I feel like a dance battle, a literal dance battle where combatants are slinging fireballs at each other while performing dance moves, deserves better. This is the concept for Dance Magic, a fighting/rhythm game hybrid that had me hitting buttons along to a beat to cast magic spells that would either harm an enemy or protect me. It’s not a bad idea, and it seems like Dance Magic has some style to go with it. Yet style can only get you so far, and this ultimately empty game falls flat.
Dance Magic offers three basic modes, though the tournament is really where the meat of the game takes place. Here you can pick one of seven dancers to take through six back-to-back fights. There’s not much difference between the dancers mechanically. Each dancer has the same five basic abilities, albeit with different required inputs to use them. Some dancers are stronger, some have more health, and some fill up the stun bar faster, but there’s nowhere in-game to actually see who does what. You can only really figure this out by experimenting with the characters. Each dancer also has three special moves that are done by inputting the basic five commands in a specific order. I never really found these special moves to be worth much though, and I quickly found myself ignoring them as the basic five moves would get me through almost every fight with no issue.
Fighting itself is rather simple. Characters will dance on the right and left side of the screen while I entered inputs along with the beat. There’s five basic moves that require me to input four buttons each. Basic attacks always do some damage, even if the enemy has shields up. Rage attacks do double damage, but are always blocked 100% by even the weakest shield. The other three moves either put up a shield for you, take down an enemy shield, or interrupt an enemy’s combo meter. The last one is important in theory since every time you use something other than an attack you build up a combo multiplier that can cause your attacks to do up to ten times more damage. In practice, it never actually matters. The AI isn’t actually smart enough to break your combo, while any human players would just end up spamming shields or interrupt to make building a combo worthless. While attacks don’t count towards your combos, they do add to the stun bar depending on how in-sync you are with the music. Fill up the stun bar and you could use a stun ability that would leave the other dancer stunned and unable to take any actions for a few seconds.
The biggest problem with the tournament mode? How hilariously easy it all is. Most of this is thanks to just how uselessly dumb the enemy AI is. It seems like they’re just set to put in random inputs at random times, often completely missing the beats or using abilities that make no sense. I’m not sure why one enemy decided to spam the shield breaking abilities, but I thought they would catch on once my lack of shields became obvious. As such, I found I could beat every fight in the tournament almost the exact same way: spamming rage attacks over and over again. Without enemies that have half the brains to use the combat system, there was never a need for me to use it either. I even went to the battles section, basically just a versus match between me and another opponent, and set the enemy difficulty to the highest it could go. To my surprise, I could still win the fight by spamming rage attacks.
It also doesn’t help that Dance Magic seems utterly devoid of content. The tournament took me about ten minutes to finish with a single character, and I didn’t really see much of a reason to play with any other characters. Every fight I won did earn me coins that I could spend on new characters, music, and ways to customize the outfits of the characters that I had already unlocked. The store is particularly frustrating to use. You can try something on, but if you try to leave the store with an outfit tried on the game will try to force you to buy it even if you don’t have the money for it. This means before you can leave the store you need to go through each option and make sure you put your dancer back in his default clothing. It’s a strange waste of time that I’m not sure why they bothered to keep.
The only other game mode available in Dance Magic is freestyle mode, which plays closer to your traditional rhythm game. Here a bar moves down a row and you need to hit the arrow keys or D-pad in time with the music. I hope you’re not using a controller for this mode, as I was sometimes tasked to hit button combos that were simply not possible. Take an Xbox One controller and try to hit both right and left on the D-pad at the same time. You may notice it’s not possible, but no one bothered to tell the developers of Dance Magic that. Even then, I often found that hitting notes on time was a difficult task. The bar itself didn’t quite seem to be as accurate as music games really need, while the arrows would appear randomly all over the track. Playing freestyle was mostly just an exercise in frustration, as Dance Magic didn’t seem to learn from any other rhythm game to have come out in the past few years.
It should be noted that both battles and freestyle can be played online with other players. I tried three times at three different periods of the day to find no one playing, and even kept a watch on the game’s Steam Spy page to see if it ever got any players. The answer is no. No one is playing Dance Magic, so don’t rely on the online to keep the game moving.
Okay, so the game is a total disaster, but this is a dancing/music game in a way! So is the soundtrack at least decent? Well… kind of. The game features artists like Dr. Dexter, Logical Lunatic, Twirl, Mushmellow, and Kill the Alarm. If you haven’t heard of any of them, well, that’s to be expected from an inexpensive indie game. The game has thirty songs with a leaning towards electronic music. There’s a bit of alt-rock, a single disco song, and a surprisingly entertaining Latino pop-rock song that I’d totally throw on my iPod if I could actually find it anywhere. Hilariously there is an “add your own music” button that if you press just displays a pop-up telling you what folder to dump .mp3 files into. If nothing else you can at least replace their soundtrack with your own.
Honestly there are games that do the rhythm/something else mash-up so much better than Dance Magic could ever hope to do. Maybe look at Crypt of the NecroDancer if you want to see it mashed with a roguelike. You have A City Sleeps and Rhythm Destruction if you want it mashed with a shmup. If you just want a straight up music game then you should go for Audiosurf or Amplitude or even Guitar Hero Live. Just don’t go for Dance Magic, because there’s no magic here. Just a ton of failed ideas.
Dance Magic was reviewed on Steam with a key provided by the developer
A decent combat system doesn't make up for the game's many issues. Lack of content, atrocious AI, a horrible rhythm game mode, a strangely convoluted store, and a boring soundtrack.