Michael Jackson: The Experience HD is a music/rhythm game that... isn't bad; it's bad
Michael Jackson: The Experience HD is a music/rhythm game that, just to be punny, isn’t bad; it’s bad. If you’ve played any BEMANI game or Guitar Hero game in the last ten years, you know the deal: Directions appear on screen in sync with music that’s being played. The player must execute said directions in an accurate fashion to score points. The more in-tune you are with your moves, the better each direction will be scored. In MJTE, players will be making full use of the PlayStation Vita’s touchscreens. In fact, there is no point in-game when the player will be tasked to use any of the buttons on the Vita. Make no mistake, this is a Michael Jackson game with tons of touching. What distinguishes this experience from nearly every other rhythm game is its leveling system and, of course, the fact that you’re playing a game accompanied by the King of Pop’s’ music.
Tap the screen, draw straight lines, half circles, and full circles. The touch screen controls are great for the most part. The lines appear relative to the direction you need to draw them (ex. the up line appears at the top of the screen), and tapping is never a problem. However, the game doesn’t seem to register the full circle shape as well as it should. Perhaps it’s because the full circle mostly appears in Medium and Expert difficulty, right in the thick of frantic sequences. The main concern I have is when using the front touchscreen, your hands may sometimes block the screen. This only becomes a problem on Medium and Expert difficulties when the screen gets flooded with directions. To remedy this, there’s an option to use the back touchscreen instead of the front. It works – much better than I thought it would, actually – but it’s a bit awkward holding the system with only your palms. With the front screen active, you can put down the system and play without holding it, which may be a more comfortable option for some players.
I’ve seen it in practically every other genre, but not rhythm games: unlocks. The points you earn by playing each song aren’t solely for score. In MJTE, at the end of the song, your points act as experience points. You level up and unlock new abilities, moves, outfits, gloves, and even special effects that trigger if you replay certain songs. The gloves act as passive buffs, static effects that help you during songs. For instance, the first glove you unlock will replace a mistimed swipe with a “Perfect.” Another glove multiplies the song score by 1.4. In MJTE, you’re not going from level 1 to level 2 to level 3. Instead, you’ll earn titles such as “Head Bopper”, “Dance Floor Rookie”, “Groove Machine”, etc. It adds to the overall experience of playing a Michael Jackson game. A good bulk of the game is locked behind gates, meaning you’re going to have to unlock some stuff in order to fully appreciate the game. One unlock that threw me off a bit was “Perfect” timing. Until you reach level 3 or 4, all of your moves have a maximum potential of “Great.” It’s bizarre.
Another aesthetic feature that adds to the MJ package is that though you always play as Michael Jackson, your avatar changes appearance each song. For instance, Thriller Mike has his red leather zipper-littered coat on while Smooth Criminal Mike is wearing a slick white suit with an armband. CG videos intermittently cut into the song you’re playing, giving you a break from the dancing and offering a bit of eye candy to ogle. The effect is relatively seamless and the graphics are nice to look at. Revisiting iconic music videos is one of MJTE’s ways of actually creating a Michael Jackson Experience. Who doesn’t want to see dudes snapping at each other and knife fighting with a grace that comes only from masterful choreography? If you don’t, then you may not want to play this game. There are also freestyling sequences that pop up in the middle of most songs. You can draw whatever shapes you please and even use the back touchscreen to move MJ around or unleash a song-specific move. To be honest, the entire thing is awkward. None of the moves you pull off during freestyle mode are anywhere near as cool as the actual choreographed sequences. What you’re often left with is an idle, hip-thrusting Michael Jackson waiting for you to swipe your finger across the screen.
I should mention the song selection, as it’s probably the biggest reason why anyone would buy this game. Of the 15 songs, 12 are MJ mainstays. Blood On The Dance Floor, Hollywood Tonight, and Ghosts may not be as recognizable as Thriller, Bad, or The Way You Make Me Feel, but they’re great songs regardless. Come to think of it, 15 songs is rather light for a rhythm game. MJTE circumvents this problem by featuring 5 challenges to unlock per song. The challenges range from “Top the leaderboard” to “Earn 30 Perfects in a row on expert difficulty.” They’re a reason to revisit timeless songs and play them until your Vita screen is covered in prints. The game features an Ad-Hoc Battle Mode, but nobody on my Near is playing it and I’m not about to drive to Ohio to challenge Curtis. I wish this game supported online leaderboards. Instead, you get an offline leaderboard for each song. Lame.
Michael Jackson: The Experience HD has swag in spades. All facets of the game are clad in sparkly black. Is Michael Jackson: The Experience HD a typical rhythm game with Wacko Jacko wrapping paper? Yeah, basically. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Absolutely not. The slight touch control problems and lack of online leaderboard support are the only things holding this back from being an excellent gam… err, Experience.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation Vita version of the game.
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Release Date:February 2012
Players:1, 2 Player Ad-hoc Battle