Like rhythm music games and Michael Jackson? Got a Vita? Ubisoft might have something for you here.
People often seem shocked at what movies or music I haven't experienced. Michael Jackson is one of the many pop culture artists that I have never listened to. Before playing Ubisoft's Vita port of Michael Jackson: The Experience (previously released on PSP, Kinect, iOS), I would have been hard-pressed to name three Michael Jackson songs.
Now, having tapped my way through fifteen of Jackson's classics, I can see why many consider him one of the greatest pop stars of all time. I'm not saying that I'm suddenly a fan, but he was a hell of a performer, and I can respect that. Michael Jackson: The Experience lets you enjoy fifteen of his great tunes while using touch commands to control dance movements on screen. It's as though you are shooting a music video and your actions are making the Michael Jackson avatar dance on screen.
I believe the console version has more songs, but as of right now the Vita version has these: Bad, Beat It, Billie Jean, Black or White, Blood On The Dance Floor, Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough, Ghosts, Hollywood Tonight, Leave Me Alone, The Way You Make Me Feel, Rock With You, Smooth Criminal, Speed Demon, Thriller, and Remember The Time. You can choose to play any of these right from the get-go on multiple difficulty settings. There are a variety of unlockables, like different Gloves that you can equip which give various performance boosts, or alternate outfits. There is a leveling system too, and each performance nets you so many XP. There are quite a few levels to advance through, from a dance floor rookie on up to legend. There are several challenges for each song, like sustaining a Max Combo for forty-five seconds or being mistake-free during the freestyle sequences. These give some ample reason to replay the songs, which you'll want to do given the cost of admission ($40).
Gameplay is both accessible and challenging, at least if you're trying for Perfect ranks or if you play on the higher difficulties. The controls themselves are easy to learn, very responsive, and consistent, which is key given that touch controls are all that is offered here. The types of motions you perform are tap and swipe in a short line (releasing your press at just the right moment), single and double taps (again timing these to the beat, or visual cue), and circles. The icons showing you what motions to do are placed in different parts of the screen to stay out of the way of the action, and you can perform your input on any portion of the screen. That way, your finger is not in the way of watching the performance as you play along.
No actual Michael Jackson video footage is used as far as I can tell, and his likeness is instead just re-created via animation in the cutscenes that play before and during the songs. I liked how the game gives you a basic 3-2-1 countdown before your interaction starts again after a short view-only segment. This way, you're prepared to play again so you won't miss any of the inputs. Most of the performance has you copying the moves as indicated on screen, but there are freestyle periods where you can do whatever moves you want. You can also go head-to-head against another player in local wireless battle and examine leaderboards to see who's got the best moves on a particular track.
As someone who was both unfamiliar with Micheal's music and not a big fan of it, I thought it was commendable that the unlockables, challenges, and the leveling system kept me coming back for more. I replayed some songs several times for better ranks and for the challenges, which isn't something I'm always prone to doing in rhythm games. It certainly helps that this game is packaged in the convenience of a portable and load times are very swift.
In terms of presentation, well, there isn't a whole lot to The Experience. The music is what makes this game, and it certainly sounds fine coming out of the Vita, although what you think of it personally will of course vary. The graphics are fine; smooth animations, lots of colors, they are as functional and as good looking as they need to be really. Menu navigation is all touch controlled and works well.
This is a quality port of what might be considered a polarizing game, either you're into Michael Jackson and his music, and rhythm games for that matter, or you aren't. I'm more so in the latter crowd, but as far as what's offered here, it's done well and should please fans of the music and the genre.
To the summary...