Iâ€™ve always envied people who can dance. Not the freestyle social jiggling found at clubs and parties, but real, choreographed dancing. For someone whose limbs refuse to obey commands beyond basic walking and running, the lure of private tuition from the late King of Pop and his professional troupe was too great to pass up. Surely it would be worth the effort and indignity if I could just master the moonwalk. After all, Moonwalking looks like standard walkingâ€¦ sort of. How hard can it be?
From Ubisoft Paris, the creators of the Just Dance titles, comes Michael Jackson The Experience. Featuring 26 tracks from MJâ€™s vast repertoire and many of his signature dance moves, the game requires no funky dance mat or even a truckload of talent - just the Wii remote and some room to unleash the groove. For a single player session you donâ€™t need a lot; two metres of clear space in front of the telly is ample. With two players you should allow at least another metre, otherwise you may be unable to see the onscreen prompts, and could cop a mouthful of Wii-mote into the bargain. Any more than two and your lounge will resemble a mosh pit. Imagine up to four people of varying sizes and abilities, swinging their arms around and shaking their booties in a confined space. Not a pretty pictureâ€¦
Speaking of pictures, letâ€™s talk graphics. Screen layout is minimalistic, with progress bars and prompts tucked discreetly into the edges of the screen. The main focus is on the performers, which is as it should be. Each routine is set against a static background reminiscent of the original music videos (or â€˜short filmsâ€™, as the maestro preferred to call them). Depending on your song selection the glowing onscreen avatar of MJ will either dance solo or with his back-up dancers or duet partners.
The wardrobe includes authentic-looking ensembles, such as the zipped and buckled leather jacket from Bad, the black tux from Donâ€™t Stop â€˜til You Get Enough or the white suit, spats and fedora from Smooth Criminal. While it was only worn briefly during the 80â€™s, the trademark white glove is present in all songs. It has to be; this is your primary visual reference for mimicking his moves. The other reference is a series of stylised prompts which appear just prior to executing a particular movement. These are a bit like foreign road signs: usually self explanatory, but sometimes open to gross misinterpretation.
The impressive soundtrack includes some of Michael Jacksonâ€™s biggest hits, although personally I reckon anything after the Bad album was pretty rubbish. If youâ€™ve got a decent home theatre system youâ€™ll be able to wind up the volume and sing along to the lyrics displayed at the bottom of the screen. Singing plays no part in scoring, though; itâ€™s purely for added entertainment.
Difficulty-wise thereâ€™s a good mix of easy and challenging tracks to select from. It takes just a few minutes to figure out how everything works, and while itâ€™s not perfect the sensor picks up most movements with an acceptable degree of accuracy. For some reason the slow songs proved far more challenging than the faster ones, however it is relatively easy to â€˜cheatâ€™ since the game only tracks the hand holding the Wii remote. Effectively this means you can get away with not using three of your limbs. Standing in one spot and waving one arm around is not technically dancing, but it means the less talented among us can nail a competitive score and four stars without even breaking a sweat.
Accumulating stars will unlock video tutorials featuring sections of dance moves from the music videos. These are really only of value to people who can actually dance; the sequences are quite complex and the instructors use a lot of dance jargon that will mean very little to most punters. On the plus side, you can replay sections of each tutorial until you can string the moves together with confidenceâ€¦ in theory, at least. Watching the dancers in action certainly makes you appreciative of the work that goes into dance routines to make them appear effortless. Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with tutorials, but I wouldâ€™ve preferred to see more variety in the unlockable content, such as a biography, a gallery, Michael Jackson trivia or a quiz - maybe even bonus tracks.
As for longevity, once youâ€™ve worked your way through the entire track list and unlocked all the extras, the only real incentive to continue playing is to improve on previous scores, or perhaps spring it on some unsuspecting mates at your next soirÃ©e. Michael Jackson The Experience wonâ€™t make a real dancer out of you, but as a party game it sure is funâ€¦ and no, I still havenâ€™t learned how to moonwalk.