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Jeremy Jastrzab
09 May, 2011

Michael Jackson: The Experience Review

360 Review | The King of Pop lives on in your consoles.
In time, it’s very possible that the music of Michael Jackson will be remembered in the same vein as The Beatles or Elvis Presley. After all, many have grown up to his countless iconic tunes, while others are still discovering them for the first time. Following his untimely death in 2009, Ubisoft acquired the rights to place his songs in video games. Late last year, they released Michael Jackson: The Experience for the Wii without much of a splash, particularly against their own franchise, Just Dance 2. However, all three consoles have now been given a chance to have The Experience, and all three are played via motion control.

It’s a radical departure from the last time Michael Jackson appeared in a video game, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. The well-remembered platformer from the Sega Genesis/Master System has nothing to do with this latest Dance Dance Revolution pretender though, as Michael Jackson: The Experience on the Xbox 360 is the most recent in the fledgling line of titles showing off the Kinect credentials. While the Kinect has been selling strongly, neither it nor PlayStation Move have many titles to back them up, so maybe having such an iconic name to the game will help convince people of these peripherals and their merit?

Oh, the next move coming up looks like fun.

Oh, the next move coming up looks like fun.
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For Michael Jackson: The Experience on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, players will be able to pick from thirty of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits, and as far as music selections go, it’s an absolute ripper. Just about every single song (full list can be viewed here) is a bona fide classic, and Michael Jackson fans will likely be squealing in anticipation to try them out. This is no Rock Band or Guitar Hero list in terms of quantity, but the overall quality is unsurpassed. And every song has been re-realised in the game without sacrificing any integrity; these are the songs you know and remember.

Unfortunately though, your options are terribly thin on the ground and the gameplay is quite unforgiving. Which for a title aiming to be a party game, this isn't a good combination. There are essentially three modes: Michael Jackson School, Solo and Party. Michael Jackson School is an extensive video catalogue where dance professionals walk you through the moves in each of the individual songs. While only a quick lesson, it’s interesting to watch these seemingly complicated moves broken down into simple steps. What would have really helped though, if there were some sort of ‘hands-on’ training where the move was demonstrated then you could practise until you did it well. There is a practice mode, but it’s outside of these videos, so the moves are difficult to seamlessly view and apply.

On the Xbox 360, the Solo mode consists of dance, performance and master performance difficulty levels for most songs, with a couple that allow vocal only performances. The dance and vocal only modes are self explanatory, while in either performance mode, you’ll get to alternate between singing and dancing to the one song. Master performance is incredibly demanding, and pretty much demands you to replicate the King himself. The Party modes are split between co-op and battle. Co-op allows you to have groups of up to two alternating between singing and dancing, while battle will allow between two to four in groups, either doubles or individuals, to see who can get the higher score on one song.

Player 4, you're up!

Player 4, you're up!
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And that’s really all you can do; pick songs and play. Aside from gunning for high scores , or occasionally cracking the title out at a party, there is nothing else to do in the game. Thanks to Kinect, there isn’t anything else you need to play the game, as it includes a microphone. Still, singing without a microphone can feel a little silly. Menu navigation has been tuned well enough, and it smartly zooms in and out when it needs to, but it would have been better if more options were available before resorting to scrolling. Regardless, while the hardware is there, the gameplay itself is a little on the brutal side, especially for a game that’s meant to be for casuals and for parties. The difficulty curve that demands the player to perform almost as proficiently as Michael Jackson himself can be off-putting.

In what looks like an attempt to mimic the highly successful Dance Central, you’re set up on the centre of the stage, with background dancers showing you how to do the moves. To the bottom right, there are cue-cards for the move that’s meant to come up next. After a while, you’ll recognise what each one means, as they repeat fairly regularly through each song, but initially can be hard to apply. The Kinect recognition can be occasionally hit and miss. After a while, it became clear that a couple of our moves weren’t being recognised because of our space constraints, but at the same time, there were a lot of moves that would sometimes be recognised as ‘perfect’ one time and a ‘miss’ in another. And there was very little to indicate what you did wrong. Similarly, despite all the fiddling with the pitch correction, the Kinect microphone would often miss the first word sung in a sentence, and there was no indication over what we did wrong one time, when it seemed like we did it right the first time.

The bare-boned feature list wouldn’t have been an issue if the game wasn’t so demanding of the player. In principle, the Kinect functionality is best described as solid. However, the lack of the connection between the training and the actual performing creates most of the problems with a pretty steep difficulty curve. While you will learn as you play, there is little to help you out to tell you what you’ve done wrong and with a dearth of modes, there really isn’t much incentive to learn and master the performances, unless you’re after some heavily demanding achievements. Overall, the learning curve is probably too high for a title that would be aimed at a casual/party market. People playing for the first time, or in an inebriated state are unlikely to get far in the game.

Those scores are a myth!

Those scores are a myth!
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As with most games within this ‘performance’ genre, the visuals aren’t as elaborate as most other genres. However, Michael Jackson: The Experience has a rather simple but elegant and characteristic presentation. Each song is performed in an appropriate and faithful backdrop, while the backup dancers are presented in excellent detail. And the training videos are recreated with very little loss in quality. It’s no technical marvel, but it works really well. As mentioned above, the audio side of the game is beyond fault. All of the songs are pretty much classics, and they’re all faithfully recreated in the game.

The Kinect-enabled Xbox 360 version of Michael Jackson: The Experience is a faithful effort in trying to recreate the player as Michael Jackson himself. But as anyone will tell you, his talent as a performer is far beyond any ordinary individual, so for the game to expect the players to perform almost exactly like him is quite tough. Especially since you’d expect that a game like this was targeted as a casual/party romp. The music quality is easily among the best of the genre, as it’s right up there with The Beatles: Rock Band. However, the lack of modes, the high demand on players to perform, the hit-and-miss recognition, the lack of incentive to go through and learn the game properly mean that it will likely frustrate the very market that the game is aimed at.
The Score
Given the music quality and selection, it's a shame that Michael Jackson: The Experience is a little too demanding for the audience that it's aimed at.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Michael Jackson: The Experience Content

Michael Jackson: The Experience 'Move' launch trailer
15 Apr, 2011 The kid is not my son...
Michael Jackson: The Experience screens and a video
23 Mar, 2011 Showing off Xbox 360 Kinect and PlayStation Move capabilities.
Michael Jackson: The Experience dances into 2011
24 Oct, 2010 MJ needs more time.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  28/04/2011 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Ubisoft
Genre:
  Dance
Year Made:
  2011
Players:
  4

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