STAFF REVIEW of Michael Jackson: The Experience (Xbox 360)

Saturday, June 18, 2011.
by Matt Paligaru

Michael Jackson: The Experience Box art Every child has a lingering memory of the first thing they really wanted and begged their parents for. Whatever it was, we all retain that one memory that stands out above all.

For me personally, the first time I really begged my parents for something was when I was 4. That summer, Michael Jackson was releasing a new record called "Bad" and despite the fact that my parents owned no other music of his, nor do I remember having heard anything outside of Thriller, I wanted that record in the worst way. I'm sure my parents still remember how much I asked them for it, and the satisfied amazement when my dad handed it to me the day after it came out.

Fast forward a lot of years. Michael Jackson is no longer with us, and the tributes continue to pour in to celebrate the life of a talented, yet controversial life. The latest of these tributes is the Michael Jackson experience, released now for all major consoles.

The 360 version, however, is arguably the most supercharged of them all, and the one you want to recommend to those stuck on which one to buy. Featuring full body recognition, the ability to sing AND dance to MJ's music simultaneously (the likes of which possibly have not been seen since Karaoke Revolution Party edition) and so many gaming features available that it would take the entire Jackson family to take them all down, this game brings it with a commanding force not seen since Captain EO.

The only bit of uncertainty coming into this release was the way the track list was going to be done. Ubisoft severely crippled the PC gaming market by making multiple versions of the game with many crucial MJ tracks exclusive to certain retailers. You couldn't even play Thriller or Billie Jean out of a regular box and had to buy from a specific retailer just to have access. Sery, they decided the 360 version should have as much music available to it as possible, and this version includes every song available across all versions right out of the box, with the only exception being "Another Part of Me" which is initially an HMV/Wal-Mart exclusive.

Anyway, semantics are semantics. What you'll notice right away is the game coerce you into stepping in front of the Kinect in a playing field, and it digitizes your silhouette directly into the game. Unlike Dance Central where your actions are controlled by a character, the game digitizes YOU. It's an outline of course, but it will pick up little intracacies. For example, the game digitize a hoodie if you're wearing one, or a hat, or in my case, it digitized half of a t-shirt I had on based on the way it captured me. While you still show as a floating outline, this is still extremely cool, and is a perfect part of the ambiance of the game.

There are 3 basic elements to this game - MJ Dance Videos, Solo and Party. The game doesn't much care for the whole "career mode" aspect of things - It basically gives you everything you can work with out of the box. You don't have to play easy to unlock medium, and then that to unlock hard, for example, which was something that I felt crippled my enjoyment of Dance Central quite a bit.

The MJ Videos section are very similar to those weird late night infomercial music video dance DVDs you saw for sale in the early part of the last decade. Here, you will be guided by choreographers in certain dance portions of the game and then urged to follow along and do them in sync. There's nothing further to that. There's very little interactive element outside of watching and mimicking. The game doesn't score you, and the game doesn't judge you based on these videos. Those are reserved for solo and party.

Solo is actually as it says - The single player mode. There are no difficulties perse, just 4 types of "performances" you can do. Some songs come with just the vocal performance option, which is you standing where you are, channeling your inner Star Search and singing for all you're worth. You don't need a mic, or headset. As long as you have configured your Kinect's microphone, that's all you need. The Kinect does a fabulous job of picking up what you're singing, though the overall judging is a bit tough in the sense that missing a slightest syllable kills your chance of getting perfect. I don't know why more singing games can't just give into the fact that Rock Band and the old Karaoke Revolution games did it right - There's no need to veer from accepting slight imperfections.

