Michael Jackson: The Experience Review
Written : Saturday, May 07, 2011
By: Dan Webb (GT: Webb x360a)
Despite what you might think of Michael Jackson as a person, the man as a musician was a complete and utter genius who has been an inspiration for most, if not all, of the music industry. It’s pretty fitting then that the certified King of Pop gets his own singing and dancing game then... especially since fanmania goes through the roof after the death of their favourite celebrity. Michael Jackson: The Experience, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, makes use of the Your Shape engine for Kinect to great effect, but it lacks a certain lack of direction to consider this the ultimate MJ experience.
"Beat it? Don't mind if I do. Actually, that sounds horrible!"
Michael Jackson: The Experience is essentially a karaoke and dancing game that focuses around Michael Jackson’s catalogue of music. I’d love to sit here and say it’s a true MJ experience as you journey through his life, his ups and downs and all that, and get in touch with his music, but it’s not. And that is the game’s first foible: a lack of structure. Well, I say lack, but if you can call a list of 29 alphabetised songs that you play in any order a structure in the first place, then you can call me the King of Poptarts. The game thus has no real goals to strive for and lacks a certain level of direction, and aside from achieving 5-stars in all of the tracks on the disc, there isn’t really much else to do.
Speaking of a lack of direction, the game doesn’t really cater for karaoke singers or dancers either; you have to essentially do both. Sure, there are the odd songs on there that are karaoke only and you can select just to perform the dances, but it’s really geared towards those that do both together – you won’t be singing and dancing at the same time though, so you can consider that a blessing. If the Kinect mic wasn’t so bloody awkward to set up or so unresponsive to your angelic voice as well, it’d make things easier. After faffing around for a good ten minutes trying to get it to pick up my voice properly, I decided to bust out the Lips mic and use that... you do have to dance with it then though.
While it’s true that the track list can make and break a music game, it does both here... if that’s possible. Most of the classic songs are all present and correct with their wonderful and uniquely choreographed routines, like Thriller, Smooth Criminal, Beat It, Billie Jean, Rock With You, Bad and so on, and there’s even a good mix of ballads like Earth Song, Heal the World and Stranger in Moscow. And did I mention Speed Demon was there? No? Well it is... and it’s ace! The problem with the soundtrack is its relatively small size. I’d hardly class 29 out of 90+ songs as an experience. Each track does have a wonderfully hand-crafted and unique stage to go with it though, so from that perspective, it does feel like a bit of an experience. We just wish there were more songs!
From a game mechanics standpoint, for the most part it works. In short, it’s a lot like Dance Central with cue cards appearing down the right hand side of the screen, but this time on a timer, and dancers on screen to use as aids for timing and such. Unfortunately there’s no real tutorial to explain any of this, so it’ll take a few songs before it clicks what the number was for next to the next dance move. The tracking seems pretty spot on, and despite there being a slight delay with your on-screen persona, it doesn’t really affect the outcome of your performance. That being said, the vocal tracking isn’t exactly complex and I’d even go as far as to say it doesn’t track pitch or even what you’re singing – many a time I could mutter utter nonsense and get a ‘perfect’ rating for my nonsensical ad libs.
"Light up the stage as you pull off the moves of the man himself."
Taking advantage of the Your Shape menu interface, as well as the tech, Michael Jackson: The Experience is easy to navigate and a joy to play. However, it’s certainly not a game for everyone, offering quite complex routines to get your head around, but it does provide a fairly intensive workout if you’re looking for a fun way to shift that excess fat. Songs will need to be played multiple times and doing the lean out of Smooth Criminal and Moonwalking your way through Billie Jean never gets old. If it’s not challenging enough, then there’s always the tricky ‘master performances’ as well to learn and groove to. Like most Kinect games though, space is a necessity and we found being stood about 2.5 metres away from the device was the optimal distance... which is quite a gap between you and the Kinect device!
Outside of the solo experience where you choose tracks randomly until you’re bored, you also have a co-op mode; where you’ll combine the score of your team who have certain parts of the song to perform; as well as a battle mode; which is a straight up score attack. These might provide a bit of respite and breakdown the monotony of the game’s lack of structure, but considering that most of the routines can get a tad complex, it’s not really a game that you can just dive head first in to. It’s a game you need to work at. If you do need some help though, there are some tutorial vids that move through the moves so fast that you feel like they’re doing it on purpose to rub sand in your face because you can’t move with the grace and elegance of Wacko Jacko himself. There is no online play, however, but there is a potential for DLC.
The achievements strike a good balance between challenging and achievable, although they lack any kind of real creativity. The vast majority – 38 of 47 – of the achievements are awarded for 5 starring the game’s songs – some require beating the tricky master performance as well. While this on its own is something fun to work towards, it doesn’t really inspire you to stick at it. The other achievements for perfecting a Moonwalk and the Smooth Criminal lean are better, but they’re too few and far between. The ease though ultimately boils down to your rhythm and ability to learn complex choreographies.
While Michael Jackson: The Experience lacks the structure and depth we were hoping for, and bears a really thin catalogue of songs, the game can actually be quite a pleasure to get into. An absolute must for MJ fans – obviously! – and for those who’ve become quite accustomed to the delights of Dance Central, it lacks the depth and structure to even be considered a must-rent for everyone else though. A decent enough start for Ubisoft if they’re looking to crack the dance-minded Kinect owners market, but unlike on the Wii, the Xbox 360 already has a trend setting rival to their musical offerings and they’re going to have to do a hell of a lot better to one-up the brilliance of music maestros Harmonix. You could say, Michael Jackson: The Experience is to Dance Central what Bubbles was to Michael Jackson. Ironic, right?
A pretty damn iconic track listing, let down only by its pretty small selection. 29 songs out of a possible 90+? Not much of an “experience” if you ask us.
You can’t really knock the game’s visuals, as each stage is beautifully crafted, but there isn’t really much to the game outside of that. The dancers are dressed the part and look like they fit... but that’s it, I guess.
The dancing aspect works for the most part, but the singing mechanics are very basic, especially considering what Xbox 360 gamers are used to with games like Rock Band and Lips.
It’s a track list that you choose songs from, nothing more, nothing less. Rather tepid in all honesty. No structure and no direction. Rather disappointing really.
Challenging at times, achievable at others, but they lack a serious amount of creativity.
Michael Jackson: The Experience is a rather decent start for Ubisoft Montreal and its Kinect-centric performance titles. Nailing the dancing mechanics was the big test – and they passed that – but everything else doesn’t seem to have been given the same time and effort. With no structure, a distinct lack of direction and a small track-list, Michael Jackson: The Experience shows potential, but comes out looking more like the King of Flop than the King of Pop.