When it comes to music and dancing, there simply is nobody like Michael Jackson. So with the recent peripheral technology made possible with the PlayStation Move and Microsoft Kinect bringing players’ entire bodies into the experience, it was only a matter of time before a developer brought the legendary performer into the motion gaming age. Ubisoft is attempting to establish themselves as Kinect experts by doing just that with Michael Jackson: The Experience, but do they manage to pull of a game that matches the polished and one-of-a-kind performances of the King of Pop, or is the game little more than a fan service? The answer is a bit of both, and anything but simple.
Ubisoft has enjoyed massive success with its previous dance titles Just Dance and Just Dance 2, and millions of copies of Michael Jackson: The Experience sold on the DS, Wii, and PSP. But Kinect and Move owners have had to wait a bit longer for the one game that some might expect will make the costly peripherals worthwhile.
Kinect owners have already had months to grow accustomed to the incredibly polished and intuitive Dance Central from Harmonix, so Ubisoft already has some serious competition to face off against. Fans who expect MJ:TE to be nothing more than just Dance Central with Michael Jackson tracks may be disappointed to realize that different games play very differently, and often not how you would expect.
After my time with Michael Jackson: The Experience on the Xbox 360, two things are clear: Ubisoft has managed to run into many of the stumbling blocks that Harmonix miraculously avoided, and that nothing compares to dancing and singing along with the King of Pop.
It would be a mistake to interpret MJ:TE as yet another cookie-cutter dance title, since its intentions are clear, and more than simply offering some fun while working up a sweat. Any game brandishing Michael Jackson’s name has to embody a commitment to dance, and the amount of content focused on choreography is proof. A fact made even clearer since the game is not incredibly deep or engrossing, at least not to professional dancers or die-hard MJ fans.
The game is divided into three parts: MJ School, Solo and Party modes. The Solo mode lets players dance to segments of classic MJ choreography in the 26 songs that come with the game. In Solo mode, each song gives the option to practice the required dance moves a section at a time in Practice Mode, try their hand at performing the moves on stage in Dance Mode, or combine both dancing and singing in Performance Mode.
In one of the more striking features of MJ:TE, the player’s movements aren’t reflected in an animated avatar onscreen, but real time video of the player that the developers call ‘Player Projection.’ The result is a ghost-like and shimmering version of your own face, proportions and clothing dancing in time with the game’s at-time crudely-animated dancers.
This unfortunately means that clumsy dancers will have no avatars to hide behind, but the ability to wear MJ-esque hats and clothes is a major plus. The idea isn’t implemented perfectly though, as the small amount pf input lag through the Kinect camera can generate some serious confusion when trying to time moves to the music and the projection on screen.
The singing is made possible through the Kinect‘s built-in microphone, but an external headset or microphone is also possible for those craving a bit more realism. While these might sound like a good variety, in practice they certainly leave the player wanting more. Want to get more extensive feedback on a particular move you’re having trouble with? Dance Central gives players the ability to slow the music, and be talked through the move one beat at a time, highlighting the body part that is giving you trouble.