If you are reading this late review of Michael Jackson: The Experience, then you are either a pretty big fan of the King of Pop, or you want to read about how horrible this “game” is. If you are in the latter group, sorry, it isn’t bad. That being said, if you don’t at least have some fond memories of Michael Jackson, then there is nothing here for you.
Naturally, Michael Jackson: The Experience is a rhythm game. It ignores all of the buttons on the Vita, and sticks to the more casual-friendly touch screen. You perform specific gestures that correlate to dance moves in time with the music. At its best, the swipes, taps and circles can feel almost like you are dancing with your fingers. These moments only happen occasionally, but are pretty great when they do. Most of the time, it feels like a standard rhythm game, and with the control scheme, I often found myself thinking that Michael Jackson: The Experience could easily be found on iOS, instead of being a $40 Vita game.
What the MJ Experience does really well is recognize its audience. The barriers to entry are kept at an absolute minimum. All of the songs are unlocked from the start, and the player isn’t bogged down with things like a story mode – they can jump right in. There is no failure state. If you are having a hard time, the worst thing that will happen is that your score won’t be very high. There is even a mode that will let you watch a song and the MJ Experience version of a music video without having to interact in any way. Fun!
If you are up for a challenge, there are higher levels of difficulty to take on. The gestures start requiring more dexterity. For instance, you might be required to use two fingers to complete a maneuver. You are awarded extra points for timing your moves perfectly, and you will receive score multipliers for not missing anything. Each song also has a “freestyle” mode, where Jacko can perform any move you like, including some special signature dance moves. You can tilt the Vita to make him spin, or move your finger along the rear touch screen to have Michael move around the scene.
The points gained during each song are used as part of an experience system. As you level up, you will unlock additional modes, and you can gain alternative outfits and even extra gloves to wear. Each song also has its own set of challenges. You might need to get the maximum combo on medium difficulty, or finish the song three times on expert. Completing these challenges will get you additional special effects for that song. For instance, on Thriller, you will gain zombie background dancers.
The Vita version of Michael Jackson: The Experience seems stripped down. Console versions of the game shipped with 30 songs, while the Vita only has 15. Only the main mode has any real substance. There is also the “watch an animated Michael Jackson video” mode, and a multiplayer battle mode that only works ad-hoc. Good luck finding a local friend who owns a Vita and a copy of this game.
I have to admit that even though I’m not a big Michael Jackson fan, I found myself getting nostalgic playing some of his bigger hits. Overall the game is well done and polished. I imagine the venn diagram of Vita owners and rabid Michael Jackson fans only has a small overlap in it, but for those people, this is your game. If you grew up with Michael and like some of his songs, then this would be a good game to pick up when the inevitable sales come. One final parting thought: the character model for Michael Jackson looks weird and a bit like plastic. I’ll let you go ahead and fit your own joke in here.
This review is based on a retail copy of Michael Jackson: The Experience provided by Ubisoft. It is also available for Wii, Xbox 360, PS3, PSP, DS and 3DS.