast majority of the content, you can't save when you want to and it takes a certain amount of coordination to succeed. Since I haven't watched "Dancing with the Stars," I can't say whether it does a good or bad job of capturing the feeling of the show. My recommendation is guarded. If you're a fan and aren't worried about the factors that frustrate me, you might want to check it out.