Thursday, December 30, 2010

SC On Michael Jackson: The Experience (Wii)

I remember when I first saw that this game would in fact exist.  More importantly, I remember my exact reaction being 'Why God, why?'  And this is why:

My favorite part of the presentation was simply how rapid the crowd went from being absolutely ecstatic to dead 'what in the hell are we watching?' silent.  Pro tip, guys: when using dancers to promote a Michael Jackson game, don't waste time with dance moves Michael Jackson didn't use, or throw them at random into a song where he didn't perform them.  Of course, having no gameplay or footage of any kind beyond one shot for the show didn't help matters either.

I didn't care that it was announced a year after he died, nor did I care that Ubisoft had a decent track record in spite of its annual tidal wave of crappy cash-in and/or movie tie-in titles.  All I cared about was that it was a rhythm game with Michael Jackson in it and frankly, that wasn't enough for me, the guy who says 'Michael Jackson?  Yeah, he was alright' and goes about his business hunting monsters and beating up Ippatsuman and Ken the Eagle.


Anyway, time passed and gameplay started showing up, particularly for the Wii version since it was coming out far sooner there than on Kinect.  I will admit, I was intrigued, at least enough to ask for it for Christmas.  And sure enough...

It don't matter if you're BLACK OR WHITE!

Yes, the game comes with a cheaply-made sequined glove, complete with a massive warning not to wear it while playing the game.  Some might view this as a safety precaution against incredibly stupid people who would indeed wear a glove laced with slippery pseudo-rhinestones and hold a Wiimote with it in a game requiring several rapid arm movements, which would inevitably end with the Wiimote buried a couple inches into a wall or TV screen.

I take it as a challenge.

The third-lamest photo of me ever taken.

So, down to business.  Michael Jackson: The Experience is, for all intents and purposes, a Just Dance (Hey, UbiSoft made that too!) game --the visuals, the menus, and the gameplay all done in a similar style--with a song list entirely by one artist.  As such, there aren't as many tracks.  Just Dance 2 has 46 on-disc songs and 17 downloadable tracks.  Michael Jackson: The Experience has 27 (26 if you didn't get it at Wal-Mart) and no DLC.

When you shop for these games, however, you absolutely need to look at the track list and see how many songs in the game you would willingly play more than once.  When I did that for both games the final tally was Just Dance 2 (disc songs only) 14, Just Dance 2 with DLC 19, and Michael Jackson: The Experience 24.  I'm not much of an MJ fan and had to look up most of the songs, but when I did I kept going "Oh, THAT song!" instead of Just Dance 2 which made me repeatedly say "Oh goddamnit, it's that song."  I have since dubbed the MJ side of this Rock Band 3 Syndrome.  I was disappointed that some songs like Jam didn't make the cut, but oh well.  I'll blame the other MJ for that.

Still don't like you.

Another thing to check is where you're planning to play.  This game in particular has slides, spins, and moves that otherwise require a decent amount of space.  As such, you should not be like me and have a space just large enough for a chair and a couple people to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.

Actual shot of my floor.  Exciting, huh?

You might be wondering why I have this game if I'm not a big MJ fan.  Honestly, I just wanted to give one of these types of dance games a shot (outside of Helix) and never managed to find one with a song list I could tolerate until this one.  In fact, I'd say you're better off NOT being a huge Michael Jackson fan going into this game.  Why?  Because this is how I've seen most MJ fans react to the game:

QUIT-YOUR-BITCH-ING! *clap clap clapclapclap*

The amount of complaining about this game among Michael Jackson fans is mind-boggling, despite the on-screen representations and backgrounds staying fiercely loyal to the music videos.  For example, take a look at this clip of Billie Jean from the game:

Every possible nitpick you can imagine has been said about this one song alone: it doesn't match the music video's choreography, the moonwalk animation sucks, he does certain moves in the wrong direction, this isn't an accurate way to learn his routines, he doesn't do certain moves for one song that he did in the videos, etc. etc.

