All dance game reviews require a quick sentence from the writer about how much of a tit they looked whilst playing the game. It's a quick admission of the fact that, "Yes, I've played the game, but I also have enough self respect to realise I looked ridiculous."
When playing Michael Jackson: The Experience, I found myself on my knees in a dingy living room, swiping a gloved hand across the floor as the sound of Earth Song filled the air. I was singing, too. Belting out the pretentious lyrics of the song, all whilst imagining the world around me was being torn to shreds by vicious gales of wind. "What have we done to the world!" I wailed, "Look what we've done!" Rising to my feet I thrust my hands into the sky, imagining, like Jackson himself, that I was somehow healing the world with my performance. I was getting slightly too into things.
So while Just Dance might indeed make you look like a tit, Michael Jackson: The Experience takes things to a whole new level. The moment I accepted the game for review, I had to cast my dignity to one side. This wasn't all too hard given my love of MJ's music.
The first thing to realise is that it's pretty much Just Dance 2. I could probably point you here, mention the weird glove accessory and a few tracks I like and be done with it; it'd get the same message across. Truth is, though, it's a big license and deserves a few more words thrown its way. Even in death, Michael Jackson is the King of Pop. His music transcends age, sex and musical taste, and is incredibly closely tied to the medium of dance. He's therefore the perfect artist to lend his name to a dance title, and Ubisoft has wrapped the license around the established Just Dance mechanics.
If you've played Just Dance then you'll know the drill. You stand in front of the screen, rhythmically waving a Wii Remote about in an attempt to replicate the moves of the onscreen dancer. In this case, of course, it's a Michael Jackson look-alike, dressed in the iconic costumes he wore during the original music videos. His gloved hand shines and effervesces with sparks; an on-screen guide as to what you should be doing with your own hand. As always, the game only registers movement of the Wii Remote itself, failing to reward any impressive hip gyrations or fancy displays of footwork. Embrace the slightly sloppy tech, however, and there's a surprising amount of fun to be had with the game, especially when the odd alcoholic beverage is thrown into the mix.
Every track from the 26-strong soundtrack is unlocked from the off, selectable from the one real mode: Dance. It seems silly to say, but the music is fantastic. Beat It, Billie Jean, Black or White, Smooth Criminal, Bad, Earth Song, Thriller - they're all there. I was a little distressed to discover Man in the Mirror missing from the line-up, but this seems to be the only noticeable absentee. Each dance routine is faithfully lifted from the music video it came from, with a loose sense of the song's theme and narrative conveyed in stylish intro and outro sequences.
In addition to Dance mode, there's also a Dance School, but this shouldn't be considered a second game mode. Dance School is a selection of tutorial videos presented by three professional dancers. Travis Payne, Brahim, and Maryss from Paris break each routine down into sections, explaining how to pull off some of the more difficult moves in the game.
This would be a great addition to the game if it wasn't for one thing: each dance lesson needs to be unlocked. It's completely bizarre. Say you're struggling with Smooth Criminal - which is pretty demanding towards the end - the logical thing to do would be to hit up the Dance School to learn the routine. For some unfathomable reason, though, the lesson is locked, only becoming available after you've earned a ludicrous number of stars first. In order to get those stars, however, you need to be good at the game. But you can't be good at the game without the lessons. It's a classic Catch 22 situation, and renders the whole Dance School utterly pointless. Still, they're worth watching purely for the lovely Maryss from Paris, who I took an instant shining too.
The fact the game is harder than both Just Dance games only serves to highlight these problems further. The immortal Thriller is particularly difficult; the game's equivalent of Through the Fire and Flames. I happen to have five-starred it on Hard (it took me half a day), but even this isn't much of an achievement. The rather appropriate 'Inhuman' setting, however, is where the real challenge is at, and what will ultimately keep good players coming back for more.
Even without alcohol coursing through my veins, I still had a reasonable amount of fun with the game. I've often seen people dancing to the likes of Thriller and Billie Jean and thought "Gee, I wish I could do that". Now I can. Kind of. After several hours with the game, I can not only keep up with virtual MJ, but could probably recreate the routines without even having him there to follow. It's not a particularly responsive game, especially compared to the technically superior Dance Central but for what it is, Michael Jackson: The Experience is an enjoyable one.