One of my earliest memories is of dancing to Dirty Diana on the sofa, belting out lyrics I could barely pronounce (let alone comprehend) into a TV remote. It probably stands out in my mind because I got so severely told off afterwards (jumping around on the sofa is "bad for the springs", apparently), but the fact remains that I've been a Jacko fan since I was old enough to convert music into rhythmic movement. Which makes Michael Jackson: The Experience a bit of kick in the balls, really. It's not just that it's a bad game - which it certainly is - as much as the fact that it's fundamentally broken.
It's strange, because the Wii version was largely enjoyable. In implementing Kinect technology, however, the game falls apart at the seams. Karaoke is to blame. During the new vocal sections, lyrics bounce along the bottom of the screen in a timely fashion to the music, and you're expected to sing along. The problem is, however, that it's irrelevant whether you do or not. The microphone picks up the sound of MJ's voice coming from the game itself, realises it's in tune and in time (as it damn well should be), and awards a perfect score. The problem can be remedied by muting the TV or turning the volume right down, but this defeats the whole point of karaoke in the first place.
While I appreciate some of the nifty UI tricks Kinect allows - menus that dynamically move around your on-screen avatar, for example - everything else is technically sub-par. It's initially quite cool that you star in the game, something which Dance Central didn't allow, but this gets old fairly quickly. Not only is the karaoke half of the game ruined by the sensitivity of the microphone, but the dancing is also rendered pointless due to an unresponsive camera.
Having played the Wii version, it's blindingly obvious that the Kinect sensor is only capable of picking up certain movements, because the dance routines have been stripped down and dissected into chunks. So, you'll dance for maybe fifteen seconds or so, and the dance tiles will suddenly disappear (along with the backing dancers) and you're left standing about like a lemon waiting for them to reappear. This gives each routine a disjointed feel, a far cry from the smooth shape-throwing MJ is associated with.
Each song can be experienced in three flavours of gameplay: Dance, where you simply dance; Performance, where you sing and dance; and Master Performance where you also sing and dance, except with a slightly harder routine. There's also a practice mode, which breaks down a routine into easily digestible sections to aid learning. What's annoying is that this set-up doesn't apply to every track. Take Earth Song, for example - that impressive performance where Jacko is dancing on his knees as the apocalypse unfolds behind him. You can't dance to it here, only sing - and as we've already established this doesn't work. It's the same story for several other tracks too, which will likely agitate fans of those songs.
The Michael Jackson School remains in place, where wannabe Jackos are taught all of his most iconic moves by dance professionals. My biggest problem with the Wii Dance School was that you needed to unlock videos. So, if you were struggling with a certain routine, you'd have to get better at the game of your own accord in order to earn more stars to unlock the training videos. It was pointless. This time all the videos are available from the off, which is nice, but this raises another problem: there's no sense of progression. Without a career mode to unlock songs, or videos or artwork, there's little incentive to play.
Well, there's always the desire to be better than your friends, of course, but the same responsiveness issues apply. In co-op, a routine is split into two sections, and the game swaps you in and out for a partner. In battle, you take it turns to perform, with scores compared at the end. You can choose to battle as a pair, too, allowing four players to play at once.
One of The Experience's few redeeming features is watching your on-screen avatar Moonwalk across the stage. As you stand on the spot, trying to replicate Jacko's most famous trick, the game shimmies your Kinect-reflection to the left, giving the illusion of Moonwalking. Despite being simple camera trickery, this never fails to amuse.
That said, Michael Jackson: The Experience is not a pleasant one. As well as being unresponsive and technically broken, it's simply not as much fun as its non-HD sibling. If you're desperate to mimic the moves of the King of Pop, you're honestly better off with the Wii version.
VideoGamer.com Score3 Score out of 10
- The songs are still good
- Not as good as Wii version
- Karaoke doesn't work