Michael Jackson: The Experience
If we were forced to bust some moves in front of wall-to-wall mirrors, most of us would think twice about rushing to the club dance floor when Thriller is dropped on the crowd – because we look bad.
Not ‘cool’ bad… more like ‘your dad, drunk and getting his John Travolta on’ bad. It’s only once we’ve had a go at dancing along to the Michael Jackson zombie jig that we’re beginning to realise how easy he made it look.
We’re going to need some practice, some raw talent and probably about ten years’ worth of dance lessons. But one out of three isn’t so bad.
Michael Jackson: The Experience actually goes a step further to offer you warm-ups prior to any dancing or practice, a series of dull stretches and wiggling that we suppose is necessary for anyone who isn’t used to such physical exertions.
Not that this game is likely to get the average person out of breath; it’s no EA Sports Active 2.0, and the actual dance moves aren’t quite as dynamic as those you see in Michael Jackson videos.
In reality, it’s more like you’re following the routine of the backing dancers than playing the role of the King Of Pop, though Ubisoft Montreal does its best to make you feel like Jacko anyway.
Highlighting your on-screen avatar as an incandescent version of yourself, which splutters stars and stands out next to your backing dancers and from the relatively dark backdrops, is enough to make you look like the lead in an Michael Jackson video.
But by turning you into an all-singing-and-dancing, glowing Jackson incarnate, Ubisoft Montreal has cleverly navigated a problem that cropped up in another recent Kinect dance title, Konami’s Dance Dance Evolution.
Undoubtedly an inherent problem with Kinect itself, once your image was projected onto the dance stage background it was effectively JPEG’d, throwing up all sorts of jaggies and white space along the border of your avatar and making you look like a Photoshop disaster.
Michael Jackson: The Experience does nearly the same thing (although the image compression is better), but your avatar is so busy spitting out glowies and shining like you’ve just walked out of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone that you have to look very closely at the shots to see it.
It’s certainly hard to notice any problems with image quality once you’re throwing shapes and flipping your hat along to Smooth Criminal.
The Michael Jackson experience itself gives you the title role of the late King Of Pop and lets you recreate his dance moves and vocals to the best of your ability, and to score as many points as possible.
The back catalogue is pretty comprehensive, stretching from the 1979 hit Rock With You, through classics from the Thriller, Bad and HIStory albums to The Ultimate Collection in 2004.
Most of us weren’t born as gifted singers and dancers, or brought up to pursue a career in the music industry, therefore the engine is fairly lenient.
Most songs come with three options: Dance, Performance (singing and dancing) and Master Performance, which is a stricter judge of your abilities.
It’s not quite the judging panel from So You Think You Can Dance? though. We put no practice in, frequently botched the dance moves that popped up in the autocue in the bottom right of the screen and even when we got them right, we were usually too far out of sync to be anywhere near a convincing enough lead.
You won’t get away with doing the funky chicken while your dancers bob their heads in perfect harmony to Billie Jean in Master Performance, but a fairly close approximation seems to please the body-tracking AI enough to regularly achieve a ‘perfect’ sequence, even though we danced like a portly
middle-aged guy trying (and failing) to recapture his youth.
Singing is worse in this respect: we found we could hum along to the track and in some cases, remain completely silent and still be given the thumbs up, scoring 90 per cent and above by the end of the song.
It renders vocal-only tracks like I Just Can’t Stop Lovin’ You completely redundant and makes the points system somewhat pointless too. In fact, because there’s no way to fail and to get shut down as in nearly every dancing or singing game that precedes Michael Jackson: The Experience, there’s very little feeling of reward or progression.
Every track is available from the start, and all you have to do to unlock the toughest Master Performance setting on each
one is to finish Performance mode, which is a doddle.
Michael Jackson: The Experience has plenty of merit in the visual department, though. Short of the stunning The Beatles: Rock Band, it trumps just about every music title before it with sets and camera direction that would do a real televised Michael Jackson concert proud.
We suppose it’s pretty easy to get inspired by the creative use of special effects and props in original Michael Jackson videos like Thriller and Smooth Criminal, and that doesn’t detract from the fact that Ubisoft Montreal has made the most of the licensed material available to it.
A shame that it barely qualifies as a game then – but we suppose the clue is in the name. Michael Jackson: The Experience is an inspirational Jacko dance-move tutor and a worthy homage for fans of the King Of Pop but, as a challenging and competitive Xbox 360 game, it’s no Thriller. Badoom-tisch!