Reviewed: January 18, 2011
Released: November 23, 2010
Michael Jackson passed away just over a year and a half now, and it’s a well-published fact that the Michael Jackson Estate has made more revenue in the first year since his passing than in any single year of his career. From the countless record re-issues, a blockbuster tour documentary, and innumerable advertising deals, one thing is clear: there are a lot of people making a lot of money on a dead superstar.|
That being said, the Michael Jackson Estate has ventured into the world of video gaming by joining forces with the folks responsible for one of the best received dance gaming franchises – Ubisoft’s Just Dance. The result is a technically impressive but half-baked spin-off title centered around the deceased King of Pop, a motion-based Just Dance spin-off titled Michael Jackson: The Experience.
Before I dig too far into the review, I need to describe the focus group I used to put Michael Jackson: The Experience to the test – my children: Mieke, Aidan, and Dominic. My ten-year-old daughter Mieke is extremely athletic and coordinated, but severely lacking in rhythm – she’s into hard rock and old-school punk. Eight year old Aidan has the rhythm in spades, but he lacks any sense of coordination – he’s into acoustic singer-songwriter and folk. But six-year-old Dominic – well, he is a certified Michael Jackson fanatic, and has been since the age of two. He has impeccable rhythm, and via YouTube had already mastered a majority of Michael Jackson’s most well-known video dance routines by the time he was four. Obviously, I had a diverse group of gamers at the ready to help me run Michael Jackson: The Experience through its paces.
The Experience begins rather unceremoniously – with no career mode to speak of, there are only three single-player modes offered with each being only minor variants of the others. The first is “Classic” mode, in which gamers dance as the King of Pop himself. The second mode, “Duo,” puts gamers in the dancing shoes of Jackson’s duet partners and/or video co-stars for songs that have two stars (i.e. That Girl is Mine). Finally “Crew” mode lets gamers dance as one of Jackson’s backup dancers.
All 29 of the game’s songs and 3 gameplay modes are available at the game’s outset. While this may be a welcome feature for party-goers wishing to immediately jump into their favorite Michael Jackson tunes – this overall lack of structure ultimately leaves gamers no incentive for single-player progression other than the ability to open a series of training videos. Where are the Michael Jackson videos, the backstage footage?
Thankfully for the folks at Ubisoft, the proven Just Dance mechanics save the day, delivering a solid waggle-based dancing experience using the Wii remote. Swinging around a controller might seem a bit pedestrian under the shadow of the full-body mapping of the Xbox 360 Kinect – but the folks at Ubisoft Paris know how to get people dancing, and The Experience definitely hold up its end of the bargain.
Visually, the game is an odd neo-psychedelic mix of heavily filtered Michael Jackson full motion video superimposed over static backgrounds. The result is both captivating and creepy at the same time, and it was often difficult to pay attention to the instructional dancing icons without being distracted by the oddly angelic Jackson character moving about.
I do not care how cool you think you are today, or how much you have enjoyed Michael’s fall from grace over the years – there is no denying that Jackson churned out fantastic music that has touched each and every one of us at one point in our lives – at least those of us over 20 years old. Given that, based on the simple fact that Michael Jackson: The Experience features 29 of the best songs culled from the Michael Jackson library, there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the sound quality is fantastic. It was so fun to see the kids getting down to music that meant so much to me as a youngster growing up in the 80’s.
So how did the kids like Michael Jackson: The Experience? Well, regardless of my complaints about the lack of structure – they absolutely loved it. At least whenever they got around to playing it – which wasn’t as often as I suspected based on the enjoyment they were having playing it. Whereas some games have the my begging me to play day after day (Wario Ware, Raving Rabbids, Rock Band, Shred), Michael Jackson: The Experience is one that they only ask me to pop in only once every few day – generally during sleepovers or in a party-like situation. Otherwise, it was all Rock Band and DJ Hero 2.
By far, Dominic had the most fun – no surprise he was able to keep up with Michael throughout many of the big-name songs (Beat It, Billie Jean, and Smooth Criminal). We live in a fairly religious area, and more than once we had a visitor ask if we really felt comfortable letting our 6 year old son dance along with Michael Jackson – and we let them know that we were perfectly fine with it.
At $40 MSRP, I would have to recommend most hardcore gamers to pass on Michael Jackson: The Experience. It is a great novelty to bring out at parties, but otherwise it is a shallow game that does not do much to keep gamers wanting for more. Still, it is technically solid – fitting right in with the Just Dance franchise from which it was built – and if you long for a little more Michael Jackson in your life then The Experience will fit the bill. I just wish that Michael were alive to reap the rewards of his hard work rather than the folks who are making a living off of his name and likeness.