With over 2 million copies already sold worldwide, theres no denying Michael Jackson: The Experience has already left its mark on the music genre, providing a new, accessible way for fans of both dancing, and Michael alike to appreciate and involve themselves in the late King of Pops music. Some six months on from the original games release, however, and Michael Jackson: The Experience is about to hit the next big motion-sensing thing, in Kinect and far from simply being a quick, high-definition port, the reality is a game thats very different indeed. Unable to resist the temptation, we slipped on our dancing shoes, and moonwalked down to Londons Covent Garden (a tricky feat in itself, seeing as we couldnt see behind ourselves), to go hands-on (or full body on, rather), with the Kinect overhaul.
Having been announced, and therefore logically having been in
development for the same amount of time as the Wii version, it may initially
seem strange that the Kinect ones taken so much longer to finally see its release. In
fact, theres a very good reason for the delay, as far from being a parallel
development, Michael Jackson on Kinect is an entirely different game, and one
that any fans of Just Dance are going to have to take a bit of time getting used
Utilising the Kinect sensor to track your entire body, the game is, initially, a lot more daunting. Rather than simply swinging a Wii Remote around to match the silhouettes on the screen, the game now tracks your entire body, from head to toe. What this means, practically, is that whereas before, a lot of the choreography was based around the arms and hands (as thats whats holding the Wii Remote, and is therefore the only thing that can realistically be tracked), now the floodgates have been opened, as the game will require you to perform, and will score you doing all of Michaels signature moves, from the hip thrust, to the iconic moonwalk.
Using the same menu, and image extraction techniques as Your
Shape: Fitness Evolved (Ubisofts Kinect fitness game), Michael Jackson: The
Experience on Kinect will literally place you into the middle of a
Jackson performance, taking you out of your living room, removing any furniture
from around you, before putting you up on a stage with a troupe of backing
dancers. Each song has its own heavily stylised venue, which draw strongly from
the relevant music video - Black or White, for example, has a distinctly global
feel, with a range of landmarks making up the background, and clips from the
original music video being projected onto the sky. As the song progresses, the
arenas change and evolve - even the backing dancers were subject to a few costume
changes, going from being tribal dancers, to Russian Cossacks in the space of a few moves. Better still, there are plenty of little nods and nice touches in the arenas, too - in Billie
Jean, for example, the tiles beneath your feet light up as you strut your stuff.
If you've ever played a Kinect game before, you'll know how space hungry they can be, requiring upwards of 6-8ft from the sensor to you - which, in many houses, is something of an impossibility. Luckily, the developers have taken this very much into account, and are working around the limitations of the hardware. Rather than requiring you to dance forwards, backwards, left and right (while being fully aware of how "into it", and carried away we can all get, sometimes...) the game and choreography require minimal movement from side to side, and next to no movement backwards. What this means is, so long as you reach the minimum space requirements for Kinect, you should be fine - there's no need to knock through an extension, here.
As with Kinects other big dancing game, Dance Central, the moves you have to perform are represented by silhouettes in the bottom right hand corner of the screen one showing you how youre meant to start, and one showing you how youre meant to finish. Unfortunately, as is often the way with Just Dance, things can be a bit tricky to begin with, as the silhouettes often dont tell you explicitly enough what youre meant to do. But whereas on Michael Jackson: The Experience on the Wii, the icons had arrows showing you where it wanted you to move your arm, or indeed, your body, on the Kinect version, its simply a game of spot the difference between two pictures and when all it wants you to do is a shoulder shuffle, initially, it can be very difficult to get it right. Strangely, it even seems to take some time to figure out what youre meant to be doing when youre watching the backing dancers, too, even though their entire purpose is exactly that. Thanks to their heavily stylised appearance, we found it a bit tricky to tell exactly what the dancers were doing - at least, until they'd repeated the moves a few times. Needless to say, we got the hang of it eventually, but to begin with, itll definitely catch you off guard.
Practice, then, as they say makes perfect, and youll require a fair amount of it before you can feel comfortable performing on Kinect. With a few runs through the song, you quickly start to realise exactly what it is youre meant to be doing, and, better still, begin to recognise the icons, giving you that extra bit of warning about the move youve got to go into next. Seemingly realising how daunting the idea of having to match Michaels moves 1:1 might be, Ubisoft have relaxed the scoring schemes to suit, as you dont have to be exactly, 100% spot on for it to recognise you as doing the right thing. If you cant get your knee high enough, dont worry, as the build we played seemed to recognise you lifting your leg, and knew that you were doing your best.
Theres little arguing, though, that Michael Jackson: The Experience for Kinect is a much more realistic challenge than the Wii version, even with the lenient scoring. Another huge difference between the two consoles is that for Kinect, its not just dancing youll be doing, as now, youll have to imitate Michaels singing, too.
Each track you attempt comes with several options, letting
you approach the song however you see fit. Top of the list is the practice mode,
which you really want to do before you try it for real, followed by options to perform
a version of the track thats dancing only; the full blown singing and dancing
mode; or Master mode. While the first two are self explanatory, Master mode
is something a little bit different, and is exclusive to the Kinect version of the game. Taking
advantage of the full body tracking, Master mode recreates the choreography
from Jackos music videos as accurately as possible, in another all singing,
all dancing mode thats sure to push even the best of dancers.
As good as the all singing, all dancing Michael Jackson experience sounds, though, there is something of a disappointment with how the modes been executed. Rather than tracking your pitch, and, well, your singing, the game simply detects the rhythm at which youre singing the words. What that means is you can be as out of tune as you want or even simply rapping and the game will give you 100%, as long as youre in time. The official line is that singing and dancing would be too difficult to do together - but to be honest, wed probably have preferred to have the option to try it for ourselves.
With this in mind, it seems even more peculiar that Ubisoft
have taken the decision to make some of the songs singing only songs, with no choreography to
go alongside them. Earth Song, sadly, is one of the tracks thats lost its
moves, and we also heard Heal the World mentioned with regards to the singing
only mode, although were unsure whether that's final. Even stranger is
that these songs both had routines on the Wii, but are sadly lacking on Kinect.
Of course, its definitely not all bad news for Michael Jackson: The Experience on Kinect, as along with the shiny graphics afforded by the next generation consoles, the game will also be taking full advantage of downloadable tracks. While theres no official release schedule announced, Ubisoft have confirmed that it is coming which means the Captain EO downloadable pack that weve been hoping for may not be all that unlikely after all.
Along with the downloadable songs, the Kinect (and PS3) versions will also be shipping with some extra songs on the disk. Again, the developers wouldnt be pushed on precise numbers (although we definitely tried!), but the first two new songs have been announced as being I Just Cant Stop Loving You, and Blood on the Dance Floor all we know so far is that therell be more to follow.
Although it'll certainly take some getting used to - especially if you're used to standing still and just moving your arm around on the Wii version - we left the event satisfied that Michael Jackson: The Experience is going to be a lot of fun. In fact, after playing it, you can't help but have that little bit of a swagger in your walk, as the beats run through your head, and the game does that most dangerous of things - convinces you you can dance. With the initial disappointment of the singing mode out the way, and a lot still left to be revealed (including the rest of the bonus tracks, and the downloadable songs), the future's certainly looking bright for when Michael hits Kinect.
If (like us), you're still burning for more information, we'll have an interview with the game's producer up in the next few days, where we grill him on downloadable songs, the differences when compared with the Wii version, and ask the question on everyone's lips - will it teach you to do the Moonwalk. Why not like us on Facebook to be the first to get it!