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Michael Jackson: The Experience

ESRB: Everyone - E
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Kinect
 
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Author:

Published by: Ubisoft

Features:

Requires Kinect Sensor
Voice Enabled
Players: 1-4
Co-op: 2-4
7MB to Game Save
HDTV 720p/1080i/1080p
Leaderboards

I still recall the days when I would throw on my Michael Jackson glitter glove and do the moon walk on our slippery kitchen floor as “Beat It” would be blasting in the background on my Dad’s record player. Yes, those were some good times indeed. Fast forward almost 30-years later (yikes it has been that long) and Ubisoft releases a game for the Xbox 360 Kinect where you can sing and dance to MJ’s greatest hits. The Kinect has now seen a few dance games since its inception and the results have been fairly positive. So it really comes as no surprise we see yet another interactive dance and sing-along game for the Kinect starring none other than the King of Pop himself.

Graphics

Visually, Michael Jackson: The Experience for the Kinect is a decent looking game. It has a similar artistic style as Dance Central and even Guitar Hero to a lesser degree. The game is vibrant, colourful and does a decent job at paying tribute to Michael Jackson. Unlike many other games in its genre, you do not strictly dance along to animated in-game characters. Instead, the game uses a technology called Player Projection, which puts your own image in the game allowing you to star in your own Michael Jackson video. After the Kinect scans your body and face into the game, your player appears on screen as a glittery ghost-like character. A portion of my face was cut-out, so my in-game facial image looked a tad creepy. Nevertheless, the results are pretty cool and the developers are given kudos for attempting such a bold move this early into the Kinect's life-span. This being said, I would have preferred to dance along to MJ himself or just to the other back-up dancers already included in the game.

As for the rest of the game's visuals, Michael Jackson: The Experience is a good looking game. I was however a little disappointed with the lack of venues and variety. Also, I found that the flash cards displayed at the bottom right hand side of the screen could have been a bit more prominent in the game. They look decent albeit plain and somewhat out of place. They could have been placed perhaps underneath the dancers making them a little easier to follow. Looking back and forth from the dancer to the cards was difficult for me to say the least.

Sound

In a Dance Rhythm based game the sound is arguably the most important aspect. Fortunately, Michael Jackson: The Experience delivers in this department. All the songs are master tracks giving the game instant credibility and authenticity. Nothing grates me more than when I am playing a music or dance based videogame and some cover band is playing my favorite song(s). The songs all sound terrific in 5.1 surround sound. It was great to listen to some of those tracks I had not heard in years such as “Wanna be Startin Something” and “Leave me Alone.” For those curious about the songs you get out of the box, here is Michael Jackson: The Experience’s complete set list:

1. Bad
2. Beat It
3. Billie Jean
4. Black Or White
5. Dirty Diana
6. Don't Stop Till You Get Enough
7. Earth Song
8. Ghosts
9. Heal The World
10. In The Closet
11. Leave Me Alone
12. Money
13. Remember The Time
14. Rock With You
15. Smooth Criminal
16. Speed Demon
17. Streetwalker
18. Sunset Driver
19. The Girl Is Mine
20. The Way You Make Me Feel
21. They Don't Care About Us
22. Thriller
23. Wanna Be Startin' Something
24. Who Is It
25. Will You Be There
26. Workin' Day And Night

As you can see, it is not a bad set list at all. All the songs get you moving and will surely appease any wannabe MJ fan. My only concern is with how many songs you get out of the box. Simply put, 26 tracks are not enough in my view. When games such as Rock Band or Guitar Hero come with over 80 tracks, 26 seems way too few. It only took a couple of hours to try nearly all the songs. Ideally I would have liked to have seen the playlist doubled to 60. Of course this would mean we would have to get into some of the more obscure songs; but hardcore MJ fans would want this anyhow.

The other in-game sounds such as the background tunes that play when you are in the menus all sound decent. Overall, I have no complaints with the sound aspect of the game as no glaring deficiencies stand out in this area.

