Let’s begin with an admission: I was a cynic. When review code was being assigned and I ended up with this game, I thought I’d drawn the short straw. Music rhythm games are second on my list of game genres I don’t like, supplanted only by games that involve dancing in any way. Michael Jackson: The Experience HD is both. But here’s another admission: I was wrong.[drop2]From the opening tutorial, which teaches you to tap and swipe your way through different move markers appearing in a circle around the late King of Pop, I was having fun. The fact that the tutorial has you dancing along with Billie Jean probably didn’t do anything to harm the game’s chances of appealing but, my enjoyment of the soundtrack aside, the game really works well.
There are only 15 tracks on offer, providing a kind of cross section of Jackson’s best dance-along tracks from throughout his career. They’ve selected the right tracks though, mostly. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, Thriller, Smooth Criminal, Bad, etc. are all perfect for the game whereas tracks like Dirty Diana are absent but probably wouldn’t be as snug a fit anyway so are not too sorely missed. Each track can be played at three difficulty levels, once the levels are unlocked, so the game kind of eases you into its difficulty curve without ever restricting the tracks you can enjoy.
You’ll tap, swipe, flick and circle your way through each song’s dance routine with a freestyle interlude in each performance. Sometimes two fingers are required but the gestures can be performed anywhere on the screen. Rest the Vita on a desktop and use both index fingers or cradle it and use both thumbs, it’s up to you. The way the gestures are prompted encourages you to perform them, lifting off at the key moment. This leads to a certain amount of freedom for how they are performed. So if, for example, you’re playing through Billie Jean for the third time, singing along at the top of your voice, you can add a little bit of finger flair to your own personal performance. Switch hands, add a little flourish of your own as you swipe… MJ would be proud of me. I mean… not that I did that.
The aim is to successfully touch-control your way through all 15 tracks at every difficulty level, completing challenges, unique to each song, as you go. You will earn points and a grade for each song upon completion and these accumulate to level you up and unlock new aspects of the game, allowing you to earn more points or target a different challenge next time. Unlocking and then equipping different gloves will also allow you to do different things on the dance floor or enhance your abilities in ways which often make hitting the challenges easier.
- Lights off, headphones on — this is great fun.
- The tracks they’ve included are the best choices.
- The controls really work fantastically well.
- Not enough tracks to keep it in your Vita more than a day or two.
- There’s really only one game mode.
- It’s very easy to succeed.
With only a few hours of focussed gameplay, this is a little light on lasting appeal. Don’t let that put you off though, Michael Jackson’s music has a timeless quality and the presentation of this game is top notch. What this game shows is that rhythm music games can be done intuitively and entertainingly on the Vita’s touch interface. With a little more substance, this would be a quality piece of software for the launch but as it stands, it feels like it’s filling a niche until a more substantial package comes along.