Review: Michael Jackson: The Experience HD (PSV)

Title: Michael Jackson: The Experience HD
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.6 GB) / Game Card
Release Date: February 14, 2012
Publisher: UBISoft
Developer: UBISoft Shanghai
Original MSRP: $35.99 (PSN) / $39.99 (Game Card)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Michael Jackson: The Experience HD is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PSP, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, iOS and Mac OS X.
The PlayStation Vita download version was used for this review.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 257 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
Already out on pretty much every system available, Michael Jackson: The Experience HD arrives on the Vita with a new twist. Taking full advantage of the touch screens and motion controls, the rhythm game has you tapping, sliding and swooshing all around the screen to the beat of fifteen different Michael Jackson songs.

When you start the game, all the songs are available, but a number of other things need to be unlocked, among them, the Medium and Expert difficulty levels, the ability to hit a shape for “Perfect”, gloves, alternate outfits and On Demand Performances.

The gameplay itself is pretty straightforward. For each song, Michael Jackson appears in the center of the screen while shapes appear around a large invisible circle that surrounds him. For example, straight blue arrows signify sliding your finger in a straight line in the same direction as the arrows. You release your finger from the screen when the shapes come together like when Rock Band shapes cross the strum bar line. There are four basic gestures to learn here, the straight line, the tap, the semi-circle and the full circle. It doesn’t sound like much and in Rookie Mode, it’s pretty easy for most of the songs. When you move up to Medium or Expert however, you’ll be frantically sliding, spinning and tapping all over the screen needing two fingers at once as illustrated below.

This is where one of the problems comes into play with this iteration of the game. Comfortably holding the Vita and mastering these moves, sometimes requiring multiple fingers and gestures at once, is a real challenge. You’ve also got your fingers all over the screen, so seeing the next shapes can be difficult at times. You do have the option of using the back touch pad to draw the shapes but I found that even more difficult. The other use for the back touch pad is to slide Jackson around the scene while playing. For visual flair it’s nice, but it didn’t seem to benefit my score in any way so I ended up laying the Vita on my desk and playing that way.

Every 25,000 points you rack up during a song unlocks a brief Freestyle Mode where you have roughly ten seconds to pull off whatever moves you want through the different shapes, adding to your score. Each song also includes a series of Challenges to accomplish, such as scoring a certain number of points, hitting a certain number of Perfect beats in a row and so on. Doing these will unlock gloves and outfits for the Michael Jackson avatar to wear during the song.

At the end of each song, you’re given a grade based on your performance and you’re shown a list of how many times your hit the beats. Points accumulate gaining you higher levels and more unlocks throughout the game. The leaderboards available for each song appear to be local only which is unfortunate considering the connectivity potential of the Vita. At the very least, the leaderboards should have been online. As it stands, you’ll get through the fifteen songs pretty quickly and there’s not much left to do. You have the challenge of higher difficulty levels and unlockables, but it’s a pretty limited selection of things to do.

Visuals:
For a game that consists mostly of a Michael Jackson avatar dancing on the screen, the visuals are pretty good. It’s neat to see the digital recreations of some of the most iconic music video moments of the 80’s. From the knife fight in Beat It to the light up squares on the sidewalk and the creepy photographer in Billie Jean and more, it’s all familiar, and it looks great.

I did have a problem in one song in particular, Ghosts, where the background and the effects blended in a way that made the Blue arrows hard to spot, consequently making me miss a number of beats. Other than that, the effects are pretty good and it’s easy to follow what’s happening on screen.

You may not notice much of it however as you’ll be looking everywhere but the dancing avatar, trying to keep up with the next position and shape to draw. This is where I wish the back touch pad had been tweaked a little more. Having your fingers all over the front of the screen throughout the song, you pretty much miss what’s going on with the dancing and video recreations. You can watch the entire performance in the Backstage area of the game under ‘On Demand Performances’, but these too need to be unlocked which will require playing those fifteen songs over and over.

Audio:
The audio is obviously the strong point of the game, if you’re a Michael Jackson fan that is, but if you weren’t, you wouldn’t buy the game anyway, right? The songs are all the original recordings just as you remember them, right down to the Vincent Price voice-over in Thriller.

The audio flares used to punctuate hitting Perfect moves, unlocking song specific achievements and more all blend in nicely with the music and help to add to the atmosphere rather than detract from it. The menus include cheering crowds and brief clips from each song which is just what it needs.

Online/Multiplayer:
Ad-hoc multiplayer is all that’s available here and unfortunately, I don’t have anyone nearby with the game to test this out. The way it works, the host gets to choose the song and difficulty level and both players can equip any unlocked outfits or gloves they have. The player in the lead in scoring will be the Michael Jackson avatar dancing on screen while the other player’s avatar is a back-up dancer. Freestyle sections pop up randomly which can help one player catch the other. The winning player at the end of the song gets the points added to their overall score and the loser gets nothing.

Conclusion:
It’s not a bad overall package, but for a $40 game, “The Experience” comes up a bit short in terms of length. Fifteen songs is not a whole lot to work with. As a rhythm game, it’s quite good in terms of learning curve, difficulty and play style, but you’ll blow through all fifteen songs in less than two hours leaving you with not much to do beyond trying to master the higher difficulty levels.

Score:
6.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

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  • I’m kind of surprised with the graphics they are not bad but 15 songs for 40 bucks is just a tough deal: that’s over $ 2.60 for each song!

  • way2easy

    Yeah, so this was always going to be bad. ¬†Good on you Josh for not making any “touch’ jokes.
    Why bother Ubi?

    • ¬†Apparently I saved all the touch jokes for the review on the show (without even realizing it)

      It’s actually not a bad game, it just has a few issues with comfort when controlling and a way too short track list.