The PS Vita certainly can’t be accused of not having variety in its launch line-up and Ubisoft in particular have been hard at work producing some of the more interesting titles. Michael Jackson The Experience HD adds another genre to the Vita’s catalogue; the rhythm action game.
While the console release of the game is obviously inspired by Just Dance, this portable version takes a different stance and turns the game into a touch-based rhythm title. It features 15 of the king of pop’s songs, though going by his back catalogue this does seem somewhat mean and some of the song choices are slightly odd.
No matter, though, the game itself turns out to be much better than the the aforementioned console title and works surprisingly well on the Vita’s touch screen. Without a proper tutorial, the game launches you straight into the first song with a brief instructional piece. One of 4 moves will show up on screen in a certain direction and the player needs to draw the relevant shape on screen to match the move and the position, from a straight line to a curve or circle. At the end of the song you receive a grade based on performance.
In some songs these symbols appear in very quick succession and I found songs like Thriller challenging enough to warrant several replays before receiving a decent score. Luckily, there are different difficulties to choose from, catering to everyone from beginners to dance champions. There is also a freestyle section about half way through each song, which lets you use any of the shapes to create your own mini-routine in order to rack up more points. I found that even the more restrictive part of the game allowed for some deviation on finger placement, which made for a more organic experience and I felt more in control because of this.
Completing songs also earns unlockable gloves which are supposed to offer extra help during the game, but don’t seem to make a ton of difference. Alternative costumes might have been a better choice. The game does manage to keep things fresh with various challenges, though, which provide an extra focus on certain aspects of your routine.
Special mention should be made to the presentation. Each level has Jackson in his respective costume and either a very well-drawn static backdrop or a dynamic music video style, both based on the music videos and Moonwalker movie. The music video recreations are pretty impressive interpretations of classic Jackson videos with their own unique style. Thriller, in particular, is pretty entertaining and feels as if Jackson has strayed in to Resident Evil territory with the CGI zombie characters shambling over quick cut scenes. It’s certainly an interesting take on the original cult video for the song.
Where Michael Jackson The Experience falls down on Vita is in the song selection. While classic tunes like Bad, Thriller and Smooth Criminal are included, plenty of others have been left out and at only 15 songs the experience is over pretty quickly, even for those with a lack of rhythm. It would be good to think Ubisoft will support the game with DLC songs in the future, but as it stands the setlist is far too short for a long term challenge. Multiplayer ad-hoc games do try to build up an extra level of longevity, but I couldn’t find a match after weeks of trying and the mode feels a bit like a tacked-on extra.
What Michael Jackson The Experience does on Vita, it does extremely well and fans of tap based Rhythm games will find a lot to love, especially those fans of Jackson’s work. The small number of songs does curtail the fun slightly, though.