It would be an understatement to say that I approached Activision's Dancing with the Stars with some trepidation. The game had really nothing going for it in my eyes; I have no interest in the show, or dancing, or any stars, much less these, and at seven months pregnant, the only thing I want to shake is pretty much anyone who crosses my path. But once it got going, I was forced to admit that hey, this game really wasn't all that bad. In fact, as simple rhythm games go ... it was alright.
But if you can get past all of that, there's a whole dumbed-down Samba de Amigo vibe working here, if, that is, we were to trade our monkey in for Emmitt Smith. The game is immediately accessible, even for rhythm neophytes, and so long as you can move each hand independently from the other, you're good to go. Dancing with the Stars features a practice mode, and it's there we started, in order to get a fix on things. As you can see in the video above, Wii remote and nunchuk icons flow toward the middle of the screen, complete with directional arrows, and when they hit the sweet spot, you move the controller in the required direction and press the trigger. Sometimes it's a quick press, and sometimes you hold, but after a moment, it all becomes pretty clear. Gameplay is not too complicated here, particularly on the Amateur setting. You can also practice your Flair moves -- specialties like the Twist or the Maracas -- but it's really not necessary. Why? Because so long as you flail in an approximation of the desired movement, the game seems more than willing to offer you some credit. Learn on the fly; there's no need to practice here.
Once you run through a couple of samples and nail the whole movement-and-pressing-of-buttons (if you're a gamer, this should be easy), you're ready to take on the dancing world. You don't have many options in the beginning -- two single player modes, a multiplayer mode, and only a few couples from which you can choose. You unlock more options as you go.
And speaking of, unlocking isn't hard to do. Even on Professional, seasoned rhythm gamers shouldn't have much trouble here. The timing gets a little more complicated there, but the game is forgiving, and on Amateur mode, it's cake. But watch your icons, not your dancers; your moves and theirs are so radically different (why am I doing the twist in the middle of a tango?) that watching the dancers can be distracting.
Therein lies the hidden fun of Dancing with the Stars, however -- in a group, it's both fun and hilarious. Like any other rhythm game that gets you off the couch, Dancing with the Stars becomes exponentially more fun the more people you have around. What's more, since it's user-friendly and features something a lot of people know about (celebrities and music), it probably won't be too hard to rope family members and non-gamers into the swing of things. And hey, you don't even need to buy any accessories. No peripherals, no dance pad, just a group of folks and the Wii, and you're good to go.
Will Dancing with the Stars satisfy rhythm devotees in the long run? No, probably not, but it is the kind of game you could break out at a party and get people involved, if only to watch them attempt the Mashed Potato. It might also be a nice bet as a gift for the casual Wii owner who finds something like Guitar Hero III interesting, but can't quite cut it (or if they're not into that music). Fair warning, however: the music is not the best around as rhythm games go. The sound quality is mediocre, and while there are plenty of licensed songs, there's also plenty of sheer crap. Best bet is to bite the bullet, suffer through the bad rip-offs and unlock as much as possible so that you have options.
Final verdict: 6/10
Dancing with the Stars is never a stand-out, but it's not bad, either. If you're looking for a family or casual-friendly rhythm game, it's a fair bet, maybe even in part because it's a licensed game with (semi) recognizable characters.