It’s become something of a truism in the industry that Microsoft’s Kinect motion-control device is really only good for dancing games. Time will tell if that’s really true (it seems to be true thus far), but if ever there were a game that lent itself to Kinect’s particular strengths, it’s a game purporting to let you dance and sing like the King of Pop.
And Michael Jackson: The Experience would’ve worked brilliantly, too, if it weren’t for the sad fact that MJ himself appears nowhere in the dang game. Obviously the guy is dead, and that makes it hard to get him to show up to do recordings for videogames, but how about some sound clips from interviews, an actual video of him dancing, or at least a decent impersonator? Instead we get random Europeans, some halfway decent backup dancers, and not much in the way of costumes or general MJ look-and-feel at all. This is disappointing, as the Wii version, for example, at least had some MJ-looking dancers/paraphernalia in it.
All that said, it’s hard not to smile and enjoy yourself when any one of the (mostly) fantastic tracks on the Kinect version comes on your screen. Unlike the Wii version, you really have the opportunity to move your whole body and the game does a good job of giving you more or less the original choreography to do (to the extent that a normal human can) for the dance sequences. Thanks to the Kinect’s integrated mic, you can also sing the songs as you dance, or pass those honors off to a buddy in co-op mode. The singing portion is pretty precise, requiring either a lot of falsetto (for most guys) or an altering of the pitch of the songs in the options menu – but this is Michael Jackson, after all, so you know what you’re getting into with the vocals.
What you probably don’t fully understand, however, is the dance moves and how in the heck to do them in a way that at all approximates MJ’s original awesomeness. Unfortunately, The Experience does very little to help you along here. You get some “video tutorials” that are probably only going to be helpful for people who already have some formal dance training, or a lot of familiarity with Jackson’s videos’ choreography in the first place. Unlike Dance Central, which does an excellent job of painstakingly walking you through each move you need to learn, The Experience just sort of throws you to the lions and hopes you figure it out on the fly. Background dancers don’t explain the moves as they do them, and because you’re using your whole body, these are an order of magnitude more complex than the stuff you need to do on the Wii, so you’re really at sea for 90% of the game. Another problem is that the Kinect sometimes has trouble picking up the appropriate moves, even when you’re doing them correctly, which tends to leave you even more confused as to what exactly you’re supposed to do to get that Thriller shoulder rock exactly right.
Despite this, fans will still find the game fun, because the dances are going to either impress with their novelty or their nostalgia factor, and because the Kinect gets this game a lot closer to what it should’ve been all along. Keep in mind that, like just about any dancing or rhythm game, The Experience is best played among friends. Friends can laugh at you, and in return, you can laugh at them, and that makes you all feel a little less awkward about being grown men and women falling on your faces trying to do the anti-gravity lean from Smooth Criminal.
Sure, you won’t be filling in as an MJ backup dancer just because you kicked ass at Michael Jackson: The Experience on Kinect, but you will pick up a few moves here and there, despite the game’s lack of tutelage. It’s also just a blast to hear all these classic tunes – and the Kinect version has more than any other out of the box: it’s almost impossible not to want to shake your booty when you do. Major MJ fans will no doubt lament the lack of a favorite track here or there (Dangerous, anyone?), but if you can only afford one MJ dancing title, this is definitely the most complete version on the market.
Jun 27, 2011