The basic premise is somewhat similar to the Wii version - with a collection of 29 songs, some three more than on the Wii, to dance to, you put on your dancing shoes and best spangly glove, as you attempt to keep up with Jacko through authentically choreographed dance routines, following the backing dancers to become the King of Pop himself.
When we previewed the game a few months ago, we expressed a few concerns about the game's difficulty. Although it has a similar, Just Dance style way of telling you what move you've got to do next, thanks to the list of silhouettes which appear on the right hand side of the screen, we were concerned that it felt incredibly tricky to tell exactly what you're meant to be doing. Sadly, it seems little's changed for the full game, as the same problem exists here - at least, to begin with.
While the Wii version catered to dancers of all skills, the 360 one seems to be for Jackson pros. With a selection of small, awkward sillhouetted people at the side working as your main guide as to what you've got to do, it's simply too hard to figure, at a glance, what you're meant to be doing with your hands and feet. Dancers with a light blue outline indicate a move you've got to do, while dark blue, or gold outlines simply require you to strike a pose - and, as such, work a lot better, as there's no guesswork involved. On the light blue stick people, which make up the vast majority of the moves, the hand, or foot you're expected to move will be coloured in white, but often the differences between the stick man on the left, and the one on the right is so small - or, conversely, so huge - you've initially got no idea what you're meant to be doing. As the game uses Kinect, little things here matter a lot more than on the Wii - which hand, and which leg you use makes the difference between a "Perfect" and an "Almost" (the game's equivelant of a fail) - and it's pretty tricky to tell which foot you're meant to be moving, especially in the side-on poses. In addition, should you only move your arms without moving your legs (because your legs weren't highlighted on the icon), you'll end up getting no points for that move.
What it all boils down to is that you're pretty much required to play each song several times before you really start to get the hang of the moves - or, at the very least, start to unravel what the little stick men are telling you to do. On your first time through, you'll just be standing there loosely waving your arms from side to side, and ocassionally lifting your one leg, as you try to keep up with the backing dancers, but it's all a bit futile, and before too long, you'll start to feel a bit stupid - you end up getting left behind, only to end up horribly out of time like a dad dancing at a wedding. On your second, and third attempt, having already figured out what some of the icons means, things start to go a lot better, and before too long, you'll actually find yourself getting into it, and, dare we say it, even looking good - but it's certainly not the easy to pick up and play experience Just Dance is.
Making use of the same technology found in Your Shape, Michael Jackson: The Experience for Kinect puts you in the heart of the dancing. Using Kinect to remove you from your surroundings, the game places you on a stage, amongst a troupe of dancers, as you quite literally step into Michael's shoes. It's an incredibly impressive effect that works a lot better than we ever gave it credit for, as you actually look like you're leading the troupe in the routine. Hit the moves right, and it looks like the backing dancers are following your routine, as you're the star. On the downside, as it uses the same technology as Your Shape, it's ridiculously space hungry - almost too much so, especially for our tiny living rooms in the UK. We had 8ft between us and the Kinect sensor, yet it was still only barely enough - if we moved our foot forwards, we'd end up moving out of the area Kinect can pick up. Sigh.
Each song's rated according to its difficulty, with a rating from one to five stars, and lets you play in one of three modes - Dance, which, as you may have guessed, simply asks you to dance, Performance, which sees you alternating between dancing and singing, and Master Performance, which has you singing and dancing like in Performance mode, only this time you're dancing along to an even more realistically choreographed performance. It's more than a little bit disappointing that you can't choose a difficulty level for the songs, however, as if you could start on Easy, and then move up on each song, it'd solve practically all of the problems the game has with learning the moves - rather than having an entire song's worth of moves to learn in one go, switching up to medium and hard would add an extra two or three moves in, helping ease the learning curve.
In fact, one of the problems with the game is that Michael Jackson wasn't exactly known for putting together easy dancing routines. In an effort to be authentic, and appease MJ's fans, the routines in the game are as close to the real thing as it's possible to get - but that means there's not a lot of repetition, and some very quick move changes, which can leave you floundering. If it was possible to identify what you have to do from the little stick man (some arrows would have helped - or even animations), then things would be different, but as it stands, especially with Kinect tracking your entire body, meaning you have to copy what the stick man wants you to do with every limb, it's not a game you can jump in and play - which makes the party play kind of redundant.
If you're prepared to repeat the songs until you've learnt what the icons means, Michael Jackson starts to open itself up, and turns into a really good dancing game. Seeing yourself on screen leading the troupe, it's impossible to not feel cool - although when you mess up, the game doesn't exactly do all it can to help you back on your feet. It's a bit weird, as Kinect requires you to be so precise, yet you can do next to nothing and get a Perfect, and then do the next move perfectly (or at least, as far as you can tell), and end up getting slapped with an Almost. Sadly, like many other dancing games, there's nothing to tell you where you're going wrong either - and in fact, even in practice mode, there's nothing to point out which limb you've got bent into the wrong position.
Like a lot of Kinect's games, it's difficult to tell who Michael Jackson: The Experience is aimed at. While the whole idea behind the camera was to open up games for the masses, MJ: The Experience is harder than the Wii one because of the Kinect sensor, and how it tracks your whole body. If you're a hardcore MJ fan, you'll likely love the authenticity in the dances, or, if you've played the Wii one to death, then this is a great chance to take your game to the next level - even if most of the routines are vastly different. For the rest of us, it's still fun, but be aware you'll have to put a lot in to get anything out.
- Puts you on the stage.
- Fun when you get the hang of it.
- Great selection of songs.
- Too hard to get the hang of.
- No difficulty level for songs.
- Doesn't tell you where you're going wrong.