It may not seem like it to those only just dipping their toes in the interactive entertainment pool, but gaming and the King of Pop have had a long association. From his drool-worthy arcade cabinet collection to Sega’s Moonwalker and Space Channel 5, it’s clear that his legacy involves more than just music and there’s enough spillover to make any fan of videogames get all teary. The question though is whether Ubisoft’s Michael Jackson: The Experience for Microsoft’s Kinect stands up to that legacy and does a legend proud.
Rather than going the Dance Central route with pre-rendered characters that you mimic, The Experience goes one up, in theory at least, by projecting your body into the game (similar to what Ubisoft pulled off in Your Shape: Fitness Evolved). While this looks neat, you’ll soon miss the luxury of a central character to learn moves from. This is alleviated somewhat by the FMV-esque backup dancers that show up in certain videos, but there’s never a connection that’s built which makes the dancing easier to work your head around.
MJ don't need no gravity
And you’ll need all the help you can get trying to pull off some of MJ’s moves. They all look crazy fun, and the backup chaps and chapettes certainly seem to be having a genuine blast. Here’s where I bring Dance Central up again. The reason it worked so well (and sold heaps and heaps) was because the dance sequences themselves were so well thought out. You have none of that here; with Ubisoft seemingly content with mo-capping a bunch of Michael Jackson routines and sticking their Your Shape tech on top of it without taking then time to think about how it’ll all flow together. Dancing’s all about the flow, remember?
The sequences here, unlike those in Dance Central, haven’t been broken down and structured to make them easy to pick up. While the flash-cards have been carried over from Harmonix’s game, they aren’t as well implemented here. They changeover too soon (even with the added countdown), and require you to memorise complex routines rather than simple steps. It just doesn’t feel as satisfying as it should. The routines also mostly stay the same no matter your difficulty.
Real men wear pink
You have 30 tracks on the setlist, but sadly not all of them can be danced to. There are songs that require you to sing (don’t get all excited, just yet) using the Kinect’s built in microphone. The voice recognition really lets the music down though, and you’ll find yourself getting passable scores by just humming through entire tracks. Certain songs will task you with both singing and dancing, but its all so stop-start that you lose all momentum switching between the two.
Most songs have individual stages to dance on, with crowds and props from MJ’s music videos serving to amp up the atmosphere. There are also thoughtful little touches at times, such as the game sliding you across the screen when you attempt a moonwalk, or superimposing MJ in place of you when you pull off an iconic move. On the other hand, there’s no career progression to speak of and no unlocks at all. Music videos, a Jacko career overview or other random knick-knacks would have made for a more complete ‘Experience’, especially when it says as much on the case. There are tutorial videos to be viewed, but they’re un-interactive enough that you may be better off not watching them at all.
Black or white?
So should you run out and buy Michael Jackson: The Experience over Dance Central? Not unless you already have that game and are craving more Kinect dancing. While it may be of passing interest to die-hard (and curious) MJ fans, this isn’t a game that you should go out of your way to own.