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Michael Jackson: The Experience


If you're a Jacko fan, you'll want to be starting with this game
Ubisoft struck upon the new trend in rhythm games with the Wii-exclusive Just Dance, and as the law of video games dictates, once a genre gains popularity, you must attempt to quickly kill it by driving it into the ground, releasing as many sequels and spin-offs as possible. Thus, we have been graced with several new Wii dance titles from Ubisoft, including this title based solely on the work of the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson (though johnny-come-lately Move and Kinect versions are expected next year.) Taking the same successful model that made Just Dance such a hit and skinning it with Jackson looks, sounds and moves has created what's essentially a well-designed track pack for dance-gamers, only at the price of a full game.

Gameplay:

The odd thing is, Just Dance 2 has an online store, so they simply could have released the 27 songs in Michael Jackson: The Experience as downloadable content and pulled down a good chunk of change from players hooked on the game, but instead, they are forcing fans who want to don MJ's ripped T and yell Dirty Diana, to buy 26 other songs if they want that privilege. That's because this is simply the same game with a whole new music line-up. Like the previous title, you hold the Wii-mote and mimic the Michael Jackson stand-in on-screen (either as the man himself or one of his crew (with up to four players sharing the stage at once.)) The thing is, Michael Jackson was easily one of the most talented dancers ever, and his moves are incredibly fluid and complex. More than likely, your moves are not, which will result in many graceless imitations of his songs until you practice again and again to mirror his dancing. Even then, you may find yourself worrying mainly about your arms and upper body and ignoring the fact that his feet moved with incredible precision and smoothness, while yours are in mental concrete blocks. Disappointingly, there are no difficulty settings to adjust, though each song is rated for difficulty, with "Thriller" achieving the appropriate and daunting rank of "Inhuman."

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Hopefully you enjoy dancing to Michael's songs or as one of his crew, because all of the additional modes that rounded out Just Dance 2 and expanded gameplay are missing here. The only play mode available is to dance (check out "Achievements" for info on the supposed "Dance School".) That's all you get. Now, admittedly, it's fun to dance to "Thriller" or take on MJ's role in "Bad" or "Beat It," but once you've done it and got the moves down, there's nothing else to do other than to beat your own score or those of your friends. When I asked a member of the development team about the game at the NY Comic Con, the answer he gave was so short, that I actually said "Is that it?" and now I see, yes, that's it. You have to be a hardcore Jackson fan to get your money's worth here, as all you'll be doing is playing your favorite Jackson songs again and again.

The track list featuring those songs is pretty varied, offering up the usual suspects from Jackson's career, including his big hits (though not his Jackson 5 work, which reveals Jackson's solo career to be built out of an incredibly iconic, yet small group of hits.) There are also quite a few songs that many just won't know, like "Money," "Streetwalker" and "Speed Demon" (which lets you dance with the cartoon rabbit Michael Jackson from Moonwalker, so it's not all bad.) When you consider these tracks, of which there at least six, and the oddly selected "Earth Song," "Heal the World" and the Paul McCartney collaboration "The Girl is Mine," three songs that simply aren't dance songs, you've got a third of the line-up that will make people scratch their heads. Let's take a look at "Earth Song." It's a beautiful song, but thanks to the choreography, you spend almost a quarter of the track kneeling, which isn't exactly conducive to dancing, while the final half is more headbanging than dancing. These songs wouldn't be such a problem if they weren't here instead of a trio of must-have Jackson songs, like "You Rock My World," "PYT" and "Scream." Obviously there may be legal or cost issues, but that's the kind of second-guessing games like this cause. Even so, including both "Ghosts" and "Money" from "Blood on the Dance Floor" and not the far more dance-friendly title track is probably one of the odder decisions made here. When you only include one artists' songs and then leave out some of their popular hits, you're handicapping an already limited genre of gaming (see basically every Rock Band or Guitar Hero single-artist release outside of The Beatles.)

