Michael Jackson: The Experience
Wii | Ubisoft | 1 Player / 2-4 Players (local multiplayer) | Out Now
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (pointer)
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28th April 2011; By KnucklesSonic8
To play the game, you simply follow the moves of the on-screen coach, trying to replicate their movements as closely as possible. Along the left of the screen, pictures of silhouettes will rise towards a circle mark situated up above, prepping you for the moves that are about to follow. To help you distinguish which hand you need to raise, lower or start moving first, one of the arms will be coloured with a light blue colour, representing the hand you hold the Wii Remote in. It's never enough to just go off these pictograms -- in fact, it's better that you don't for fear that your movements will be more robotic. But if you're just starting out, they can be helpful tools towards memorizing the moves in each routine.
Michael Jackson: The Experience prides itself in the song selection, and in total there are 26 hits to dance to. Well-known chart-toppers like 'Black or White' make their appearance as do some of his less-popular songs like 'Who Is It' and 'Streetwalker'. The inclusion of these songs help create fan service for followers of MJ's musical work, making it a joy to listen to and experience these songs in a different capacity. Song selection is a crucial component to any dance game and I think Ubisoft did a good job with selecting appropriate picks players could immerse themselves in.
There are three different gameplay styles to choose from depending on the track you choose. Classic style has all players following a Michael Jackson look-alike with the goal of obtaining the highest score. In Duet, you have the option of choosing between two different coaches, with the second being either a back-up dancer. Crew style is basically the same thing except with three dancers on-screen at once. These are all fine and dandy, but I would have liked to see actual gameplay modes incorporated to fuel competition or cooperation for group settings.
Each song features its own eclectic dance stage that captures the feelings of the song or, in some cases, the nature of the official music videos. The different scenarios are usually fitting for each song, as are the different outfits the on-screen dancers wear. The treatment for Billie Jean, for example, looked great visually. In some of the stages, select lyrical phrases will appear on walls, in the sky or on the floor. Sometimes this was actually treated well, but for the most part, I thought this was very cheesy.
Of course, the songs wouldn't mean much if the routines were crappy, as this is a dance game. Thankfully, the choreography in this game isn't terrible, nor is it a cheap-shot system that can be cheated to earn maximum points. No, some of these routines are actually lots of fun to play. A couple notable examples include 'Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough' and 'You Wanna Be Startin' Something'. In my opinion, the routines for 'Working Day and Night' and 'Sunset Driver' were some of the strongest and most fun in the whole game.
Unfortunately, the choreography is not strong all the way through. Songs like Who Is It feature plenty of weak portions where, in some cases, even a simple shake of the controller will suffice. Needless to say, this completely takes away from the dance "experience". You know, it's easy to harp on the game for not having more of Michael Jackson's signature moves, and to be fair the game is pretty challenging in its own right. But to treat some of the slower songs with not nearly the same effort the other picks received is a bit shameful. Even if the developers had to make some songs easier for those who lack natural dance ability, they didn't have to be dumbed down as much as you see here. And that's something I still can't shake off.
Just like in Just Dance 2, most songs feature special Gold Moves that can net you a big point bonus if you manage to execute them properly. Even though the feedback is not immediate, the rumble feature on the controller serves as a nice way of indicating whether you got the bonus or not. I noticed, though, that many of these didn't feel special at all and this was an area where the developers could have included some stronger movesets that would've made the game more worthy of bearing MJ's name.
Another area of concern are the controls. This one is a biggie, and to be honest, your reaction to the system will depend on how much of a stickler you are for high-scores and personal improvement. For the sake of accessibility, the game only requires you to use a single Wii Remote so you wouldn't be wrong to expect the controls wouldn't be terribly precise. The thing is, I was baffled by the fact that despite being so similar to Just Dance 2 where the controls were usually responsive and reliable, this game somehow managed to get a bunch of things wrong in this department.
First off, I found some of the routines featured awkward movements (like putting your arm off to the side and thrusting down then up repeatedly). Other times, issues lied in the apparent strict nature of the evaluations and how inconsistent the score tracking in this game can be at times. A person could earn 9,500 Points and be close to earning 5 Stars in one session, and then the next session get only 6,000 Points or less. And just to be clear, this isn't some sort of a defense mechanism to hide the fact that I'm secretly not good at the game or anything like that. The fact is, the issues with the controls and the way it reads your movements has less to do with the player, and more to do with the way the game was designed.