Vocal Performance only is available on very few songs, however. You normally start with the dance routine, which itself is similar to Dance Central where you follow the actions onscreen of the dancers around you. The moves aren't named, however, and just boxed actions. There are two box colors as well. White boxes at the bottom right mean that there's action and dancing to be done, and blue means that it's a static pose for that determined period of time. For the most part, the moves on the easier songs are pretty simple to follow along with, however, there's no move name or good way of guiding you toward the moves (hand motions and foot motions aren't measured that succinctly) as you're left to simply follow along to what the dancers are doing. Once you think you can handle it, you move onto the Performance piece, which is dance moves combined with singing. If you're worried about your coordination, however, you don't have to do both simultaneously. You simply dance the musical interludes and choruses, and you sing the verses of the song. Again, depending on how co-ordinated you are, this is either a benefit or detriment. I found it to be the latter simply because it was killing what little momentum while dancing I had to stop, sing and then pick the game up (considering that I have a dancing condition worse than two left feet, this was very little momentum.)

Once you've mastered dancing, and you've mastered the base level performance, you can move onto Master Performance. This is the hardest level of that particular song which finds you dancing a harder routine and then singing along again. If you know your Michael Jackson music and can't dance a lick, fortunately, the game finds it in its heart to judge you differently for each, so while you may finish 60% on the dance floor, you can still be a 5 star singer. Something you'll notice very quickly on while playing is that the graphics in this game are gorgeous. Every song has its own stage which appear in front of you in vivid color and immense detail. Think of it a bit like the way the stages in Beatles Rock Band worked - You've basically been implanted into the video playing in the background that are unnaffected by your actions in the foreground. As previously mentioned, since the game digitizes you into it, it is your actions on your dance floor area at center stage that is the thing that changes throughout.

Party is your multi-player options, which give you the ability to play songs as a team, or battle against each other. Performance Mode can also have one person dancing while the other sings. It's fairly simple and straight forward, and there isn't much more to it. This whole game has a very simplistic "What you see is what you get" experience out of the box, and you'll see that the achievement list reflect that as well. The majority, if not all the achievements are based simply on performance itself. Since there's no career mode, or ways to level up, and the game just provides you with everything up front, you earn most of your achievements based on 5 star performances, which means you could be plugging away at everything for 4 hours, or 4 years depending on how badly you perform. Me personally, I lean toward the latter. No matter how many times I played any stage, as of press time here, I only have one achievement, which I got on the first song I played for completing the damn thing.

The one thing that makes or breaks this game more than anything, however, is the song list. All Michael Jackson fans should be absolutely satisfied with the track list. There are a couple strange inclusions and exclusions (like why "The Girl is Mine" is included, but the other McCartney/Jackson classic "Say Say Say" is not,) however, for the most part, the majority of his album hits are there. Hardcore fans may be disappointed not to see songs like "Scream" and "We are the World" not on the track list, however, there is always a chance you may see these on a DLC docket one day (if Ubisoft has any plans to do so.)

Something you may have noticed throughout the review is the lack of options or choices the game provides. It's not to say this is not a bad thing. This is not a game where you have to play for hours to unlock everything, and why should it be? The purpose of this game is good clean fun without worry of having to take hours before your friends come over to play and try to madly unlock everything so you have more than a bare bones game for them to have fun with. Yes, the options themselves are in fact bare bones, but considering the objectives of this game are to dance, sing and have fun, it more than meets and exceeds those objectives. In fact, at many points throughout playing this game, I felt I enjoyed it more than Dance Central, which many gamers still consider to be the single best selling point of the Kinect.

Overall, this isn't the quintessential Kinect game, but really, the only reason is because it's strictly a Michael Jackson game, and MJ isn't for everyone. That being said, this is what a Kinect game should be. The game supplanting you and your surroundings into the game is so ridiculously excellent that I can't describe how hilarious it is if, say, you have a pet and you see it wander into the capture range. Master performances are tons of fun, and for the amount of time it took for this game to hit the market after the Wii version, I'd say it was worth it. While these single artist games never seem to stand the test of time long term and sadly it will be all too forgotten by the time multi-artist sequels capture their essence and run with it, Michael Jackson experience sets the benchmark for this genre of Kinect game. Every Kinect owner may not like it, but you should at least try it. If dance games are up your alley, this game is for you.

Overall: 8.2 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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