  • Another Part of Me

  • Bad

  • Beat It

  • Billie Jean

  • Black or White

  • Dirty Diana

  • Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough

  • Earth Song

  • Ghosts

  • Heal the World

  • In the Closet

  • Leave Me Alone

  • Money

  • Remember the Time

  • Rock With You

  • Smooth Criminal

  • Speed Demon

  • Streetwalker

  • Sunset Driver

  • The Girl is Mine

  • The Way you Make Me Feel

  • They Don't Care About Us

  • Thriller

  • Wanna Be Startin' Something

  • Who Is It

  • Will You Be There

  • Workin' Day and Night


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Online Play

Not part of the package. There's not even a store like in Just Dance 2. If there are MJ songs you want that aren't included, you better hope they arrive for Just Dance 2. And that you own that game as well.

Controls

If you've played Just Dance 2 or one of Ubisoft's other dancing games, you know the drill. Just hold the Wii-mote in your hand, and follow the movements of the dancer on the screen. Jackson's moves are far more complex than any dancer you've possibly seen to this point, so you need to some serious rhythm and reaction speed to score well. Even using the standard upcoming-move indicator won't help much as you try to keep up with one of the best dancers of the modern era. Thankfully, the Wii is only using the Wii-mote to decide your score, because you'd have to be very good to even come close to completing a song otherwise (good luck to Kinect users.) Like previous Just Dance titles though, this can be viewed positively or negatively, as moves are frequently missed or inaccurately rewarded, offering a margin of error or frustration, depending on how good you really are. Why they still haven't allowed you to use two Wii-motes to play or integrated MotionPlus is still a mystery.

Achievements

You can unlock "Dance School" videos featuring guidance from a trio of professional dancers, but oddly, you can only watch these training videos after you score highly on the songs they teach, which probably means you don't need them anymore. It's very backwards, but hey, it's something to encourage you to play. After all, there's a bizarre humor in watching these trainers make very complicated routines seem like something akin to simply walking.

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Graphics

Just Dance 2 was a quantum leap visually from Just Dance, while Michael Jackson: The Experience simply keeps the bar high, with beautiful settings and animations for each song, all of which are appropriate to the theme. "Thriller" is easily the most impressive, complete with opening and closing titles and a monstrous transformation for the MJ stand-in, while "Billie Jean" is also quite good, carrying over the glowing street from the video. The George Wendt stand-in on "Blank or White" is actually highly amusing as he sits in the background. Though the dancing avatar is similar to the washed-out ones in Just Dance 2, it's obviously Michael, maintaining any looks and costume from the time period, which his famous glove helping to indicate which hand should hold the Wii-mote. The presentation is creative and beautiful, but it does have a few minor issues, noticeably when dancing with another character, like during "Remember the Time." Several times, Michael is standing behind his partner, so you can't see what you're supposed to be doing, which is a detriment to trying to mirror those movements.

Sound

The Jackson songs included sound terrific, the same way you'd likely hear them anywhere else. There are a few Jackson-specific sound effects throughout the game, which also sound solid, though the "Dance School" segments could have a bit more oomph. Overall, it's just what you'd want from a music game.

Bonus

If you get a copy from the game's original launch shipment, it includes a replica of MJ's famous glove, done in white fabric and covered in little rhinestones. It's an odd little extra, but amusing nonetheless. You can't wear it on your playing hand (and in fact, a sheet that comes with it says you shouldn't) as you can't grip the Wii-mote thanks to the little gems. But you can always throw it on your other hand to feel something of the power. Lord knows I wore it way too much while working on this review.

And in the End...

Playing this game, it was hard to not compare it to Just Dance 2, largely because they are the same game, with different music and visuals. The problem is, Michael Jackson: The Experience comes up short in any comparison, thanks to less modes and the inability to expand the title without an in-game store. That it's much harder than Just Dance 2 and features some unusual inclusions and unfortunate omissions in the tracklist, makes it all the more likely that unless you're a hardcore Michael Jackson fan, you'll be more satisfied by the variety of Just Dance 2.



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