Furthermore, 5 Star ratings in this game are very hard to come by, partly because of the control scheme and the problems contained therein. I mean, it's definitely not impossible. After days or weeks of playing the same song again and again where you experience both good and not-so-good runs, you'll likely manage to pull it off, seemingly by fluke. As a result, any sort of personal progression is undermined by this flaw and because the evaluations can jump around, you can't rely on this as a means of measuring your progress (or at least as much as you could in Just Dance 2). And to me, that's a major drawback.
Another area where I found myself wrestling to forgive the game was actually in its song selection. There were two big things that annoyed me to the point of almost upsetting me. The first was the very presence of the Wal-Mart Special Edition. I couldn't stand the fact that anyone who really wanted to play Another Part of Me had to get this specific version of this game, which totally goes against everything Michael Jackson believed in -- sharing his music universally, not only to a select few.
More importantly though, this game was missing some key songs. When you consider just how many songs Michael Jackson actually pumped out, the amount of content demonstrated in the song list is kind of weak. I was very disappointed to see that there was no representation of the Invincible album at all -- not the feature album song, nor You Rock My World (which happens to be one of my favourite MJ songs). Even from some of the albums that were represented in the game contained picks that would have been suitable for this game, like 'Off the Wall', 'P.Y.T', 'Man in the Mirror' or even 'Jam'. So in that respect, I found myself struggling to understand why they didn't include songs that deserved to be included, especially when songs like 'In the Closet' and 'Heal the World' made it in. That was a bit ridiculous if you ask me.
The entire interface used to host the game was hardly impressive. You don't have the ability to sort songs in order of difficulty or high-score which may seem like a small thing, but again, coming from Just Dance 2 it's hard not to make note of this. Another thing was that the developers seemed to show no concern over the font choice used to display the names of songs and the lyrics in this game. And speaking of which, the on-screen lyrics were off countless times to the point that it appeared as if no one looked over this before final output. Finally, the most unforgivable aspect of the presentation was the fact that you couldn't create your own profile for tracking scores. In fact, you couldn't even enter your name to personalize your score trackers during gameplay. No, you could only enter your name at the end of the song if you set a new record. Even worse if the fact that you need to do this every single time, and that's just stupid.
In going for a pick-up-and-play approach, Michael Jackson: The Experience presents game options and menu choices through very simple means. Via the Main Menu, you can select the main Dance mode where you pick a song one-by-one, head to the Dance School to watch training videos on how to perform some of the performer's moves, or check out your records and adjust a couple settings under the Options menu. If you're looking for additional bonus content or unlockable incentives pertaining to the King of Pop's history and legacy, you're going to be severely disappointed.
For a game that's flaunted as a full experience, there could have definitely been more modes and special content to make for a more complete package. Honestly, unlocking training videos for doing well was next to useless in my eyes. I really think the developers should have focused more on this aspect of the game with worthwhile bonus content or something else to extend this further beyond just the dancing component. As is, it just seems like a shallow marketing ploy to suggest this game is anything more than what it actually is.
I find it very interesting that Michael Jackson: The Experience is still set at a full price tag of $49.99, which is even higher than the MSRP for Just Dance 2. Ultimately, this game is just not as replayable nor does it contain as much bang for your buck. It's a nice companion to Ubisoft's hit dance game, that's for sure. But even as a big fan of Michael Jackson, I can't say this is worth the price most retailers are asking for it.
Michael Jackson: The Experience is a very mixed bag, overall. The game seems underdeveloped in certain aspects, but polished in others. But with MJ's music as a solid sell, it's of little wonder why fans are flocking to this release in droves. In truth, the effort shown in this release has been more driven by profit motive than anything else. Still, there's no denying this game is a lot of fun to play. Sure, not all the routines are well done, but there's still lots of enjoyment to be had. If you consider yourself a big fan of Michael Jackson, sure enough you've already picked this up. For everyone else who's looking for a fun party game, Michael Jackson: The Experience will serve you well. But because of the flaws in the controls, the interface, and the lack of a push for more content, I'd strongly recommend waiting until you find this on sale before picking this up.
20/30 - Good
Gameplay 7/10 - Choreography is mostly good with some that border on weak, inconsistent controls interfere with the scoring system
Presentation 7/10 - Interface could have been a lot more user-friendly, great song picks, incorrect lyrics, fitting dance stages and backgrounds
Enjoyment 4/5 - Some routines are lots of fun, a great workout, some contain awkward movements, lack of clearly discernible progression is a downer
Extra Content 2/5 - Could have had more songs, missing party modes and worthwhile unlocks, lame training videos, no profiles, not worth the full price
Equivalent to a score of 67% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)