Game Reviews

Michael Jackson: The Experience HD

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Michael Jackson: The Experience HD

Some of the fondest memories I have as a child are from car journeys. The destinations aren't important - and not just because I live in the UK, where no destination is unrainy. What's important is the music: a mix tape of my family's favourite Michael Jackson hits.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and I'm sat with Michael Jackson: The Experience HD for the Vita, nervously anticipating the myriad ways Ubisoft has cocked up with the licence of one of my favourite performers.

However, while the game plays fast and loose with MJ's legacy, it's surprisingly rather good.

Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'

Instead of the respectful and at times touching portrayal of a world class star, as seen in The Beatles: Rock Band, Michael Jackson: The Experience HD plumps for a straightforward presentation of the Prince of Pop, which is garish. For one thing, the videos introducing each track are CG remakes.

John Landis's 'Thriller' video - the record-breaking horror accompaniment to the track of the same name - is replaced by generic zombies and a Michael Jackson that looks like a waxwork doll.

The videos are poorly directed, and though they last a maximum of 30 seconds either end of the tune they even repeat themselves, using the same footage of bats flying for example. It's just sloppy.

The dance moves you follow for this rhythm-action title are also imperfect reproductions of the famous routines. They give a decent impression of them, but they too repeat far too often.

But it's small things like that lean in 'Smooth Criminal' occurring at the wrong time in the song that will irk fans most.

It's a matter of reverence. This is a man who basically revolutionised popular music, and the development team hasn't done him justice with this product supposedly created to help celebrate his work.

The game's use of Jackson's “hoooooo!” yell as a sound effect each time you gain enough experience points to level-up - unlocking meaningless trinkets - is less than endearing.

However, the mechanics of the title are excellent. Michael Jackson: The Experience HD predominantly uses the touchscreen for its controls, as you swipe in the direction of arrows as they appear on the peripheries of the screen. You also have to tap to the beat and draw circles and curls when prompted.

It doesn't deviate far from the Bemani tradition of entering a command as it passes a line, but the implementation is spot-on and rarely confuses your inputs. And with so much real estate on the screen, you'll never miss a direction as it appears.

I Just Can't Stop Loving You

The physicality of sweeping your hands across the device is unique to portables, and it can be a real test of skill on the hardest difficulty level.

You'll know you've mastered the basics when you start throwing in little flourishes before swipes for your own amusement.

It's only the Freestyle breaks in routines that are at fault here, breaking up your finger work with short periods of time to enter whichever commands you desire. Transitions from move to move are rigid, with only the most basic of shapes to pull.

The single player HIStory mode is where you'll spend the majority of your time, though Battle does allow for multiplayer dance-offs. It's fine, but it only supports ad hoc, drastically limiting its appeal.

The frame-rate does occasionally stutter, but character models are suitably fluid and lifelike, and MJ's physique and movement characteristics are captured beautifully.

Though the music itself is high quality, there are just 15 songs, which is a little too meagre. The selection is impeccable, though - a brilliantly diverse set list from across Jacko's solo career: from Billie Jean to the lesser known Blood on the Dance Floor.

Putting aside how poorly the developer handles the spirit of the artist from whom Michael Jackson: The Experience HD takes its name, Ubisoft has produced a really excellent core dancing mechanic.

The gameplay can be stressful and intense, but it's hugely enjoyable when everything syncs and the rhythm of Bad meets the flick of a finger.

Michael Jackson: The Experience HD

You'll dislike the approach Ubisoft took to the presentation of Michael Jackson in the title, as well as the paltry number of songs on offer, but look past these issues and this is a great rhythm-action title that makes smart use of the Vita's touchscreen