Gameplay

For those of you who have no idea how Michael Jackson: The Experience works, it is essentially a dance rhythm game that also includes a karaoke element and plays out in similar fashion to Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution games and Sony’s SingStar games. The main difference is Michael Jackson: The Experience requires you to use your entire body as opposed to merely frantic foot stepping. Also, Michael Jackson: The Experience does not require a microphone as the Kinect can detect your voice in the room. Michael Jackson: The Experience utilizes the Xbox 360 Kinect motion peripheral to read the player’s full body as you follow a series of ‘flash cards’ that depict a dance routine. Your goal is to mimic the moves of the dancers on the screen. Some of the moves can involve a simple side step or arm wave but others can involve much more complex moves involving upper and lower body motions. As for the singing elements, you can either use the Kinect's built-in microphone or an attached microphone or headset to sing along to the lyrics displayed at the bottom of the screen. Michael Jackson: The Experience does not measure how well you know the lyrics but rather uses a system that gauges your pitch. Unfortunately, there is no horizontal bar seen in games such as SingStar to indicate how well you are singing. Instead the lyrics change colour depending on how well you hit the notes. It is not a bad system, I just prefer the pitch bar. That is Michael Jackson: The Experience in a nutshell and at its core it is great game for Jackson fans. This being said, it has some issues and the experience is not necessarily a deep one.

For starters, Michael Jackson: The Experience does not feature a single player progression mode. Michael Jackson: The Experience is all about jumping into a song and performing. The lack of a single player story progression mode was a bit of let down as this is something Guitar Hero and Rockband fans have become accustomed to. It would have been fantastic to be able to mirror perhaps Michael Jackson’s career in some sort of single player story experience. It is certainly not a deal-breaker by any means but I felt there was certainly room for so much more here.

Another letdown had to be navigating through the menus. This was not a big issue but more of a small annoyance. Dance Central for the Kinect features a slick menu selecting system where you swipe your arm across your body to highlight and select items. It works quite well. In Michael Jackson: The Experience you need to hold your arm out and highlight menu items. The height of your hand determines which item you have highlighted in the menu and you then have to wait for the circle to fill before the item is selected. For more mature gamers, the menu selection system is fine but for younger ones it can be a bit finicky.

Once you select a song, it is recommended wannabe Jackson’s begin learning various dance moves of the given song in Practice mode. In Practice mode you can rehearse each dance segment found in Michael Jackson: The Experience. This acts as a tutorial of sorts before you commence each song. Each song has its own dance routine, so learning all the ins and outs is key to gaining a good score. Yes much like every other dance rhythm game on the market, The Experience features a score system for every song. You can jump into a song and start dancing away without going through the tutorial; however, you will struggle. When you feel you are ready to jump onstage you just pick your difficulty and get started.

Fortunately, you do not have to be a good singer to play Michael Jackson: The Experience. Most songs feature a "Dance Only" version of the song, which means the player will not be asked to sing. But for those looking for a complete Michael Jackson experience you will want to warm up your pipes. The singing aspects of the game worked so-so but I was disappointed there was no pitch meter featured in the game. Also, far too often the Kinect would pick up the lyrics from the speakers. There were times I would not sing at all but I would still get perfect scores.

As for the dancing aspects, I was simply amazed at how responsive the game was to my body motions. Sure, every so often I would feel like I nailed a particular move only for the game to not recognize it. These instances however were not all that common and did not take much away from the gameplay experience. Performing a dance routine is not all about following the given dance cues either. Following those dance cards however can be tasking. I found it easier to just follow the backup dancers on the screen as following the cards seem to take away from the experience.

In terms of other modes, Michael Jackson: The Experience features some multiplayer party modes. Up to four players can jump in and out of a song at any time. You take turns performing each segment of a given song and the results make for an entertaining experience. Similar to Dance Central, Michael Jackson: The Experience includes a Battle mode where two teams (two players per team) compete in a head-to head dance routine battle. The team with the highest score is the winner. There is also an MJ School where you learn how to perform Michael Jackson’s genuine moves by watching some clips of the King of Pop himself performing the various moves. You just follow the dancer onscreen and use the Player Projection to improve your style.

Another disappointing aspect with the game is the limited online functionality. In fact there is no online ability to dance with or against a buddy or stranger from another city. Michael Jackson: The Experience does post your friends' scores on the side of the screen after you have played a song. Otherwise, the lack of online modes in the game is quite a letdown.


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