A rhythm action game based on the career of Michael Jackson has always seemed like a no-brainer. Jacko was no stranger to the realm of gaming, of course, having made plenty of contributions to Sega over the years (Moonwalker, Sonic 3 soundtrack, Space Channel 5), and his ultra catchy dance pop and sensational moves seemed tailor made for the genre. That’s why Michael Jackson: The Experience makes perfect sense. With the release of the Vita, Ubisoft has given MJ fans the chance to dance with the King of Pop wherever they go. Unfortunately, despite some great music and a decently slick interface, the whole experience proves a little too shallow for all but the most diehard MJ fan.
The most important part of any music game is the quality and depth of its soundtrack. Michael Jackson: The Experience contains a cross-section of Michael’s music from early classics like “Rock with You” to his more recent tracks like “Blood on the Dance Floor”. The quality of the songs chosen is very solid, and they sound great either through the Vita’s speakers or your headphones. Unfortunately, the quantity side of things is where the whole thing kind of breaks down.
Only 15 songs out of Michael’s immense catalog are included here, with promises of DLC down the road. While a lot of favorites are in, there are plenty of great songs that didn’t make the cut. The size of the soundtrack is easily the biggest disappointment here. Repetition has the tendency to kill games like this quickly, and you will find yourself playing the same tracks over and over again while racking up points and unlocking items for the “Backstage” area like new Gloves and costumes.
While the breadth of the soundtrack is a disappointment, the actual gameplay is quite good. The main gameplay will be familiar to most anyone accustomed to the rhythm action genre. There are several commands that are displayed on screen and it’s the player’s job to time actions to the beat, whether that’s tapping the screen, swiping in a certain direction, or drawing semi/full circles. During the song, there are also freestyle sections where you can use any of the above commands or the rear touch screen to make MJ bust a move. The touchscreen commands are very responsive and I didn’t experience any moment during my time with the game where I felt like I had made the correct gesture but the system didn’t recognize it.
Just like the game’s soundtrack, the selection of modes on display here is also lackluster. Essentially, there are two modes: HIStory and Battle mode. HIStory tasks the player with mastering each of the 15 available tracks through 3 difficulty levels. As you progress through the game, your accumulated points will increase, leveling you up and unlocking various items, filters, and difficulty levels. Unfortunately, this is really the extent of the single player experience. Couple that with the short song list, and you’ll very quickly find yourself burning out and finding something new to play. There is an online battle mode as mentioned, but its limited appeal doesn’t really make up for the single player discrepancies.
The Backstage area of the game contains some unlocked content like figures of Michael and the On Demand Performance option. This option allows you to just watch and listen to a performance of one of the included songs. This is a somewhat trivial addition, as anyone who wants to just watch and listen can do so by just starting HIStory mode and not pressing anything.
I can’t recommend the game, as it stands, at full price for anyone but true diehard Michael Jackson fans. The price tag doesn’t match up with the content on display, especially with such a large amount of available launch titles for the Vita. For those of you that like the music, though, I would recommend either a rental or a purchase at less than full price to experience the often-addicting nature of the gameplay. Hopefully, Ubisoft will throw out some free or reasonable DLC additions to the song roster to really flesh out some of the game’s potential.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.