I wouldn't call myself a Michael Jackson fan, really. Sure, I enjoy some of his songs - who doesn't? - but I don't think I have a single one of them in my collection. But when I heard the unmistakable strains of "Smooth Criminal" coming from around the corner, I couldn't help but point my feet in that direction. The music was coming from a huge stage set up at the Ubisoft booth, with dancers swinging and strutting as they played Michael Jackson The Experience for the Wii. And damn if I didn't want to join them.
Michael Jackson The Experience is basically Ubisoft's Just Dance shellaced with a thick coat of the King of Pop. Rather than featuring all sorts of different artists, Experience features just one, but if you're going to pick a performer to base your dance game on, MJ is hard to beat. Though Ubisoft was cagey on how many songs the game will ultimately feature, they did tell me that the roster will include tunes from Jackson's entire career, from when he was a small tyke with the Jackson 5 right up to his very last hits.
Playing The Experience is pretty simple: Pick a song, grab the Wii Remote, and follow the dance instructions on the screen. The only thing being tracked is the remote, so you could get away with standing still and moving your arms around, but what fun is that? Michael - or a close facsimile, anyway - dances in the middle of the screen, showing you just how truly uncoordinated you are. There are many different Michaels to be had: young Michael, afro Michael, 80s Michael, and so on.
I watched enthralled as Freddie Kreuger and a kid who couldn't have been more than 5 wrapped up their "Smooth Criminal" routine. Then Pikachu and pals hot stepped to "Billie Jean." My feet could be denied no longer. If I couldn't dance better than an electric rat, I had no business being a game journalist.
Ok, it made sense in my head at the time.
I weasled my way on stage and shook my groove thing to "Beat It." Was I any good? No, not really. It probably took me half the song just to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. Did I look like a complete idiot? Oh, more than likely, yes. No-one is ever going to accuse me of bringing da noise or da funk. But I was in extremely good company - everyone who tested their dancing mettle looked at least somewhat foolish doing it, but all of them left with a huge grin and a laugh. Michael Jackson The Experience may be one of life's great equalizers. Nearly impossible to resist, and virtually guaranteed to turn the most stoic introvert to a giggling, gyrating dance machine.
Michael Jackson The Experience comes out for the Wii on November 23, and will be out for Move and Kinect some time next year. Fingers crossed that the 360 version takes advantage of Kinect's foot-tracking ability to incorporate some new moves. It's not really a Michael Jackson dancing experience without moon walking, you know?