on May 13, 2014
Michael Jackson: The Experience (MJTE) is a music and rhythm/dance game that initially made its rounds on consoles between late 2010 (Wii, DS, PSP) and mid 2011 (360, PS3) with appearances on the 3DS, iOS, and Vita last. Initially with mixed reviews all over the place, MJTE seemed like a game that needed to find a particular crowd (MJ's fanbase and lovers of motion gaming) in order to take off.
While I've never been much for motion-based rhythm games, I admittedly tend to adore handheld rhythm games (DJMax, Hatsune Miku, Guitar Hero, Rockband, Ouendan, Theatrhythm FF, it goes on!) so when I finally arrived late to finding The Experience I was surprised that the handheld MJ take was not Bad at all despite initial trepidation from "official reviews". It's a shame that professional reviews of MJTE's Vita release are so middle of the road and polarizing because for what brevity there is to The Experience it's certainly one that's enjoyable, more so if you're a fan of the late rhythm master himself.
MJTE is a different beast on the Vita compared to the console ports. Whereas those versions had you playing the game via motion with peripherals, the Vita's take on The Experience is that of a touchscreen focused swiping game. While this sounds bizarre upfront, the translation is very fitting and honestly feels comfortable. You'll be swiping in cardinal and ordinal (diagonal) directions along with a few flourishes such as curves and circles to the rhythm of Michael's tracks on show here. Three difficulties accompany each song available along with some challenges which are song specific.
One thing I immediately appreciated was that the lowest difficulty (Rookie) while easy, still felt involving. Many rhythm games feel like they tend to butcher the play of a track when they try to trim things down into an "Easy" difficulty. MJTE preserves the basic rhythms while leaving the intricacies of the music for Medium and Expert. This is a small touch that gets you into the beat and amps you up for the following difficulties and something I oddly found myself appreciating right from the beginning. This ends up a bit important because you can't immediately start playing Thriller on Expert or Bad on Medium right away on a clean file.
The game makes a few odd design choices in the form of a rank up/unlock system, much like many titles following the level up/reward idea. Things locked behind ranks include perfect timing (perhaps the oddest lock) along medium and expect difficulty while challenge unlocks center on things such as back-up dancers, stage effects, and a few other minor caveats. While this sounds frustrating with no knowledge of the matter from the start, the leveling system is quite simple. For every time you play a track, your end score are your points towards a rank up. It doesn't take a ton of play to unlock many things so the system's sort of fluff but not too in the way. Rhythm games are all about the rhythm so if you're not in it for that then no unlock will ever change your mind in my opinion.
Between swiping and swirling on the touchscreen mid-song you'll get brief moments of freestyle time where you can put in any swiping input and a few touchpad taps to add in to your score and let Jackson show off his dancing prowess. These tend to come up twice per track and act as a buffer to your score and a break from following the routine for a moment. While they feel a tad odd or out of place in terms of animation (since you're going from Jackson's song-specific maneuvers to more stock motions of his in some cases) it's a nice touch to give control to the player, even if it's only momentary.
While the gameplay is simple the game tosses enough well synced notes your way to keep you busy per difficulty while letting you actually listen and enjoy the music catalogue on display. The only problem I see in the gameplay department is that there's only 2 modes and chances are you'll only play one of them. HIStory (a nod to an album of his) is the main mode of singleplayer sessions while Battle is a dance battle between two players over LAN, plain and simple. Since this isn't a game you'll see people out in the wild with chances are you may never get to try this unless you convince somebody else with a Vita to purchase it too. Meanwhile there's also "On Demand Performance" but this isn't really a mode of play. This is a spot where you can view the performances unhindered by play, essentially a music video mode for simple enjoyment. This plays into the content problems the game has.
Speaking of the music tracks, literally the largest and central complaint I've seen with The Experience on Vita isn't the gameplay, it's the tracklist. There are literally only 15 tracks and no download content available in sight. When you compare this 15 to Vita rhythm siblings such as DJMAX Technika Tune (67 tracks) or Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f (32 approximately playable at base), The Experience comes up far shorter. A count of 15 tracks is closer in line with the smaller Ouendan DS import games and Elite Beat Agents (Ouendan's western sibling) which is unfortunate. However like that quirky trio of DS games, what's on show is about quality over quantity and while it's unfortunate we can't have both quality should come first. And it does.
Let's face it, whether you really know much about Michael Jackson or not, anybody who knows much about music has heard of Jackson's main hits. Had Bad, Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean, and/or Smooth Criminal been missing from the 15 track headcount, then Ubisoft would've needed a slap in the face (a la Bad) for not using the very core of the rights granted to them when they got access to Michael's catalogue for production. They're all here though, along with a few other fitting tracks that create a nice if short glimpse into the range of Jackson's works during his career.
Rhythm games typically aren't all about crazy amazing visuals and while this one isn't big on them either (you can ignore the amazing "HD" tag) MJTE looks fine and functional for a title that was there at the Vita's launch. For one the creators of this version took some notes on Jackson and his performances and some of it shows. Remember the famous Thriller outfit? Smooth Criminal? Billie Jean? Jackson's attire, physical appearance, and environment changes according to the track played, giving a bit of authenticity per track where possible. While this also points out the somewhat controversial physical morphing MJ underwent between the 80s and 90s in his career, it's an accurate and realistic touch that's noted. Each variant of Michael's model does a good job of capturing what he looked like during the time he initially created each of the songs present.