1. The moves are mirrored.  It's easier for the person playing to mirror the movements than follow them exactly.
2. If you REALLY want to nitpick, MJ doesn't start dancing in the Billie Jean music video until almost 2 minutes into the song.  WHERE'S MY REALISTIC BILLIE JEAN EXPERIENCE WHERE I DON'T DO ANYTHING FOR ONE-THIRD OF THE TIME?! WAAAAAAAAH!
3. It's unrealistic at best to expect people to do what MJ did.  Even with the more simplified dance moves in this game, it's still more difficult than just about anything the Just Dance games do, even if you're just doing the upper body movements.  If you want to learn the full routines as he did them on-stage and in music videos, watch those.  Or unlock the routines in the Dance School section.  Or both.

 And hey, what would a dance game be without decent controls?  Well, they suck.  Hard.

Kidding!  I just wanted to know what it felt like to lie like most of the reviewers of this game did.


Honestly, I wonder how many of the reviewers made any attempt to get the game working.  If the controls ARE that bad, then how in the hell are people like me with the dancing ability of a deflated basketball able to record 4 or 5-star scores?  Granted, it took practice to get that high (usually getting 2 or 2.5 stars on first and second attempts), but why shouldn't it when I haven't learned what moves are coming up or how to properly do them?

I did three separate tests on the same song (Smooth Criminal) to see how "bad" the controls are.  One time I was standing and performing the moves, another I was sitting down and mimicking the moves, and the other I was waving the Wiimote around randomly, but in time with the music.  For the first two tests I scored fairly high, around 4.5 stars.  The random waving test got a score just short of two stars.  Basically, if you put any effort into the moves and doing them correctly not only will they register, but they'll typically register as Good or Perfect.

Hint: If the game is only registering your moves as Ok or as an X, DON'T KEEP DOING IT THE SAME WAY!

The SUBTLE! Strikes Back

This disparity in results is in part because of the nature of the game's scoring system.  Each individual move is given a score of Perfect, Good, Ok or X.  The exception are brightly-indicated gold moves, which give 500 points for being done correctly. (Do not miss these.  500 points is a lot in this game.)

One thing I do have to mention is that it's not always apparent how to do certain moves.  This is largely due to the glove Michael's on-screen representation wears, which is so damn shiny you sometimes can't tell what way his hand is facing or what it's doing besides reflecting a shitload of light.  Since the Wiimote is held in the same hand, this forces the player to guess at times what exactly to do until they get it right.  It's a legitimate issue that even the pictograms illustrating which moves are coming up doesn't help.  Fortunately, it's not possible to fail out of a song no matter how bad you're doing.

Something truly unique about the game, though, is its multiplayer.  The game supports up to four players at once, and every player can select either to do the moves for Michael, or one of his back-up dancers, or whoever he's dancing with.  It varies by song, with some songs like Remember the Time being "duets" which involve Michael and the other dancer performing moves together.  I just wish they would have made it so this type of multiplayer was optional and people could play back-up for these particular songs.  Sure, you can let everyone be Michael in a song, so long as you're careful and are willing to risk taking a Wiimote the face.

And yes, this is one of those games that you'll probably feel like a tool if you play it alone.

And yes, you'll probably be exhausted after playing this game for about fifteen minutes.

I'd take these over the Jackson glove.

Now the question remains: is it worth getting?  Well, that depends.  If you like the music in it, if you don't mind being challenged a bit and being forced to move around (and not blame the controls if you fail miserably), and if you're not uptight about doing the exact same routines as in MJ's videos...

I'd still wait for a price drop, or try to get it with a discount or gift card.  There's simply not much to this game in terms of content that warrants paying full price for it, glove or not.  If you're not interested in the training videos and dance guides in the Dance School, that's all the unlockable content that you won't give a shit about.

But hey, as far as dance games are concerned, you can easily do much, much worse.

God help us all.