Bungled TV licenses are as predictable as a new "Madden NFL" every year, so when Activision announced it was adapting ABC's hit reality show "Dancing With the Stars," bloggers mocked, fans tittered, and hardcore gamers groaned.

Bungled TV licenses are as predictable as a new “Madden NFL” every year, so when Activision announced it was adapting ABC’s hit reality show “Dancing With the Stars,” bloggers mocked, fans tittered, and hardcore gamers groaned. Give developer Zoe Mode its due for dodging a bullet, then, because “Dancing With the Stars” the vidgame turns out to be an unexpectedly well-designed rhythm puzzler and a worthy tribute to the TV show, even if it’s a little short, and — surprise doesn’t involve dancing.

Fire up “Dancing With the Stars” and it glitters like a Technicolor disco ball while pumping out cheesy earfuls of cheery, easygoing pop, country, and swing music.

On a virtual stage, cameras pan and swoop over impressively motion-captured dancers modeled after the TV show’s celebrity couples. From Mario Lopez to Monique Coleman, celebrities glide and pivot and dip dramatically as colored arrows scroll across the bottom of the screen synced to 36 licensed songs including “These Boots Are Made for Walking” and “Independent Woman.”

Instead of controlling the dancers directly, however, players move the Wii Remote and Nunchuk in time with those arrows through different songs and dance styles to score points and win trophies that unlock additional couples and more complex patterns.

Simple enough, until the game introduces longer, coordination-boggling movesin which players must ambidextrously hold and release buttons in sync with the arrows tied to them. On the Amateur level, it isn’t much of a workout; but at the higher Professional setting, it probably qualifies as “jazzercise.”

The learning curve starts off flat enough with arrows ticking along leisurely to mambos and sambas, jives and cha-chas. But the difficulty ramps up quickly; getting scores from the judges that are high enough to get to the next level to requires performing “good” or “perfect” synced steps.

A number of special gestures that require performing familiar dance moves like the twist, locomotion and hand jive by swinging the controllers in imitation, interrupt the flow, and just might show up on YouTube if someone in the house has a vidcam. Getting these moves to work consistently can be a chore given the Wii’s inherently imprecise motion controls.

“Dancing with the Stars” is billed as an Activision “value” title. But considering how brief the single-player experience is — with just nine couples and four songs each — it’s not much of a value for $50. Head-to-head or cooperative dancing with a partner extends playability slightly, but in the end, the game doesn’t last much longer than one episode and the next day’s results show.

Game is also available in a Playstation 2 version that works with that console’s dance pad.

Dancing With the Stars

Rated E 10+. $50


An Activision presentation of a game developed by Zoe Mode and licensed by ABC for the Wii and PlayStation 2. Reviewed on Wii.
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