Aside from the notes of accuracy on his appearance, Michael's dance routine is also mostly present. His moves in Thriller, the gravity defying lean in Smooth Criminal, and even his special effects moonwalk as an animated skeleton in Ghosts appear. While I've seen some ardent fans of the King of Pop point out that the way these routines are presented in MJTE are inaccurate (which they relatively are when compared to the original material side by side), the important thing is presence here. Jackson is remembered just as much for his dance choreography and motions as he is his music, so putting these visuals on display was part of the literal experience with his work. To coincide with the man's maneuvers various short cutscene clips accompany each track which are direct nods to the original music videos. Jackson's club entrance and quarter fling in Smooth Criminal is noted, as is the crazy lift on skates one of the dancers performs in Bad. These shorts bits open each track, provide short breathers mid-play and close outs at the end of the song. While it's not all 100% accurate in presentation and order, it's good to know they at least paid attention to the man they were trying to capture (and capitalize off of.)
As I said in the opening, it's unfortunate that this game had to fight two uphill hurdles to get any recognition. When MJTE launched on Vita it was priced at $40 which is too much for such a brief game. This doesn't mean the game is bad (the non-Jackson way) at all though which is what a first glimpse at professional reviews and aggregate sites would give the potential impression of. Had this game been priced accordingly (such as right at $20 early on) or more tracks been present I think the argument would've been different. The gameplay is very enjoyable and it animates nicely for what it is. It's also a real shame that it took the death of Jackson to get any publisher to put out a rhythm game with any of the enjoyable bits of his work, as development of the initial onslaught of MJTE versions hit within the year following his death (hard to deny capitalizing on that part.) If you're a fan of Jackson or even rhythm games such as the others I cited earlier then I recommend giving Michael Jackson: The Experience a shot, provided you find it at a reasonable price point. The Experience may be brief but hopefully you'll Remember the Time you spend with it. It's like having one heck of an interactive album for your Vita.
- All 15 tracks are right in front of you from the start and each has very good audio quality
- The tracks present jump around his career and show a bit of variety in his time performing
- Jackson's persona moves much like the legend himself for the most part and is well animated
- A small stream of unlockables keeps you pushing further on each song
- Since all 15 tracks are available upfront, there's nothing else to unlock tracklist-wise
- Once again, there are only 15 tracks so it's a rather brief look into Jackson's historic portfolio, with no DLC to extend it.
- The initial asking price was too high for this game. At $20USD and below it's much more fair.
- Jackson's fanatics will be able to note some inconsistencies in performances and how they line up with the originals
on September 8, 2012
The biggest problem with the Vita version of Michael Jackson: The Experience was the initial price, but now that it has dropped at most sites to around $15-20, it's finally at the suitable price for what is essentially a pretty good little game.
The controls work well, the graphics are crisp, the songs sound as good as they ever did. It's a fun little rhythm game with which to pass the time, but it IS little - there aren't too many songs and the challenges are limited (although, unlike the iOS, PSP, and 3DS versions, this one does benefit from trophy support on top of the normal, in-game challenges). However, the price is now in line with the size of the game, so you should feel pretty confident that you're getting your $15-20's worth.
There are small, nitpicky quibbles - for example, that the game doesn't tell you you can't get a "perfect" rating on any moves performed until you hit an early, arbitrary "level-up" - but they don't detract much from what is a breezy, enjoyable salute to the music of Michael Jackson. (I should note, by the way, that one of the reviewers here said that your fingers get in the way of the action. He must not have visited the settings menu, because you can easily change the touch controls to work with the rear touchpad on the Vita.)
While you can buy the iOS version (which is functionally identical) for much less ($5 for the "HD" version), you have to add on songs to that game via in-app purchases, and after purchasing roughly the same number of songs (15 songs in the Vita version), you've reached around the same price, so these versions are now pretty much equal in value.
What the Vita version has over the iOS version, however, is slightly better touch accuracy and less lag. There is still some stutter in the Vita game (you'll notice the camera seems to jerk slightly while panning around the animated Michael), but it's not nearly as noticeable or as troublesome as in the iOS game. On the other hand, the iOS version offers DLC that is apparently missing from the PSN store, so take that into consideration if you happen to own both a Vita and iOS device, and want a bigger selection of songs than is on offer on the Vita card.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how well Michael Jackson: The Experience HD works as a touch-based rhythm game, and it's finally available at the price at which it should have been released all along. Recommended.
on February 22, 2012
This is going to be a short but sweet review. First off, I have played the other MJ games on the PSP, Wii and Xbox 360 and the Vita version is by far the best. The controls are easy to learn but set on Medium this game is definitely challenging enough for any level. It's Michael so you already know the music is good. The Vita version has intros and cut scenes that make you really feel like you are watching/controlling his music videos. There are several different trophies/items to unlock so the replay value is definitely there. My only gripe with the PS Vita version is that there are only 15 songs. As of right now, you can not download anymore and that is what you are stuck with. So, deciding if $40 is worth spending on that is up to you. The game is great and the replay value is there. I had a lot of fun with this title as I have already played/owned 6 Vita games.