Music and dancing games seem to be a dime a dozen these days with Kinect’s Dance Central and the various Rock Band and Heros. Ubisoft’s experience with Just Dance gives them a leg up in developing a game based on the signature dance moves of the late great Michael Jackson. It may seem odd to have a game based on the deceased King of Pop, but Michael Jackson The Experience is far from a cheap cash-in. The moves of the Gloved One translate surprisingly well to a dance videogame and gives the player a new appreciation for the pop phenomenon of Michael Jackson.
The game is simple. You hold the Wii Remote in your hand and follow the choreography for 26 of Michaels Jackson’s best songs. Even if you’re not a huge fan of Jackson’s music, you’ll soon find yourself emulating his signature dance moves. Want to turn back the clock and strut to Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough? Want to do the classic and slightly suggestive Beat It move with your right hand? Want to break your wrists like a funky zombie in Thriller? It’s all right there. Even the less well known songs like Leave Me Alone and Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ shine with Michael’s soul and grace.
I’m not one for needless nostalgia, but I can say that the spirit of Michael Jackson lives on in videogame form. It’s not clear how the Ubisoft team did it, and frankly I don’t care if it was an excellent motion capture team or whether the animation was based on videos and concert footage, but the animations look as if Michael Jackson was dancing with you. The backdrops are less important, but they all adequately place you and Jackson into the setting for each song.
As you try to mirror Jackson’s moves on the screen, you get feedback on whether you’ve got the moves down, from an X for no points to Perfect for nailing the beat. It’s pretty clear that the game only tracks movement from your right hand, so you can cheat a little on moves that only involve your left side. Some songs have a Gold Move which I suppose gives you extra points. These come at special moments, which usually involve iconic moves such as raising your right hand in the air in Thriller. Your score grows up the side of the screen and fancy gold sparkle animation plays when you pass a “star’ milestone. After the song is done, your score is totaled for you and I thought it was a cool touch to let you enter your name in less than five characters to that song’s leaderboard. I could see a healthy competition between friends to get the top score.
But if you think the game is going to be easy, you got another thing coming. Michael Jackson’s moves are tough, and it’s not an easy feat to score higher than one or two stars. The difficulty of the dancing is tied to the song. You can’t play Thriller on easy, for example; it’s always going to be “Inhuman” to mimic Jackson’s undead moves. The game provides a clue as to what the next dance move is going to be, but it’s a little hard to interpret on the pictographs on the first playthrough. You do start to learn the choreography after a while, so multiple plays will see your score start to rise.
Other than that, there’s not much of a game here. All of the game’s songs are available when you first put in the disc. That’s a great feature for when you want to invite all your friends over and start dancing, but it doesn’t give you any sense of progression. The only thing that you can unlock from scoring a number of “stars” is a series of training videos by three of Michael Jackson’s dancers. The bits from these dancers are not very informative or instructive; the whole “Dance School” feature fills a bit tacked on. It would have been a lot more helpful if the dancers actually helped you while you were playing the game instead of just playing a video. It’s a double no-no that you only unlock these videos by scoring well dancing the very moves that it tries to teach you. How counter-intuitive is that?
But none of that really matters, because Michael Jackson The Experience is not meant to played by yourself. Put a Wii Remote in the hands of a bunch of people who like to have fun and they’ll be dancing to Smooth Criminal in no time. A lot of the songs can only be played alone, but most of your favorites are classified either as Duo, where you and someone else (usually female) dance together, or Crew, where up to three other players can grab a controller and become your backup dancers. You may need tons of room in front of your TV to fit all of your zombies in orange jumpsuits, but dancing with a crew behind you is one of the joys of Michael Jackson The Experience. It’s a smart feature for the inevitable chaos that comes with groups of people that you can pick up a Wii Remote and join in at any point during a song. The songs are a little on the long side, and you will definitely feel like you’ve gotten a killer workout after dancing to three or four in a row. Just ask The Escapist staff after I convinced them all to dance Thriller with me. I’m not the only who’s sore. Even if you’re taking a break from sweating on the dance floor, the game displays all of the lyrics as Jackson sings them allowing you to find a new appreciation for his music.
The Wii version of the game is pretty basic, but the Kinect and Move iterations coming in Spring 2011 will provide karaoke support, which should make it even more challenging. These will also feature full body tracking, which won’t let you cheat by only mimicking your right hand moves like you can with the Wii Remote. I could see getting bored with the lack of game-like features once the novelty of dancing wears off, and I wish that Ubisoft included a career mode for that reason. For now, Michael Jackson The Experience is a great party game that lets the King of Pop live on.
Bottom Line: I picked up Michael Jackson The Experience as a skeptic, but I had a lot of fun dancing with my sequined glove despite myself. There’s not much of a game beyond mastering the choreography, but it’s worth it if you ever wanted to dance with a legend.
Recommendation: Buy it if you love Michael Jackson or you have a dance crew who’s been aching for more authentic moves. Otherwise, rent it for your office Christmas party. You won’t regret it.[rating=4]
This review is based on the Wii version of the game.
Game: Michael Jackson The Experience
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier / Ubisoft Paris
Release Date: November 23rd, 2010
Available from: Amazon