Nearly two years after the death of the King of Pop Ubisoft have released a Kinect enabled dance game featuring about 30 of Michael Jackson’s hit songs. Unlike other Kinect Dancing games Michael Jackson The Experience also includes the option to sing, be it through Kinect’s inbuilt microphone, or through any USB Microphone if you fancy hearing your own voice booming through your television.
From the outset I was pleasantly surprised by how much polish has gone in to this version of the game. Utilising similar technology to Ubisoft’s Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, rather than featuring an on-screen avatar, you are actually transplanted directly in to the game, except covered in a glittery sparkly light, with no noticeable lag.
As soon as you start the game all songs and game modes are available to you, so there is no Guitar Hero styled single player campaign with missions that need to be completed in order to unlock tracks. The game modes to choose from are:
Dance Mode: This tasks you with following on screen prompts in order to rack up the highest score possible. Matching the simple on screen movements in time with the music earns you more points.
Performance Mode: This mode breaks each song in to numerous sections, and alternates between asking you to Dance, and having you Sing along. You will never be tasked with singing and dancing at the same time, but if you really feel the need to sing whilst dancing there is no penalty.
Vocal Performance: Essentially Vocal performance mode is Michael Jackson Karaoke, however it is only available on a small number of songs that have minimal dancing, such as Earth Song.
Master Performance Mode: Also only available on a select number of tracks, Master Performance is a more fast paced and complex version of Performance Mode. This is a mode exclusively for those that are looking for a challenge.
The songs that do not have a Master Performance mode only really have one difficulty, which is fairly forgiving and does not require split second reaction times. Because of this Dance Mode and Performance Mode are ideal for people of all ages and sizes, especially in a party setting. For instance, my two year old niece gave the game a try, and managed to earn a respectable score for someone that was just jumping up and down and running around in circles. Unlike other music games it is impossible to fail a performance.
Speaking of parties, this game features turn based multiplayer that accommodates up to four players. Participants are required to split in to two teams, and each team member takes turns at performing during a song. The game breaks down the performance of each player at the end, and the team with the highest score wins. It is a shame that there is no multiplayer mode that allows to players to dance against each other.
The Playstation version of the game utilised the Playstation Eye to snap pictures of you as you perform and then upload them to facebook, which is a feature that some may love, and others may hate. The Kinect version also takes pictures of you as you play, but you are unable to post them anywhere online. Instead your pictures are used in the leaderboards, attaching your face to your score.
Another shame is the fact that so few songs feature the Vocal Performance Mode. It is easy to imagine that a number of Michael Jackson fans would want to sing along to some of his most famous songs. For the life of me I cannot see why they would not include Vocal Performance Mode for each and every single song in the game.
The actual song list itself is a fairly competent ‘Best Of’ selection of tracks. However, when you consider that Michael Jackson recorded about 100 songs in his lifetime, the track-list is actually quite small. It would have been nice to have some of the songs that weren’t released as singles. It could be that Ubisoft plan on releasing more songs as downloadable content, however there appears to be no sign of any yet.
One slight issue is that a number of the dance moves, particularly in the Master Performances, require you to perform a move with your arms that is similar to the Kinect pause gesture. Fortunately you are rarely required to hold it in place for long enough to pause the game, but it can cause a bit of panic.
From the outset there are a number of videos starring professional dancers that show you how to dance like Michael. These videos are an amusing distraction for those that wish to take the skills they have picked up in this game to the dance floor. A strange omission is the inability to watch Michael Jackson’s music videos; this is strange because parts of the music videos flash on-screen, so they clearly were allowed to use the footage.
The overall gameplay experience is not massively hindered by these niggles. In fact there is a lot to love about Michael Jackson The Experience, especially if you are a fan of his music and are looking for an easy to play family friendly alternative to the other dancing games out there.
Graphics 3/5: Featuring a bold, yet simple art design Michael Jackson The Experience manages to look good without being too distracting. One thing that may put off hardcore Michael Jackson fans is the distinct lack of the King of Pop himself. The Wii and PS3 versions of the game feature Michael showing you how to dance, but the Kinect version has you taking his place. This is disappointing because whenever a dance move comes up a generic backing dancer shows you how to do it, when they could have had Michael be the one showing you.
Sound 5/5: Each of the songs is incredibly clear and polished. If you are a fan of Michael Jackson’s music then you will likely already have this game.
Gameplay 3/5: Performance Mode and Dance Mode are incredibly simple to play, and will provide a nice little workout. However, there are a few peculiar choices, such as making vocal performance available on only a small number of songs, that bring it down.
Longevity 3/5: As things stand there are about 30 songs on the disk, and a number of different game modes. As such, this really is a game that is best suited for parties. The game’s lifespan could easily be extended by having extra songs made available for downloading on Xbox Live Marketplace, but as of writing that does not seem entirely likely.
Overall: 4 out of 5
As far as dancing games go Michael Jackson The Experience is a very straight forward, easy to play game, with a decent selection of iconic songs on offer. Those that like dancing games and have even a passing interest in Michael Jackson will doubtlessly have a lot of fun with it.
- Luke Mears